Dr. Jane Buck, who spent almost her entire career teaching psychology at Delaware State University, the only historically Black college in Delaware, is the outgoing president of the American Association of University Professors.
Growing up in a family of civil rights activists in Reading, Pa., it seems appropriate that Buck conclude her presidency with a show of civic disobedience. In April, she and incoming AAUP President Cary Nelson, a professor of English at the University of Illinois, were arrested after demonstrating in support of striking graduate assistants at New York University. Buck and Nelson, along with 55 graduate and undergraduate students from the university, spent several hours in jail.
In a recent conversation with Diverse, Buck reflects on her teaching career and on leaving the office she has held for six years.
DI: You spent your career at Delaware State University. What led you to an HBCU?
JB: Leroy Allen, former president of Cheyney [State University], when I was working on my Ph.D. said, "You know, Jane, I think you'd be great at Del State. I think you would be good for each other." Well, I may be embellishing this a little, but this is what I remember about it. He said, "You put on your best interview dress and you get in your car and you drive to Dover and you introduce yourself to the president and say, "'Here I am, I'm available.'" And I said, "I can't do that," and this part I do remember as being absolutely one of those flash-bulb memories: He said, "Jane, do you trust me?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "I was president of a historically Black institution. I know what I'm talking about. Do what I tell you." So I put on my best interview dress, I got in my ancient car and I drove to Dover and I talked to the secretary and said, "I'd like to talk to the president."
DI: When did you get actively involved with AAUP?
JB: A very important part of my career was collective bargaining. I had a member of the board of trustees tell me privately that it was very difficult to deal with the collective bargaining thrust because they were used to being so involved in the management of the institution that they would come in and count the bed linens in the dormitories! The board of trustees unilaterally, without notice, changed the rules for promotion and tenure. And that's the point at which we decided to try to organize. We were certified for collective bargaining in 1977 by the state labor relations board. The vote for bargaining was better than 2 to 1. The administration refused to bargain with us for two years, so we didn't start to bargain until 1979. Our first contract was effective in 1980.
DI: The AAUP has censured a lot of HBCUs. What are the factors involved?
JB: I'm not sure how to quantify "a lot." I guess relative to their numbers it does seem like a lot. There's a tradition of rather authoritarian administrations at the HBCUs. Given the history of the HBCUs, [that] they were essentially founded for the express purpose of segregation, they have been historically under the gun.
DI: You talked about those issues when you became president of AAUP. Has the situation at HBCUs improved during your presidency, or have things gotten worse? …