AFT National Higher Education Issues Conference

I recently attended the AFT National Higher Education Conference in Portland, Oregon.  The following is a recap of what AFT has been and will be involved in during 2006 and 2007.  Our local will be participating in these activities as well.

Of these, the top two priorities have been:
… Campaigning to defend academic freedom in the face of a scathing attack from right-wing political ideologues; and
… Initiating a campaign to reverse the exploitation of contingent faculty and the loss of full-time tenure jobs in our colleges and universities.

The following provides more detail from a summary paper prepared by the AFT Higher Education Department.  Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or comments regarding these critical issues.

In Unity,


Defending Academic Freedom

Free Exchange on Campus Coalition
Starting in late 2005, AFT joined a coalition of faculty organizations, advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and student groups. The Coalition was named Free Exchange on Campus (Free Exchange.)  Free Exchange was formed to fight so-called ³Academic Bill of Rights² legislation in the states.  At that time, a well-funded campaign had been initiated by a right-wing activist named David Horowitz calling on the states and the federal government to pass legislation that purports to defend ³intellectual diversity² on campus‹what it would really do is get the government into the business of scrutinizing curriculum, teaching, grading and handling of student complaints on campus.

At the time the Free Exchange was formed, versions of the Horowitz legislation had been introduced in half the states.  AFT higher education assumed the role of Free Exchange coordinator.  The Coalition quickly established a website to share news, data and ideas   ( ).  Free Exchange Coalition members committed themselves to follow Horowitz and his ideas wherever they went.  When Horowitz introduced legislation, Free Exchange produced counter-testimony and lobbied against the bill.  When Horowitz traveled to promote his cause, the Coalition was right there. When Horowitz wrote a book about the 101 ³most dangerous professors² in America, Free Exchange came back immediately with a book refuting Horowitz¹s data called Facts Count.   When bogus ³research studies² were issued by Horowitz and other conservative groups, such as the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, AFT released ³The Faculty Bias Studies: Science or Propaganda².

The result?  Free Exchange won every battle in 2006, particularly in the State of Pennsylvania which had the most closely watched legislation.  The Open Society Institute followed up by awarding a grant to expand the Campaign to AFT and the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG,) who took the lead in coordinating field activities for the coalition.  Just this year, Coalition members successfully stopped Academic Bill of Rights bills in Virginia and Montana.  However, the groups backing negative legislation have big dollars and great patience, so Free Exchange will be moving forward aggressively for a long time.

Academic Freedom Statement
Along the same lines, the AFT program and policy council recently decided it is time for a contemporary 21st century re-statement of the key principles of academic freedom.  An AFT Statement on Academic Freedom is under development and there will be an open forum during the last conference session to provide members with an opportunity to offer comments and suggestions.

Faculty and College Excellence Campaign (FACE)

This week, AFT formally announced the launch of a legislative, collective bargaining, organizing and public education campaign called the Faculty and College Excellence (FACE) Campaign.  The twin goals of the FACE campaign are: (1) to establish full equity for contingent faculty in salary, health and pension benefits and (2) gradually rebuild the constantly-diminishing corps of full-time tenure and tenure track faculty.

Phase I of the Campaign, which will continue through the Spring, has concentrated on introducing state legislation that would accomplish the FACE objectives.  As a result of the work of AFT state and local leaders, legislation has been introduced in eight states with more to follow shortly.  Legislative hearings have been held or are scheduled to be held in many of these states.  This initial effort is intended to raise the visibility of academic staffing as a public issue, but it is only the first step.

Over the next year, AFT leaders will work with constituent group representatives to explore lessons learned from Phase I; develop new and better ways to frame our case and take it to the public; and expand efforts on the organizing and collective bargaining sides of FACE for locals who want to concentrate on that.  We have established a FACE website, , which provides updates on state activities, public relations materials as well as a testimony kit for affiliates.  The website will also report on recent organizing victories for contingent faculty and provides sample collective bargaining language.

Contingent Faculty Activity Program

FACE takes a comprehensive approach to academic staffing but it is only one part of a contingent faculty activity program‹one that has been shaped by contingent faculty forums at the last two AFT national higher education conferences and by meetings of AFT¹s part-time/adjunct faculty advisory committee.

