by Ashley Bromley, Incoming Executive Director
AAUP-Oregon activists from across the state gathered on the Oregon State University campus on April 29th to build a shared strategy for fighting back against attacks on higher education.
Our Campuses Under Attack
We began the day with a plenary panel addressing the attacks on students, inclusion, science, and faculty rights that we face on our campuses. Leaders summarized the current threats faced and shared how their campuses are responding. The plenary provided a launching off point for break-out sessions where we brainstormed how AAUP-Oregon can collectively address these attacks. Each break-out group reported back in the closing plenary, helping us create a list of priorities and action items to guide our work in the coming year. These actions include:
(1) Resisting Attacks on Students and Inclusion
Student activists provided their perspective on how faculty can support and encourage student activists who are working to create more just universities. Specifically, students asked that faculty:
- Share resources, including organizing and media trainings
- Openly articulate support, both as individuals and as a state conference, for student activists and move resistant faculty colleagues toward greater support
- Support unionization campaigns for student workers
- Help students navigate administrative processes when they face sanctions for their activism
- Include students in our fights for shared governance and academic freedom rights
- Raise consciousness about the truth that “activism is education” by developing and sharing pedagogy that uses activism to enrich the educational experience
- Train faculty in engaging in difficult classroom conversations through workshops and skill sharing
(2) Resisting Attacks on Faculty Rights
Our conversation regarding protecting faculty rights centered on the need to secure revenue at the state level. Without secure higher education funding, we will continue to find ourselves in a vulnerable position. More broadly, we felt that we should be moving in the next year to prepare ourselves to sponsor our own legislation that speaks directly to our issues, including: revenue generation, tuition reduction, Board of Trustees transparency, and faculty governance.
Beyond these state-level initiatives, we focused on the need to build our capacity via one-on-one organizing. We need to increase our work in training members to talk to each other—and their legislators! We want to build on successful initiatives at our constituent campuses by bringing successful trainings, materials, and ideas to other locals across the state. In the context of increasing our organizing work, we must be cognizant of the limitations of those working at private universities and within advocacy chapters and help articulate ways these faculty can speak up without feeling vulnerable to retaliation.
(3) Resisting Attacks on Science & Academic Freedom
We find ourselves in a time of heightened attacks on academic freedom and the free pursuit of scientific inquiry. Faculty need to continue to shut down websites and lists where faculty are attacked for exercising academic freedom in their classrooms. Further, we must protect the academic freedom of our students. Specifically, AAUP-Oregon should work to draft a statement of academic freedom to be incorporated into syllabi. Faculty at individual campuses can modify this language and work within their governance structures to have the language included in all course syllabi. We would like to plan a series of public symposia on “Academic Freedom as an Activist Agenda.” These political times highlight the need for a fight with which we have long been engaged. We should use this opportunity to redouble our efforts and to expand the base of people actively engaged in the fight for academic freedom.
What Are We Fighting For?
We were joined by Risa Lieberwitz, AAUP General Counsel, for a keynote address. Risa reminded us that when we talk about resistance, we must remember to center what we are fighting for, not just what we are fighting against. Reminding ourselves what we are fighting for will sustain the struggle and inform our tactics. AAUP fights for education for the public good by defending the role of faculty in the delivery of higher education.
Risa offered two important ways we can fight to protect our core values. First, she suggested that we use public record laws to shine a light on conflicts of interest and expose private entities’ attempts to use the university to their personal benefit. By exposing these efforts to privatize the good of education, we can defend the public’s interest. We should defend the use of public records while guarding against abuses, where these laws are used to intimidate individual faculty via extensive and intrusive requests. Our integrity is an asset in this fight, and we must protect it.
We can protect our integrity through resisting the commercialization of research. While commercialization provides individual benefits to some faculty, it must be recognized as part of an agenda of privatization. Commercialization is a means of shifting the responsibility for funding science to the private sector, and in doing so, shifting the results of scientific inquiry to a private, not public, good. Commercialization also leads to vulnerable employment, including soft money funded faculty who are dependent on commercial relationships to sustain their livelihood. We need to engage with our faculty colleagues to discuss the harm done by commercialization and to fight back against the privatization of the results of our work.
Getting to Work
In the coming weeks, the AAUP-Oregon leadership will continue to digest these conversations and chart a plan for the coming year. If you are excited about any of the initiatives discussed above, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for ways to get more involved! Look for ways to connect in future communications.