Historic affiliation of AFT and AAUP will strengthen higher education

The governing councils of the AFT and the American Association of University Professors are pursuing an affiliation that will help faculty and staff at colleges and universities meet some of the momentous challenges faced by higher education and more broadly, threats to democracy itself.

AAUP-AFT affiliation
Rutgers AAUP-AFT is one of many higher education unions that are already dually affiliated with the AFT and AAUP; the new arrangement would expand the partnership.

The AFT fights for a better life for all—particularly the next generation—and that includes access to affordable and accessible higher education where all students can excel, and where faculty are respected and accorded the academic freedom necessary for our country to thrive. The AAUP has been on the forefront of advancing the principles of academic freedom, shared governance, tenure, and other standards and policies to produce and protect the knowledge and critical thinking skills that sustain American democracy. Together, the organizations have combined their missions to create the New Deal for Higher Education, a blueprint for battling the effects of a pandemic that has worsened structural funding cuts to the sector enacted during the global recession.

If approved by the AAUP’s delegate assembly in June, the affiliation agreement will bring together two organizations representing more than 300,000 faculty overall, the largest such alliance in the country. The partnership will serve as the basis for enhanced faculty voice with nationwide reach and huge potential for future organizing growth and success.

Unleashing the possibilities of higher education

AFT President Randi Weingarten hailed the arrangement as a game-changer: “The AFT and AAUP are coming together to unleash the purpose, promise and possibilities of higher education in America,” she said. “The idea of the university is to encourage and defend the free exchange of intellectual labor because all scholarship and teaching create value—whether it is social, economic or cultural.

“To make sure colleges are not just the province of the rich, we need to fight for the right of every student to have an affordable education and to ensure every academic worker—from adjunct teacher, to lecturer, to tenured professor—a workplace with the autonomy, respect, compensation and career stability they deserve.

“Together, we will create a higher education system where all students have the ability to recognize truth, think critically about the world in which they live, and envision a better future for themselves and our society. That is what joining together means, and that is the far-reaching potential that our affiliation brings—an alliance greater than the sum of its parts.”

“The AAUP has been the voice and conscience of higher education for well over 100 years,” said AAUP President Irene Mulvey. “This weekend, subject to ratification at the biennial meeting in June, the AAUP governing council voted to recommend expanding our partnership with AFT. This truly historic decision builds on our 10-plus year partnership with AFT and strengthens both organizations, while ensuring that the AAUP will maintain its independence and autonomy.”

The partnership comes against the backdrop of increased legislative attacks on teaching and academic freedom, as well as persistent public underfunding that has led to an explosion in student debt and adjunct precarity and poverty. Through the affiliation, the 44,000-member AAUP and the 1.7 million-member AFT will work hand in hand to protect academic freedom, and to unify faculty voice at the state and federal levels.

The AAUP governing council voted unanimously Sunday to recommend ratification of the affiliation to its June biennial meeting. Likewise, the AFT executive council approved the affiliation unanimously, subject to the AAUP delegate vote.

Building on success

The AFT has been instrumental in organizing locals in a wide variety of colleges and universities. The union pioneered collective bargaining in higher education and is committed to organizing faculty across the United States, where it represents faculty in community colleges, major research universities, liberal arts schools, and historically Black colleges and universities. Through a strong local and state affiliate structure and a relationship with the AFL-CIO, the AFT influences legislation at both the state and federal levels.

The AAUP has been setting the standards for academic freedom and shared governance in the academy since 1915. Across the academy, the AAUP is often the resource faculty turn to when faced with a challenge to academic freedom on campus. Its work defines the fundamental professional values and standards for higher education. The organization also organizes faculty into collective bargaining unions and advocacy chapters, working to enshrine these values and standards in collective bargaining agreements and institutional policies.

“The AAUP and AFT have our distinct organizational strengths,” Mulvey said. “Working together, we will be much better equipped to take on the challenges facing higher education—anti-intellectual attacks on the teaching of U.S. history, legislative intrusion into the academy, disinvestment and chronic underfunding of public higher education and the resulting casualization of academic workers. Working together, AAUP and AFT can build a more inclusive, organized and powerful academic labor movement.”

The AFT and the AAUP have a history of partnership and formal joint organizing agreements, including dual AAUP/AFT affiliates currently representing more than 20,000 faculty and staff. The organizing partnership has resulted in several victories at research institutions, colleges and universities where union organizing efforts had not succeeded in the past.

“As the most recently formed dual local, the value of being a part of both AFT and AAUP helped us expand and protect academic freedom, enshrine the values of shared governance, and get raises across the board for all faculty at the University of New Mexico, a first at the university,” said professor Ernesto Longa, president of United Academics of the University of New Mexico.

“Now, as so many more faculty in New Mexico and across the country join us as dual locals, we are excited to join them in fighting for investment in funding higher education, sustainable jobs for those who do this work, and imagining a New Deal for Higher Education in New Mexico and across the country.”

Transforming the landscape

The New Deal for Higher Education is an ambitious legislative agenda that seeks to transform the higher education landscape by:

  • Pushing for a reinvestment in higher education at the state and federal levels.
  • Ending the practice of employing low-cost contingent faculty to undercut academic freedom and the tenure system.
  • Increasing affordable access for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Challenging the movement to strip faculty of their right to research and teach subjects addressing racial, ethnic and gender inequities in American society.
  • Canceling student debt and relieving the pressure on people who were forced to finance their own educations.

“Combining AAUP’s historic commitment to academic freedom and shared governance with the AFT’s deep organizing in education creates the structure we need to ensure that our colleges and universities continue to play a critical role in our democratic society,” said professor Rebecca Kolins Givan, president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT.

“As we face crises of contingency and manufactured austerity, and attacks on educators’ ability to teach, it is essential that we work together to demand the higher education institutions our communities and students need.”

[AFT Communications staff]