Professors at the Claremont Colleges have reestablished an American Association of University Professors advocacy chapter for the first time in over two decades.
Plans for the advocacy chapter started in March 2020 as a result of some faculty members’ growing discontent over the administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The chapter was approved by the national AAUP in September 2020.
The number of advocacy chapters grew immensely as the toll of the pandemic on academic institutions became apparent. Since the pandemic began, there have been nearly two times the number of new AAUP chapters than the year before, national AAUP president Irene Mulvey told TSL via email.
Anne Harley, associate professor of music at Scripps College, began organizing to start the Claremont Colleges’ AAUP chapter and is now its president. Each Claremont College is allowed up to two professors as representatives on its executive committee, although some only have one, according to Harley. Ten faculty make up the current committee, and Keck Graduate Institute is the only institution with no representatives.
The faculty representatives attend weekly executive meetings, but the 7Cs AAUP chapter shares the latest memos with all faculty members, so they can have the chance to give feedback on policy memo drafts. The memos each detail a different call on the administration to listen to numerous faculty demands.
So far, the chapter has drafted seven policy memos, all of which have been sent out to administration and can also be found on their website. The memos concern open presidential searches, campus speech rights, library budget cuts, retirement account cuts, intellectual property, family leave and in-person instruction, respectively.
Faculty at the Claremont Colleges were displeased with what they felt was a top-down approach that the administration took in regards to decisions about the pandemic, according to Harley and Segal, which sparked more interest in creating a new chapter.
“The established principles and ideals for the governance of an academic institution is a shared governance model with faculty always having a central and lead role in regard to the delivery of education,” said Daniel Segal, vice president of the Claremont AAUP and the Jean M. Pitzer professor of anthropology and history.
“That long term process of decline in shared governance from an earlier era really became visible and hit with enormous power to faculty all around the country last spring,” Segal said.
A major goal for the AAUP is to “boost the role of the faculty in governance,” not only within each college but also on the consortium level where there is “virtually no role for the faculty in consortium governance,” according to Segal.
Pitzer did not respond to TSL’s request for comment.
Harley felt that when it came to involving faculty members in the administrative decision-making process, corners were cut. While she does not feel like there is a governance issue, Harley felt that administrative leadership acted from a “position of precarity” when it came to faculty inclusion while responding to the pandemic.
In addition, faculty were unhappy with cuts to retirement benefits from four of the 7Cs: Claremont Graduate University, Claremont McKenna College, Pitzer College and Scripps. According to Harley, Scripps’ monthly retirement contribution, which she says represents approximately 12 percent of one’s salary, was completely cut.
Segal said the cuts could potentially require faculty members to work two to three years longer before retirement.
Harley added that faculty members saw the cuts as “one of the substantial grievances,” especially as professors were expected to put more time into simultaneously planning for the possibilities of either hybrid, remote or in-person courses amid changing COVID-19 guidelines.
“We were being asked to come up with all kinds of ideas for how we were going to make it work. And in a sense, teach the class twice,” Harley said. “And at the same time, our benefits were being cut.”
Segal was displeased with the cuts and believed “the colleges were solving short term problems at the long term expense of the security and dignity of their faculty.”
In response to a request for comment on Scripps’ response to AAUP’s memos, Scripps spokesperson Rachael Warecki referred TSL to various budget updates on Scripps’ website, particularly updates made on April 14, July 24, August 21 and August 25, 2020, as well as a 2021-2022 budget update.
One of the AAUP memos calls for transparent presidential searches at all of the 7C, and the chapter plans to call on Scripps to reboot their search for a new president following current President Lara Tiedens’ recent resignation.
Segal said that a closed third-party and what he called “corporate” approach to the presidential search potentially leads to candidates with “minimal knowledge and laughable ignorance.”
In response to a request for comment on the presidential search process, Warecki referred TSL to the college’s presidential search page, as well as the site’s frequently asked questions page and committee page.
The 7C AAUP chapter is calling on Scripps to form a forum-based search process. According to Harley, Scripps plans to use an outside search firm.
Segal emphasized an expression used by many AAUP activists — “faculty work conditions are student learning conditions”— and said the Claremont AAUP is working to stand up for faculty rights in the name of students having the best opportunity to learn.
In the future, Harley said she believes if the AAUP chapter can attract more than 50 percent of faculty members at the Claremont Colleges, there will be “a kind of tipping point in terms of how the administration deals with the faculty.”
“We hope by bringing these concerns to the attention of the administration and also other faculty who don’t know what the AAUP has been doing, we’re going to attract more faculty to join us and eventually we become a little more powerful on campus in terms of our voice to each of the administrations at each of the colleges,” Harley said.