AAUP@FHSU


How has two years without student debt affected you?

The past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have been challenging ones for American higher education. And, given how 2022 has started, we have many more fights ahead of us to protect faculty and quality education.

There is one bright spot. The pause on federal student loan repayment has given Americans much-needed breathing room as the pandemic threatens livelihoods and economic recovery. Let’s keep it going. Join with our partners at the Debt Collective, and tell President Biden to cancel student debt today.

We’ve heard from borrowers what this pause on federal student loan repayment has meant for them. The student debt crisis is part and parcel of the faculty labor crisis, and adjunctification has made it more difficult for faculty to pay back their loans. Beyond faculty, we all know staff whose hours were reduced or eliminated, students who graduated into a turbulent job market, or friends and family who are struggling to pay the bills in a time of high inflation. Imagine what a world without student debt would look like!

I recently talked about the student debt crisis on our podcast, AAUP Presents, with AAUP Pennsylvania state conference president Jessica Sponsler. You can listen to that here.

While there are some promising signs that the Biden administration may fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and hold bad loan servicers accountable, more needs to be done. At the very least, we need another extension of the repayment pause while student loan reforms are implemented. Beyond that, our leaders need to clear out student debt and chart a path toward free college for all. Sign on to a letter to President Biden today, telling him to cancel student debt.

Thanks for taking action.

Onwards,
Kaitlyn Vitez, AAUP Government Relations

Graphic of AAUP Presents podcast with link to episode.


Tell President Biden: Cancel student debt

After months of delays, it’s official. The federal government plans to resume loan repayment for federal student borrowers at the beginning of May—though the current pause on repayment is likely one of the reasons we’re seeing any economic recovery at all. Over the past two years of the pandemic, salary freezes, furloughs, and contract nonrenewals have hurt the faculty and staff who make our colleges run. With the latest wave of COVID-19 cases, it’s clear that further action is needed to protect higher ed workers and the broader economy.

Tell President Biden: We need action on the student debt crisis.

The mammoth Build Back Better Act’s investments in social programs appears to be on ice indefinitely, threatening President Biden’s ability to fulfill the vision he laid out on the campaign trail. But Biden still can deliver on the promises that he made to struggling student loan borrowers, not just by further delaying payments, but by canceling all student debt.

The Department of Education has delivered important reforms this year to help struggling borrowers, in particular those defrauded by for-profit colleges and those with permanent disabilities. Of particular note, the department unveiled a special waiver period to address problems with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (we’ll be sharing more resources for AAUP members soon).

But the president hasn’t acted on his power to cancel or reduce federal student loan balances. Not only is the power of forgiveness confirmed by lawyers at the Department of Education and external legal organizations, but his predecessor already used it to pause student loan repayment.

There’s no reason to wait any longer. Given the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, borrowers deserve certainty on the question of debt cancellation.Can you tell President Biden to cancel student debt?

Thank you for taking action.

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


Solidarity on Labor Day in Uncertain and Perilous Times

Labor Day 2021 feels very different from Labor Days past. Even more, Labor Day 2021 feels very different from what many of us started looking forward to last spring, when we were rolling up our sleeves to get vaccinated. COVID-19 still represents a global public health crisis, the Delta variant is more contagious and more virulent, hospitals in many locations are full and turning patients away, more children are at risk of very serious illness or death, and there is no end in sight. It didn’t have to be this way.

The way to end the pandemic is with collective action. In some states, however, we see governors and legislatures doing exactly the opposite of what needs to be done: banning mask mandates indoors—effectively guaranteeing that the virus will continue to spread, will continue to sicken and kill people, and will have ample opportunity to mutate into another more deadly and more contagious variant against which our current vaccines may be less effective.

In far too many of our colleges and universities, instead of dealing with the reality of a more contagious variant and how that will spread through a population that is not fully vaccinated, we see magical thinking and plans being put into place as if the pandemic is effectively over. Colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to be places where the best science and the most effective requirements and guidelines—based on the expertise of public health faculty—should be put into place. Our institutions of higher education should be leading the way out of the pandemic. I am dismayed at the lack of leadership in many of our institutions and in mid-August called for administrations to do everything possible to ensure the highest level of health and safety, and to follow the guidance of public health experts to use every available tool to protect students, faculty, staff, and neighboring communities from further spread of COVID.

In today’s message, I want to go further and encourage AAUP members everywhere to use all legal and appropriate levers of accountability in order to make the workplaces safe. I am heartened by the spirit of solidarity I see nearly every day when faculty refuse to passively accept unsafe working conditions being imposed on a campus, but use their collective voice to object and to demand better. In addition to our call to administrators, we have many resources for faculty to consider as they organize to demand that public health be prioritized over the bottom line and the magical thinking behind a premature “return to the on-campus learning experience.” I hope these resources, which include AAUP’s special report on COVID-19 and Academic Governance, are useful to you as we organize, advocate and work together for a safe present and a strong future for higher education.

Let’s be clear: the fight for a safe working environment as we begin the new academic year is our fight since it is inextricably linked to genuine shared governance and collaborative decision making, and to academic freedom in the classroom and on campus. Faculty are the ones taking all the risks in our classrooms. It is outrageous for a faculty member to find herself in a position where she needs to consider the probability of bringing the virus home where it might be responsible for the death of a vulnerable family member. When the administration isn’t making the best decisions for the institution, it’s the faculty’s responsibility to stand up, speak out and do all they can to ensure that the core academic mission is carried out in the most effective way for the circumstances. As AAUP president, I thank you for your work in this regard. I am privileged to represent members of the AAUP as we work together during these very trying times.

Aside from the resources AAUP has put together to help faculty during the pandemic, our work continues on a number of other fronts:

Race and Higher Education: Under my leadership the AAUP is engaged in a multi-faceted long-term initiative to better understand the role of racism in higher education and within the AAUP. We will continue to update you as this work progresses. In particular, the AAUP staff has developed a series of resources to address legislative interference, typically at the state level, in the teaching of the role of racism in US history and society.

The New Deal for Higher Education: As part of our focus on racial justice and social justice we remain committed to fighting for a New Deal for Higher Education. The AAUP continues to press for reform of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. With the impending passage of the American Families Plan, we are now embarking on a campaign to double Pell Grants, secure tuition-free community college, and give grants to four-year institutions to quickly and effectively bring an affordable, high-quality education within reach of all students. Stay tuned for more coming this fall.

For those seeking useful data to organize and advocate for faculty, I urge you to look at two recent major reports by the AAUP. This year’s edition of the always highly anticipated Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession does not disappoint. The report examines long-standing economic crises in higher education, declining fiscal support, overreliance on contingent faculty, growth of administrations, and spiraling institutional debt, while also delving into some of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The AAUP Research Department also published a second report on data collected from the 2021 AAUP Shared Governance Survey, the first national survey on shared governance since 2001.

I encourage you to make the most of the AAUP as a resource in these trying and perilous times, and let us know how we can help you. We stand united.

In solidarity,
Irene Mulvey, AAUP President