My Pitch for Your Vote for 2nd VP




I suggested that Don Eron run for AAUP president, not second VP. He is determined, 
visionary, and the hardest working activist in the country.
--Marc Bousquet, author of How the University Works.




            Here is what my profile says on the University of Colorado Faculty Senate / Faculty Council web page:

 

Don Eron is a Senior Instructor in the Program for Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he has taught since 1989. Within the discipline of rhetoric and composition, his scholarly interests are in creative nonfiction, Jewish rhetorical traditions, and academic labor. He has an MFA from the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa and has published poetry, fiction, and reviews in numerous venues. He has also written extensively in the field of academic labor, where his contributions have been widely recognized. Don is a former elected member of the Boulder Faculty Assembly (BFA) and a long-time member of the BFA Faculty Benefits and Compensation Committee. He is currently the treasurer of the Boulder campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and sits on the Colorado Committee for the Protection of Faculty Rights (CCPFR).

 

Above left is my picture from this site. In reality I am much better looking.

 

Some readers will know that the academic labor “contributions” allude to this: I am the co-founder, with Suzanne Hudson, of the Instructor Tenure Project at the University of Colorado. And I am the primary author of the book-length “Colorado AAUP Report on the Terminations of Phil Mitchell and Ward Churchill,” a blow-by-blow account of the ways that academic freedom is abused today, focusing on the firings of two faculty on very different ends of the political spectrum and academic hierarchy. My colleagues and I wrote this report at the behest of the Colorado Conference, after Committee A declined to investigate the University of Colorado’s treatment of these faculty. These two strategies—tenure eligibility for all faculty at every rank and job description, and the decentralization of Committee A’s academic freedom watchdog function—are why I am asking for your vote as Second Vice President of AAUP.

 

Here is what the profile doesn’t say: Even after 23 years on the faculty, when I walk into a classroom I understand that I am far more likely to get fired, or not be rehired, if I evaluate my students honestly, hold them to rigorous standards, or challenge their “comfort zones,” than if I don’t bother. Nor does the profile reveal this: When I attend a faculty meeting, if my administrator advances a policy that, through my years of experience I know will be damaging to students or against the interests of my program or community, I understand that if I speak up and contribute my professional expertise, I am far more likely to be fired than if I keep my head down.

 

Today, when almost 70% of our faculty are like me, when they do the best they can but probably not the best of which they are capable—because in the classroom or at faculty meetings (if they are even invited to faculty meetings) they must constantly negotiate their aspirations against the towering institutional disincentive of contingent employment—when, like me, they are at-will employees who must constantly reapply for their jobs—we have a recipe for mediocrity.

 

If you have read my candidate statement, I hope you noticed the following sentence. It is one of two sentences upon which I stake my candidacy: “The tolerance of contingency enforces the divide between principles and practice.”

 

Any proposed solution to contingency that does not involve tenure eligibility for all faculty—at every rank and job description—enforces mediocrity because such strategies tolerate contingency.

 

But why is that? Furthermore, why can’t I just accept the realities of most workplaces and keep my head down? After all—as I have been told many times by both tenured and contingent colleagues—office politics are a fact of life everywhere, in every sector, not just in colleges and universities. In short, here is why: A college or university is not “everywhere.” Teachers at colleges and universities have unique responsibilities to society.

 

For example, suppose that I am a construction worker, employed by Mr. X, who in turn is employed as a general contractor to build a house for Mr. Y. In the course of helping to build Mr. Y’s house, let’s say that I offer suggestions that I believe would help us achieve our goal more efficiently. Suppose that, rather than acting upon my ideas, Mr. X finds them to be inconvenient, and chooses to fire me instead. Office politics being what they are, I would be out of luck. Assuming that my idea was a good one from which Mr. X might have benefited had he been more receptive, Mr. X would be out of luck, as would Mr. Y, whose house might have been built more efficiently. While we would all be out of luck, society wouldn’t be, for there’s no societal interest in whether Mr. Y’s house is built as efficiently as it might be. Indeed, the sole purpose of Mr. X’s business is to make money for Mr. X. That’s where the imperatives of business and education differ. There is a central societal interest in providing students with the best possible education to prepare them to face the challenges of our collective future.

