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


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


Cause for Alarm and Hope in Governance Survey Data

Today we are issuing a report on data from the first national survey about shared governance in two decades. It follows and complements our recently released Special Report: COVID-19 and Academic Governance, which is the report of an investigation into a number of instances in which governing boards and administrations opportunistically exploited the pandemic, using it as an excuse to put aside established academic governance processes and unilaterally close programs and lay off faculty members.

The Survey Data on the Impact of the Pandemic on Shared Governance released today analyzes responses to a survey completed by faculty governance leaders at four-year institutions. It provides additional evidence of severe pressure on governance.

However, it also offers a hopeful counterpoint by documenting an increase in faculty influence at some institutions, including those where faculty members benefited from leadership transitions or from being more vigilant and outspoken.

The report, which is the first in a series that will highlight key findings of our survey, focuses on the portion of the survey concerning the impact of the pandemic.

  • Almost a quarter of respondents reported a reduction in faculty influence at their institutions, while almost fifteen percent reported an increase in influence.
  • Respondents at fewer than a third of institutions reported an opportunity for meaningful faculty participation in budgetary decisions. More than two-thirds reported that the administration had made such decisions essentially unilaterally.
  • Over a quarter of respondents from all institutions reported that faculty on contingent appointments had been laid off.
  • Almost a tenth of respondents at institutions with a tenure system reported terminations or nonrenewals of tenured or tenure-track faculty. The number climbed to over forty percent at institutions where programs had been eliminated.
  • At institutions where administrations or governing boards declared institutional regulations no longer in force, over forty percent of respondents reported the elimination of programs.
  • Almost a quarter of respondents indicated that faculty members could not voice dissenting views without fear of administrative reprisal, but the number exceeded forty percent at institutions where regulations were declared no longer in force.

The report’s findings about the impact of the pandemic on shared governance provide cause for alarm, but they also affirm the importance of governance and the difference faculty members can make when they come together and demand a meaningful role in institutional decision-making. The formation of dozens of new AAUP chapters over the past year has been a silver lining of the grave crisis brought on by the pandemic. We urge all AAUP members—including those who do not yet have chapters on their campuses—to organize to amplify the faculty voice and make increased participation in shared governance part of the “new normal” for the coming academic year and beyond.

Read the complete report.

AAUP Department of Research


Investigation Update

In September, the AAUP announced an investigation of the crisis in academic governance that has occurred in the wake of the pandemic. We’re writing to update you on the investigation.

The investigation’s initial focus was on seven institutions; the following month, an eighth was added to the list. Never before in the Association’s 106-year history has a governance investigation involving multiple institutions been undertaken.

The investigating committee, of which we are co-chairs, is charged with reaching findings on whether and to what extent there were departures at the eight institutions from AAUP-supported principles and standards of academic governance, as set forth in the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities and derivative AAUP policy documents. The institutions included in the investigation are Canisius College (NY), Illinois Wesleyan University, Keuka College (NY), Marian University (WI), Medaille College (NY), National University (CA), the University of Akron (OH), and Wittenberg University (OH).

The committee has now concluded interviews with the principal parties at each institution and completed our analysis of the voluminous documentation associated with each of the eight cases. Taken together, the interviews and documents constitute the evidentiary basis of the committee’s findings, the first of which is that we are in the midst of the worst crisis in academic governance in decades.

The committee is drafting a report that details additional findings regarding governing boards’ and administrations’ actions to dismiss tenured faculty, abrogate faculty contracts, abolish faculty governance bodies, suspend faculty handbook provisions, and invoke force majeure clauses in collective bargaining agreements, among others. The report will conclude with general observations regarding the current and future conditions for shared governance, academic freedom, tenure, and due process across the country’s institutions of higher education.

We anticipate that the investigating committee report will be distributed in the weeks ahead to the relevant parties at each of the eight institutions for comment and corrections of fact. These comments will be taken into account in the preparation of the final report before it is published.

Best wishes,

Michael Bérubé, Pennsylvania State University

Michael DeCesare, Merrimack College; chair of the AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance