Tell Congress to pass the Build Back Better Act

At the very end of September, Congress passed a temporary extension on federal funding into December while it continues negotiations on other big pieces of legislation. This extension is very much needed, but we can’t let it kill the momentum to pass the Build Back Better Act quickly and in full. Every week that this historic bill is delayed is another chance for us to make the case for free college—and from there, a New Deal for Higher Ed.

Tell your member of Congress today to pass the Build Back Better Act, and fight to keep free community college in the bill.

The Build Back Better Act would be one of the biggest investments in higher education in our lifetimes—and at the same time, a down payment on the even bigger reforms and funding that our colleges need to serve our communities. We’re in the fight for the long haul to secure a New Deal for Higher Education. A cornerstone of our plans is the federal-state partnership in the Build Back Better Act, which (beyond providing free community college) would require states to maintain and increase their funding to all their public colleges. This model would reverse the trend of state disinvestment that has plagued our colleges for decades, and creates a path for us to get free college for all in future legislation.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this federal-state partnership. But every day that the bill’s passage is stalled, negotiations could weaken the higher education provisions—or eliminate them entirely. There’s been talk already of means-testing these new funds, or of abandoning this innovative model for college affordability entirely.That’s why we need you to tell your Senators and Representative: support the Build Back Better Act, and work to keep the federal-state partnership for higher ed in the bill.

It’s urgent that our elected officials hear from us as they consider how to move forward on this legislation—and also that we galvanize our colleagues to speak up. Can you send a letter using the link above, and ask your colleagues to speak up too?

Thanks for taking action.

Kaitlyn Vitez, AAUP Government Relations

Teaching the truth about race

As fall terms get underway on campuses, so too do state legislative campaigns seeking to restrict teaching about the history of race and racism in the United States. Three states have already pre-filed bills for the 2022 legislative season, and several more have active legislation that will carry over from the 2021 session.

The bills are a naked attempt to manipulate curricula to advance partisan or ideological aims. Many attack the scholarly field of critical race theory, but their purpose is much broader: to suppress teaching and learning about racism.

We’d like to know if and how these bills, or related attempts to chill the free exchange of facts and ideas about American history, have affected you. Please let us know by taking this brief survey.

The AAUP is working to protect faculty’s ability to teach the truth about American history, and to further racial justice in higher education and in our own organization. Here are some resources and initiatives we’d like members to know about:

More information about the wave of legislation seeking to suppress teaching about race is here. Other resources about racial justice are here.

In solidarity,

Glinda Rawls

Chair, AAUP Racial Justice Committee

Join our push to save Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Today, hundreds of thousands of faculty members face financial uncertainty. They were promised student loan forgiveness in exchange for years of public service. But after rising to the moment and transforming their teaching methods during a global pandemic, faculty have been left behind.

That is why the AAUP is partnering with the Student Borrower Protection Center and the American Federation of Teachers to host a webinar highlighting what faculty need to know about managing student loans, how to access the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, and how to get involved in a campaign to restore the promise of PSLF. Register here.

The webinar will feature first-hand testimony from faculty about their struggles with student debt, and the opportunity for participants to ask questions about their student loans. Join us on Tuesday, September 21, from 4:00-5:00pm EST, and please amplify in your networks!

Even if you cannot attend the webinar, you can share your story as a public comment. Now, for the first time ever, the US Department of Education is asking faculty, especially those who work part-time or on a contingent contract, to share their stories about public service and debt forgiveness. Working part-time on short-term contracts, often at multiple institutions, compounds the pervasive issues in student loan servicing.

This is our chance to make the case directly to President Biden that the PSLF program is broken and that only sweeping action to deliver debt relief can right a decade of wrongs by the student loan industry—wrongs that have particularly hurt contingent faculty. We need more of our colleagues to speak up about the issues faced by contingent faculty, so that the Department of Education can prioritize fixing them.

Thanks for sharing your story—and I hope to see you on Tuesday!

In solidarity,

Kaitlyn Vitez, AAUP Government Relations

Pushing for COVID-19 safety

As the fall term gets under way, protecting the health and safety of faculty, students, staff, and all members of our communities is a top priority for AAUP chapters and state conferences around the country. I couldn’t be prouder of the strong work being done by our members around this issue.

