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AAUP Election Results Reflect Backlash Against Recent Leadership Decisions

  • April 19, 2012

By Peter Schmidt

A slate of candidates calling for an overhaul of the American Association of University Professors has trounced its opponents in elections to that organization's top offices, with the results reflecting the growing strength of the group's union-focused wing and a backlash against the AAUP's traditional leadership and its decisions over the past year.

Election results released late Wednesday showed that all seven members of a slate calling itself "AAUP Organizing for Change" easily won races for the association's top posts.

Most notably, in the race to be the association's president, Rudy H. Fichtenbaum, a professor of economics at Wright State University with strong support among labor organizers, beat Irene T. Mulvey, a Fairfield University mathematics professor supported by several of the group's past leaders, by a vote of 2,246 to 1,295. (About a tenth of the association's members voted in the elections, a turnout that is fairly typical for the group.)

Mr. Fichtenbaum, the treasurer of the AAUP's Collective Bargaining Congress and a prominent advocate for academic labor in Ohio, was a strong critic of the association's ouster last year of its general secretary, Gary Rhoades, who was widely liked by union organizers in the field but often clashed with the central-office staff. Mr. Rhoades, who resigned after coming into conflict with the AAUP's current president, Cary Nelson, and after seeing his reappointment as general secretary opposed by the association's executive committee, was joined by a long list of leaders of the AAUP's unionized affiliates in endorsing Mr. Fichtenbaum's candidacy.

Charles J. Parrish, a member of the "AAUP Organizing for Change" slate who easily won an at-large seat on the association's national council, on Thursday described his slate as "a bunch of people who basically have not been in the main current of the AAUP and all of whom objected to the firing of Gary Rhoades." He said, "We all supported what Rhoades was trying to do in reaching out to other organizations and in reaching out to the field."

Mr. Fichtenbaum argued, however, that his slate of candidates had "moved past" the controversy over the departure of Mr. Rhoades, which he described as representing just a portion of the slate's reservations about the association's current leadership. "We are really trying to figure out a way of moving the organization forward," he said.

In the race for vice president, Hank Reichman, a professor emeritus of history at California State University, East Bay, beat Wendy W. Roworth, a professor of art and art history at the University of Rhode Island whom Ms. Mulvey, the losing presidential candidate, had supported.

Ms. Mulvey, an executive-committee member, had been endorsed by Mr. Nelson, who will be term-limited out of office at the association's annual meeting, in June. Among her other endorsers were Jane Buck, who preceded Mr. Nelson as president; Mary Burgan, a former AAUP general secretary; Cat Warren, the editor of the AAUP journal Academe; and Michael Bérubé, a professor of literature at Pennsylvania State University and the new president of the Modern Language Association, who formerly served as president of the AAUP's pivotal Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

Professional Guild and Labor Union

In a letter endorsing Ms. Mulvey, Patrick B. Shaw, a former member of the AAUP's staff, predicted that the election's results "will affect, to a large extent, whether the association remains anchored principally to its commitment to the profession and its standards and principles or becomes an organization principally focused on a particular means—unionization—of achieving these objectives." While saying the association must unionize faculty members where it can, he argued that the "real organization—of the profession and all those professionals who cannot choose collective bargaining—must derive from the AAUP's historic commitment to the development and advocacy of the principles of the profession."

The slate of candidates who won had adopted a platform arguing that "the single most effective way to protect academic freedom and shared governance is through collective bargaining" and that the association's top priority must be organizing, through the formation of union chapters where collective bargaining is allowed and advocacy chapters elsewhere.

Among its campaign promises, it pledged to expand the role of the organization's national council, which votes on the recommendations of the executive committee, and to change the AAUP's constitution "so that committees are not solely appointed by the president."

Among other winning candidates on that slate, Susan Michalczyk, an adjunct faculty member at Boston College and member of the New Faculty Majority, was elected second vice president; Michele Ganon, a professor of accounting at Western Connecticut State University, was elected secretary-treasurer; and Mayra Besosa, an adjunct instructor of Spanish at California State University-San Marcos and chairwoman of the AAUP's Committee on Contingency and the Profession, won an at-large seat on the national council.

Healing a Fractured Organization

"It is evident for all neutral observers that the organization was fractured," said Richard J. Boris, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions. "The question," Mr. Boris said, "is whether there can be healing in the organization, where the entire organization and the professional staff can unite behind the new leadership, and whether the new leadership can inject new energy and new vision into the AAUP."

Mr. Nelson, the association's departing president, said in a statement e-mailed on Thursday that the newly elected officers "are very knowledgeable about collective bargaining, which will help us take advantage of the new organizing opportunities arising from widespread assaults on shared governance." He added: "I hope they also support the traditional strengths that define what the AAUP is: Committee A policy statements and reports, amicus briefs from the legal department, recruitment of new members devoted to our core principles, and government-relations work. We need to sustain all these activities at their current levels."

Also announced by the AAUP late Wednesday were the results of elections, initially held last year, that the association was forced to reconduct after a U.S. Department of Labor investigation found irregularities largely linked to electronic voting.

As a result of the 2011 elections' being conducted again, six out of the 13 national council members who won last year—including Ms. Mulvey—lost their seats.

AAUP members also voted again for the position of chair of the Assembly of State Conferences, an umbrella organization of all of the state AAUP conferences. The incumbent, Donna L. Potts, a professor of English at Kansas State University, will remain in that role until the end of June 2013.


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