 

What defines and justifies the AAUP, as reflected in the enduring 1915 and 1940 statements on academic freedom and tenure, are two related concepts. The first is that, as the pursuers and transmitters of knowledge, we have unique responsibilities and therefore require unique protections. The second is that tenure, as the only meaningful protection of academic freedom, is the essential mechanism that allows us to work for the good of society.

 

Since I began the Instructor Tenure Project with Suzanne Hudson in 2006, I have often been asked, “Is tenure eligibility for all faculty, at every rank and job description, realistic?” Or the equivalent question: “Considering the gradual ‘perma-temping’ of faculty over the last forty years that has now become the status quo, is the return to tenure a practical expectation?”

 

Is it practical? To quote Henny Youngman in a much different context, compared to what? Is tenure more practical than the indignities the vast majority of our faculty face every day? Which is the practical strategy for providing our students with the best possible education? Tenure or contingency?


If I am elected 2nd Vice President of AAUP, I will strive to see that every AAUP chapter introduces a proposal that all faculty members at their institution be on a tenure track. These tenure tracks need not lead to professorships—only to job permanency, after a suitable probationary period, at every rank. If I am successful—when the AAUP urges, cajoles, encourages, and supports the collective action that might allow our lovely ideals of academic freedom, shared governance, and due process to survive—ask me then whether I think it is a practical or realistic goal.
 
I ask for your support.

 

____________________________

 

If you have read my candidate statement, or if you read (as I hope you will) the April issue of the “AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom,” you will know that I am also the primary author of the “Colorado AAUP Report on the Terminations of Phil Mitchell and Ward Churchill.” This is from the prologue of the report:

 

Phil Mitchell and Ward Churchill are very different sides of the same coin. One is a fundamentalist Christian identified with the political right wing; the other is a radical leftist. One was an untenured instructor; the other was a tenured professor with an international reputation as a pioneering scholar in his field. One’s political opinions were known mostly to colleagues in his department and perhaps to the congregation in rural Colorado where he serves as a part-time minister. The other wrote an essay that provoked the enmity of a nation. But both, for a period of over twenty years, were among the most popular teachers at the University of Colorado. And both were fired from the University of Colorado because other people did not like their opinions.

 

Mitchell’s case is more typical than Churchill’s. The reality he faced is the reality most faculty face today. It is one that I face every time I walk into a faculty meeting. As the report demonstrates, Mitchell had ideas; his ideas made some people uncomfortable. He was fired because he didn’t keep his head down.

 

Those of you who think you know something about the Churchill case might consider reading the report. You may find that much of what you thought you knew about the case is either factually incorrect or misleading. In both cases, my co-authors and I demonstrate that the University and some faculty orchestrated the appearance of due process in order to justify the firings.

 

While I am proud of these reports, I wish that I had not had to write them. I wish that Committee A had investigated Mitchell’s firing, particularly after it was brought to their attention in 2007. I wish that Committee A had investigated Churchill’s firing, as he asked them to do, particularly since Churchill’s was the most notorious academic freedom case in a generation.

 

In fact, every time a colleague of mine is fired, or not rehired, has reason to believe it is because she has taken her professional responsibilities seriously—and has been terminated with either no access to due process, or else has received due process fatally compromised by the interest of the administration in backing the department chair—I wish that Committee A would investigate. But they cannot do so. It is one committee and they receive over a thousand requests a year. Committee A investigations of academic freedom violations have helped established the principles that were the guiding force for the remarkable ascendance of our colleges and universities throughout much of the 20th century. It is a committee that speaks with great moral authority. But any hope that Committee A can act as a useful watchdog for academic freedom is forlorn.

 

As Second Vice President of AAUP, I will do my best to extend the expectation to serve as watchdogs of academic freedom to AAUP chapters and conferences. My hope is that Committee A will cooperate—by training faculty to conduct rigorous investigations and by overseeing investigations. Academic freedom will not survive without expanded vigilance.
 
Restoring tenure and decentralizing Committee A are solutions that will invigorate the practice of our profession. If you believe that these ideas deserve a serious hearing within the AAUP, please support my candidacy for Second Vice President.

See my candidate statement, and those of the other candidates, at http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/about/bus/elections/candidates.htm

Don Eron
donmarcuseron@gmail.com