Under the leadership of the Georgia AAUP Conference, faculty at at least sixteen colleges spanning nineteen campuses in that state are taking part in week-long demonstrations and calling on administrators to follow the science and institute mask and/or vaccine mandates. The actions of Georgia’s faculty have garnered nationwide coverage and have inspired several other state conferences in the South to begin planning similar events to ensure health and safety on their campuses. Read more.

Here are a few other recent news clips highlighting how chapters are pushing administrations to provide a safe environment for teaching and learning:

  • At Northern Illinois University, the faculty union negotiated a mask mandate, a student vaccination requirement, regular testing, and a specific COVID-19 positivity rate that will trigger a switch to remote teaching.
  • After the University of Minnesota AAUP chapter created nationwide publicity for its call for a vaccine mandate, the university instituted one.
  • Chapters at Penn StateOklahoma University, and Wright State, along with the South Carolina state AAUP, have been speaking out about inadequate pandemic response and unsafe working conditions.

AAUP president Irene Mulvey continues to highlight this issue, most recently in a statement urging administrations to prioritize health and safety as campuses reopen and in an Academe magazine column on leadership during a crisis. As she points out, “We are here as a result of an extraordinary failure of leadership. We know how to keep people safe and end the pandemic: by vaccinating as many people as possible and following science-based community guidelines on masking and physical distancing. Leaders at all levels of elected government and leaders of our institutions should be amplifying and sending this unequivocal message to all.”

Finally, I want to remind you that the AAUP has a COVID-19 Response Fund to help support our chapters as they respond to the impact of the pandemic on their campuses.

Our complete list of COVID-19 resources is here.

In solidarity,

Julie Schmid, AAUP Executive Director

Tell your representative: help higher ed build back better

I want to offer a bit of hope for what the next few months might bring, and to ask for your help in our national campaign for a New Deal for Higher Education.

In early August, the US Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure package, and they just introduced the bill that will make President Biden’s American Families Plan a reality. What’s in the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act? For higher ed, free community college would be the biggest investment in our colleges in decades—and give us a framework to build up to free college for all and our larger vision for a real New Deal. Beyond that federal-state partnership (which requires states to invest in all public institutions), there is dedicated funding for minority-serving institutions, an annual bump to the maximum Pell award, and grants to support student success at public institutions. All told, there’s $111 billion in funding for higher ed.

The House has finalized its edits to the bill, and we’re hearing that a vote may happen by the end of the month. Can you tell your Representative and Senator to support the Build Back Better Act?

Over the past year and a half, we’ve seen COVID-19 rip holes in institutional budgets. Despite some welcome assistance from Congress in the CARES Act and other coronavirus response bills, it hasn’t been enough to prevent widespread layoffs, reduced student services, and even the closure of academic programs. The Build Back Better Act’s federal-state partnership will help fix long standing funding issues—especially in the trend of state and federal disinvestment that has starved our colleges of resources.

Because this bill needs to pass the Senate on a simple majority through the budget reconciliation process, there are limitations to what we can get in it. Increasing grant funding to states, students, and institutions is doable, but creating new policies (especially unfunded mandates) like a shift towards more tenure-track instruction are not through budget reconciliation. The Build Back Better Act gives us a down payment toward a New Deal level of investment, while we continue to fight to reform higher ed labor and expand free tuition to more types of colleges.

As Congress moves towards a vote on this historic bill, we need to urge it to pass the $3.5 trillion proposal, and not to cut higher ed funding to appease moderate senators, who want to see a much smaller price tag on this bill. We must tell our members of Congress to vote yes—and to support our calls for further action to protect faculty. A first step towards that in this bill is to allow funds to be used to “invest in and diversify the academic workforce.”

Email your Representative and Senator today in support of the Build Back Better Actand beyond that, ask them to make sure that federal funds can be used to improve faculty job security and to invest in the academic workforce. Click through to submit a letter (which you can customize).

Thanks for taking action on this critical campaign!

In solidarity,
Kaitlyn Vitez, AAUP Government Relations