Faculty Join National Advocacy Group Amid Personnel Changes

Amid concern over the ongoing Academic and Administrative Program Review and staffing changes this summer, over 58 Oberlin College and Conservatory faculty members have joined the American Academy of University Professors. At 64 members, the AAUP of Oberlin does not have the numbers to become its own chapter. It does, however, have the power to become a faculty advocacy program.

The AAUP is a national organization with local chapters in each state, which serve as either bargaining or advocacy chapters. A private college like Oberlin can only become an advocacy chapter, which would not allow the collective bargaining found in public university chapters like the AAUP branch at The Ohio State University.

“Ideally we [AAUP-affiliated faculty at Oberlin College] would be able to form a union, but we’re not allowed to do that,” said Stephen Crowley, chair of the Politics Department. “But I think it’s important for faculty to discuss their concerns and their interests.”

Crowley is one of the many faculty members to join the AAUP over the spring, the largest surge in AAUP membership at Oberlin.

Faculty at private universities are not legally protected if they unionize. This distinction from public university faculty arose from the 1980 Supreme Court decision NLRB v. Yeshiva University, which established tenure-track faculty at private universities as “managerial.”

Since the National Labor Relations Act prevents “management” from unionization, faculty at private universities have been prevented from doing so. Without the power to form and join unions, faculty have had to find alternate ways to organize.

“An AAUP chapter allows us, then, as an organization, to engage in collective action,” said James Monroe Professor of Politics Chris Howell.“I joined AAUP because I believe in the principle and also because I wanted to support anything that looks like labor organization of faculty.”

Howell, one of the original six faculty members of the AAUP, has been affiliated with the group for 29 years.

Newer members of the AAUP, like Assistant Professor of Politics David Forrest, signed up in response to dissatisfaction with faculty treatment and concerned for tenured teaching positions.

“Existing governance structures at colleges and universities around the country simply aren’t doing a good enough job at addressing important issues affecting their employees,” Forrest said in an email to the Review. “Unions and advocacy organizations like the AAUP can bolster both local and national efforts to address these issues and create more social justice in higher education.”

The surge in AAUP membership overlaps summer faculty and staff departures, including former Associate Dean of Students Shozo Kawaguchi, former Associate Director of the Student Union Tom Reid, and former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Tim Elgren. The removal of two staff members affiliated with the Oberlin College Office and Professional — Scott Stanfield of Residential Education and the Student Union’s Dan Lubinski — was effective June 30.

In addition, about 20 staff positions were eliminated following the Dascomb Dining Hall closure. According to Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo, the two OCOPE members impacted by the closure have been transferred to other positions, and the elimination of Dascomb staff positions did not result in layoffs. Faculty and staff departures, according to Howell, are often learned through “word of mouth.”

“We don’t announce personnel decisions in part because of the institution’s obligation to respect the privacy of individuals,” Raimondo said. “Individuals can share information about their departure, or their departments can share information about their departures if they choose.”

Howell — regarding the new members of the AAUP — hopes for a stronger connection between faculty and staff.

“A significant part of the motivation [of joining the AAUP] is to reach out to faculty as workers,” Howell said. “One of the goals, in part, is to articulate a set of principles around dignity and rights as workers.”

Faculty and staff are often divided by the administration’s financial decisions. Last year, a Voluntary Separation Incentive Package was offered only to faculty, as opposed to previous years when the package was also offered to staff.

Howell believes the gain of 58 new AAUP members in a short timespan is not only a result of faculty and staff departures but also due to recent budget changes like the establishment of the external review process known as the Academic and Administrative Program Review.

“[Joining the AAUP] is not a signature on a letter; it’s going to cost faculty $200 or more,” Howell said. “Faculty are deeply worried.”

In order to become an advocacy chapter, the AAUP-affiliated members at Oberlin will have to call an organizational meeting to elect officers, draft bylaws for a potential chapter, induct officers, and notify the national office.

Raimondo understands the increased momentum behind the AAUP.

“I think it makes sense at a time of change, which this is, and at a time where there have been questions about this big administrative and academic program review process, that people would seek for strategies to work collaboratively to protect the things they value most,” she said.

AAUP members will hold their first meeting today.