New resolutions fight student debt, support contingent faculty

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Student debt and unfair treatment of contingent and adjunct faculty topped the list of higher education-related resolutions up for consideration as official AFT policy at the union's convention July 18-21, and delegates passed strong policies on both. 

Student Debt resolution

Free public higher education

Free public higher education is at the heart of Resolution 19, "The Fight Against Student Loan Debt and for Public Investment in Higher Education," which also supports need-based aid for expenses beyond tuition; underscores the importance of the AFT's student debt clinics, which educate members about debt repayment plans; and promises to protect and expand existing federal student debt relief programs. The resolution specifies the union's particular resolve to hold for-profit educational institutions accountable for poor educational outcomes, fraudulent practices and high student debt.

These measures are essential, the resolution states. As state funds for public schools decrease, tuition increases, and students need more aid to cover it. "There is a stunning divestment in our public education institutions of higher learning," said Thomas Morrill, a delegate and president of the Coalition of Graduate Employees at Oregon State University, who spoke to support the resolution from the convention floor. He said the issue is so important that four different entities proposed a student debt resolution to the higher education committee—the AFT's executive council, the California Federation of Teachers, AFT-Oregon and the University Professionals of Illinois. The committee combined their requests into the one resolution, which passed unanimously.

Student debt

Student debt was also tackled in Resolution 25, which calls for the government to stop garnishing people's Social Security payments in order to pay their student loans. The resolution states that, while many don't realize that even older people struggle with student loans, the federal government garnished $150 million from the monthly benefits of 36,000 seniors 65 and older in 2013. That resolution also passed unanimously.

Contingent and adjunct faculty

Unfair treatment of contingent and adjunct faculty is at the core of Resolution 21, which lists specific steps to combat this ongoing problem. Noting that the AFT has already undertaken several initiatives to address the "appalling higher education employment practices that control the lives of adjunct/contingent faculty and degrade the quality of education provided to our students," the resolution lists additional steps to take, including: legislative changes that would allow contingents to receive unemployment insurance; better data on adjunct and contingent workers; improved efforts to help adjuncts with student debt; better access to retirement benefits; and continued collaboration with other unions and organizations concerned with adjunct/contingent equity.

Delegates passed a total of 39 resolutions and special orders of business. Among them were resolutions to:

AFT VP Frederick Kowal

United University Professions President Frederick Kowal (pictured above) rose to call that last resolution imperative: "We must stand at the forefront of the fight for economic justice and equality," he said.

Additional resolutions from the higher education committee will go to the AFT executive council for consideration. They include resolutions to research and make recommendations regarding the impact and practices of the Higher Learning Commission, an accrediting body whose efficacy has been called into question, and three resolutions that support free public higher education within the contexts of different state policies.

The complete resolutions are available online.

[Virginia Myers/photo of Fred Kowal by Russ Curtis]