US sector unions AAUP and AFT team up to fight partisan attacks

After a decade of growing together, top US faculty association set to organise inside second-biggest teacher union

March 8, 2022
A university teacher in a classroom
Source: iStock

The American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers are upgrading their existing partnership to a formal affiliation, aiming to fight harder on salaries and political protections.

The agreement creates the largest US higher education labour alliance, by making the 44,000 members of the AAUP, the chief US faculty association, also members of the AFT. The AFT is a labour union with 1.7 million members at all levels of education and beyond, including about 270,000 at the post-secondary level.

It is part of an evolution in which the AAUP – created more than a century ago with a mission to protect academic freedom and educational quality – has over the past decade become increasingly involved in collective bargaining and with the AFT. More than 20,000 US college faculty and staff already are members of professional negotiating units with dual AAUP-AFT affiliation.

The agreement has been approved at the leadership levels of both groups, and is set to take effect in August after the AAUP and AFT hold membership ratification votes this summer.

Both sides described their tighter embrace as a necessary pushback to efforts in many conservative-led states to weaken or eliminate tenure, fight collective bargaining among graduate students, and interfere with classroom teaching.

“Democracy is under assault, and a strong higher education movement is needed to bolster and protect it,” said Gwendolyn Bradley, a senior programme officer at the AAUP. “This partnership will position us to do that more effectively.”

In one major example of the type of battles it has been waging, the AAUP’s governing council announced the affiliation agreement with the AFT just two days after the council voted to censure the University System of Georgia over its tenure policies. Georgia’s regents last October changed the post-tenure review policy at all but one of the system’s 26 campuses in ways that make it easier to fire tenured faculty members, even without a dismissal hearing.

The condition of censure means the AAUP is asking all its members to consider refraining from accepting any appointment at any targeted institution until the censure is rescinded. The AAUP lists more than 50 institutions currently under censure.

A University System of Georgia spokesman, in response to the AAUP action, said that the association “chose to ignore USG’s long-standing commitment to academic freedom and due process”.

In recent weeks the AAUP also has criticised Georgia state leaders for installing Sonny Perdue, a Trump administration Cabinet secretary with no higher education experience, as chancellor of the state university system; and has fought against attempts to weaken tenure in states that include Texas and South Carolina.

The AAUP said it has also used its organisational capacities to help college instructors in several states where collective bargaining is not allowed.

The president of the AFT, Randi Weingarten, said in a statement that the affiliation agreement is intended to help create a higher education system “where all students have the ability to recognise truth, think critically about the world in which they live, and envision a better future for themselves and our society”.

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