Annual Conference on the State of Higher Education

Academe, July/August 2010 | Go to article overview

Annual Conference on the State of Higher Education


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The conference included a special AAUP-sponsored workshop, "Protecting an Independent Faculty Voice," led by Judith Areen of Georgetown University, Robert M. O'Neil of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, and Lawrence White of the University of Delaware. The panelists discussed the threats to academic governance posed by the Supreme Court's 2006 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos and by subsequent lower-court rulings.

Luncheon addresses were delivered by Gaye Tuchman of the University of Connecticut and the team of Gary Rhoades and Cary Nelson, general secretary and president of the AAUP, respectively. Tuchman delivered a lighthearted skewering of administrations that approach education "by the numbers" and focus on quantifiable phenomena such as U.S. News & World Report rankings, number of grant dollars received, percentage of students graduated, and the like-sometimes at the expense of more substantive concerns.

Rhoades and Nelson focused on the need for faculty solidarity and an independent faculty voice in today's climate. As universities suffer from financial pressures and make decisions about cutting budgets, faculty members need to stand together-despite administrative tactics designed to pit departments or different types of faculty against one another- and demand a substantive role in decision making.

The banquet speaker was Melissa Goodman, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Goodman works on the ACLU's national security docket and litigates cases concerning surveillance, excessive government secrecy, torture and detention, and the freedoms of speech and association. Most recently, she has been counsel in the ACLU's lawsuits challenging warrantless surveillance, the USA Patriot Act, the government's practice of ideological exclusion, the CIA's practice of extraordinary rendition, and U.S. detention practices in Afghanistan. In her talk, Goodman focused on how academics are sometimes uniquely affected by-but also uniquely suited to speak up and challenge-restrictions on the right to free expression that occur in the name of protecting national security. She discussed the role played by academics and the AAUP in successfully challenging the U.S. government's practice of denying visas to foreign scholars whose political views the U.S. government disfavors and encouraged the audience to continue defending a free, global marketplace of ideas.

Capitol Hill Day

This year, nearly a hundred AAUP members descended upon Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress about current legislation affecting higher education. AAUP members met with U.S. senators and representatives, along with legislative staffers, from twenty-two states and the District of Columbia to discuss the Association's legislative priorities.

This year's discussions centered on labor-law reforms, concerns about the federal push for a dramatic increase in graduation rates, and emergency funding of higher education.

Having faculty, academic staff, and students lobby members of Congress directly is one of the most effective approaches to higher education advocacy. More than as just "constituents" of a particular congressperson's district, AAUP members were often received as influential members of a community and experts on higher education.

This year's Capitol Hill Day was a success not just because the AAUP members were able to meet with Congress and push for support of legislation that will improve the profession but also because they were able to engage in true legislative advocacy on a federal level that will surely strengthen advocacy efforts on the chapter and conference levels.

Congressman Donald Payne of New Jersey received the Henry T. Yost Award, which recognizes outstanding leadership on behalf of higher education, at the Capitol Hill Day reception. …

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