Again and again, contingent faculty leaders told AFT that what they wanted most was an avenue for information exchange in areas like collective bargaining, legislation and sustaining a healthy local.  In response, the AFT higher education department has established a Contingent Faculty Information Exchange web page on Leadernet ( ).  It contains news stories, a legislative catalogue and discussion groups on bargaining issues.  There will be a presentation at the contingent faculty forum on how to utilize the site, which be successful only if a large number of contingent faculty leaders sign onto it and contribute to it. A flyer in the conference bags outlines  how to join Leadernet.

It is essential that contingent faculty help shape and implement programs related to their interests.  Along those lines, it should be noted that, at the 2006 AFT convention, three new contingent faculty leaders were added to the higher education program and policy council (PPC) along with one new professional staff member. At this time, 19 of the 26 PPC members represent locals that include contingent faculty.  To solicit further input, last year AFT formed a contingent faculty advisory committee‹the committee will hold two face-to-face meetings this year and  a meeting of the non-tenure track faculty advisory committee will also be held.

Expanding Access to Higher Education

Congressional committees have been working to reauthorize the federal higher education act since 2005.  Action has been postponed repeatedly because other legislative priorities got in the way and because agreement was hard to reach.  This year, AFT faces a new Democrat Congress, one it played a big part in electing. With the new Congress comes the prospect of making positive policy changes rather than fighting only to defend what we already have.  Committee action is now resuming on the higher education act and AFT, in collaboration with NEA, will be a major player.

The top lobbying priority for AFT and NEA is expanding access to college, particularly boosting support for the Pell Grant program that reaches the neediest students.  Last year, AFT and NEA leaders lobbied together in Congress for the first time and intend to do that again.  AFT is also working in coalition with others on a related issue, protecting students from fraud and abuse by for-profit colleges. AFT¹s position on access is informed by the latest issue of our higher education journal, American Academic , which deals with winners and losers in the college opportunity sweepstakes. This issue is in the conference packets. In addition, we have begun discussing a new initiative with the AFL-CIO aimed at promoting college access for workers and their families.

Diversity and Affirmative Action

AFT higher education leaders are very concerned about the campaigns initiated by Ward Connerly to remove affirmative action from higher education. Working with the AFT human rights department and other civil rights organizations, plans are being made to follow the progress of these campaigns and mobilize opposition to them. We will also address diversity issues in a different way‹the upcoming issue ofAmerican Academic will focus on enhancing faculty diversity in our colleges and universities.


In 2006, the AFT national convention approved an organizing plan for the union‹higher education was recognized as a constituency with tremendous potential for further organizing.  Organizing contingent faculty, in particular, was designated a top priority.

Since then, the organizing and higher education departments have begun working to turn these priorities into reality through strategic campaigns and consultations with state and local leaders. From the beginning of 2005 until now, AFT has added nearly 10,000 new bargaining unit members in higher education.  In addition, we are focusing on increasing member activism through AFT¹s ³Culture of Organizing² campaign. The goals of the campaign are to ³turn non-members into members, turn members into activists and turn activists into leaders.²

Collective Bargaining

Over the past two years, we have concentrated on establishing a new Leadernet-based Collective Bargaining Contract Database under which higher education leaders can look at contracts from around the country and perform searches on particular bargaining items.  In addition, we maintain a Higher Education Data Center which includes salary information and other economic and workforce data that can be used in bargaining.  At the same time, the higher education program and policy council in January created a new Collective Bargaining Strategic Planning Committee. Committee members are currently attempting to develop training programs on cross-cutting issues such as healthcare.

Political Mobilization

Higher education affiliates around the country worked with AFT to boost political action during the mid-term election campaigns.  Now the union is gearing up for the presidential and Congressional elections of 2008.  AFT higher education is going to work with affiliates in key election states to develop goals and timelines for increasing political action and fundraising.

Meetings and Conferences

The higher education national issues conference keeps growing in terms of attendance and programming.  Most recently, we have added a ³training day² before the conference officially begins so participants can get training on issues like collective bargaining and political action in greater depth than the regular conference format permits. AFT higher education also holds a yearly invitational Special Leadership Conference which brings a small group of local leaders to Washington D.C. over a weekend for training in leading and managing a union.