President’s Column: A New Academic Year and New Challenges Ahead

Posted by  Ashley Bromley   in       Oct 5, 2017     923 Views     Comments Off on President’s Column: A New Academic Year and New Challenges Ahead  

by Michael Dreiling, President, AAUP-Oregon

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I hope your summer months were both renewing and productive. I certainly enjoyed many of those moments. Yet, upon my return to the country in September, I was moved from shock to a lingering grief that first began with the blazing fires and smoke-filled valley and onto the repeated news of disaster-stricken communities in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Caribbean, indeed, around the world.

The call to solidarity and community knows no borders. This is the antidote to my grief. As scholars, teachers, and guides to the academic life of students, AAUP members understand this: our research presses up against, and transcends walls that would otherwise circumscribe and confine knowledge; our teaching inspires the imagination to open the envelope and discover a universe riveted with subtlety, complexity, and diversity; and as advisers and mentors, our map of the academic world is cradled by our ability to hear and connect with the students we serve, no matter where their roots began. Ours is a life of the mind, but also the heart. As we begin the academic year, I honor all that we individually and collectively do to support communities impacted by disaster.

At home, in Oregon, we face continued challenges to our profession’s calling to expand and share knowledge. A bitter bastion led a petition drive, backed by some big money, to put a measure on the ballot that will rescind the very modest “provider tax” that was passed in the legislature in the spring. Only yesterday, they turned in 84,000 signatures (far in excess of the 59,000 required to qualify for the ballot). This repeal will hurt our schools, our colleges and universities, and our students. Stay tuned about how we will fight this repeal effort.

Academic freedom is not just a value to be upheld for its own sake–its practice forms a cornerstone to democracy and human progress. For this reason, the status of academic freedom is like that proverbial “canary in the mine,” a barometer for the wider institutions and culture. I suspect that many of you cringe at the repeated rejection by Congress and the White House of climate science, of public health research on environmental toxins, of research on the economic benefits of Dreamers, of research showing significant racial disparities in the use of deadly force by police, of research showing significant health and mortality impacts of restrictive abortion legislation, and on and on. Ideological considerations appear increasingly prioritized over science and knowledge in public policy, and this distortion polarizes “news” and public discourse. This politicization of knowledge puts our academic freedom at risk and erodes the capacity of our society to engage in robust discourse about policy. On October 17 and 18 AAUP Oregon will be hosting Hank Reichman for two happy hour conversations on the virtues of and threats to academic freedom, one in Corvallis and one in Portland. See here for details.

Our state Conference brings together leadership from AAUP chapters across the state. We will be working closely to bring you updates on PERS and other state government news. More broadly, higher education is in the throes of changes that test what is arguably the most important contribution universities make to a free society: serving as a crucible to develop independent and critical thinking across all fields of inquiry. We have signals that long-standing practices concerning the intellectual property of our class syllabi and lectures may be under new scrutiny; we’ve witnessed a management ethos driven by benchmarks that risk undercutting academic governance and judgement at the department level; and academic freedom is tugged in all directions amid heightened cultural conflicts and the politicization of inquiry, science, and knowledge. Amid these changes, we need faculty inspired by the service that universities provide a free society to step into action and leadership. We hope you will reach out to your AAUP chapter or union to plug into our important work. A few hours a month can help fortify our profession for the challenges ahead.