The convention hall erupted in cheers, applause, high-fives and a few dance moves Friday afternoon as AFT President Randi Weingarten and American Association of University Professors President Irene Mulvey signed a formal agreement to affiliate, creating a powerful force for higher education advocacy.
“AFT, you are a mighty, mighty powerhouse,” an effusive Mulvey told the crowded convention hall just before the signing. “Today is a historic day in the labor movement and the academic labor movement.”
Weingarten called the formalized affiliation “extraordinary” and “game-changing.”
The signing follows the AAUP’s June 18 vote to affiliate with the AFT and brings together more than 300,000 higher education faculty to create the largest such alliance in the country. The resulting potential for future organizing and advocating for equitable, affordable higher education and academic freedom is enormous.
And it comes just in time, said Mulvey, as she listed the imposing challenges facing postsecondary education: disinvestment and underfunding, with the associated burden of student debt; the crisis of contingent faculty, whose pay is so low some 40 percent of adjuncts need governmental assistance to make ends meet; and legislative interference in academic freedom. The AAUP has long focused on academic freedom and shared governance among faculty.
“Over the last year we’ve seen an unprecedented number of bills introduced in state legislatures that would impose government control on what can be taught in the classroom,” said Mulvey. “These bills are an attack on democracy. … In a democracy there is no place for the government to control what can be learned and what can be taught in a classroom.”
The AFT and the AAUP have a history of collaboration and joint organizing, including dual AAUP-AFT affiliates that already represented more than 20,000 faculty and staff before today’s agreement. This existing partnership has resulted in several victories at research institutions, colleges and universities.
“What we have seen is that the combination of AAUP’s academic expertise and AFT’s power and might and resources and reach is a winning combination,” said Mulvey.
[Virginia Myers/photo by Suzannah Hoover]