This fall, 60 years after Bowdoin’s first American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapter meeting, a group of faculty members founded a new chapter in the hope of promoting academic freedom and shared governance at the College.
This is the third time Bowdoin faculty have established a chapter of the nonprofit, dedicated to supporting those engaged in teaching and research in higher education.
Faculty members formed the College’s first chapter in 1949, lobbying the administration to improve faculty retirement plans, insurance plans and salaries. By 1986, however, very few faculty were paying their national dues, and paying the $1 local dues to cover the cost of beer for meetings was not enough to keep the chapter active. It was re-established in 1991 but disbanded four years later.
There are two branches of the AAUP: the AAUP-CBC, a labor union for faculty, and the AAUP Foundation, a public charity that awards grants to projects supporting academic freedom and higher education quality. Bowdoin’s latest AAUP chapter is a part of the latter branch.
Feeling a need to collectively voice their concerns about both the direction of the College and the direction of higher education nationwide, some faculty members decided to form this iteration of the national organization.
“This is proactive, not reactive,” said David Hecht, an associate professor of history and a founding member of the chapter. “It is driven by a sense that we do by and large have it pretty good here, but there are still things that could be improved.”
Another founding member, Associate Professor of English Ann Kibbie, said “[Professors have been] maybe too focused on the day-to-day stuff in our lives. This is a moment to look at the big picture, not just of the College, but of the nation itself.”
In addition to advocating for best practices in higher education nationwide, many of the chapter’s founding members said that they want to be more involved in discussions around governance and administrative decisions on campus.
“More and more faculty have become more involved in an attempt to understand the logic behind the decisions that shape the experience of our students,” said Nadia Celis, associate professor of Romance languages & literatures and director of the Latin American studies program. “[We want to understand] the sense of direction, in general, that the institution has chosen to follow, and the larger set of values and ethical questions that our conversations and our silences may foster, both intentionally and inadvertently.”
“It’s about being in the room and ensuring that being in the room matters,” said Hecht. “And there should be systems for connecting those conversations to where decisions get made.”
Matthew Klingle, associate professor of history and environmental studies and another founding member of the chapter, said that the new AAUP chapter is an opportunity to have a collective voice. He hopes this perspective voice is present especially in conversations around curricular reform. He also mentioned that the group is considering pushing for the hiring of an ombudsperson.
Kibbie discussed the importance of hearing from people before mobilizing around particular issues. Accordingly, the chapter’s faculty members will host its first open house today where they will begin to discuss more concrete goals.
“We want to hear what [open house attendees and new AAUP members] are concerned about. We want to hear what their experiences are. We are committed to being vigilant, exercising our voices and to helping others exercise their[s],” Kibbie said.
The chapter will have monthly meetings open to students, faculty and staff. Kibbie discussed potentially establishing subcommittees and working to bring speakers to campus. She currently knows of around 20 faculty members that have joined the AAUP and paid their dues.
The group will allow for collaboration not only across departments but also across the country.
“[Faculty meetings] really can’t do all of the business the faculty might be interested in doing collectively,” said Kibbie. “There’s simply not enough time. It can be difficult to collaborate with professors in other departments.”
“It’s good to have an organization in place that lets us have these networks with each other and with other institutions, so that we can make sure that we’re all adhering to best practices,” Hecht added.
“We, being the faculty of Bowdoin, are incredibly fortunate and blessed to teach here. We have ample resources; we are well compensated; we have great working conditions, from the students we teach to the colleagues we work with and the community in which we live,” said Klingle. “That does not mean there’s not room for improvement.”