I am writing you to update you on the status of our negotiations with the AAUP, which have been on-going for more than a year.
In late January 2010, when we first learned that the System of Higher Education would have a second round of cuts in state support, of 7% - beyond the first 25% reduction in state support passed by the 2009 legislature, it was clear immediately that this would lead to program eliminations and terminations of faculty. With the authorization of the NFA state board, I contacted the AAUP's Department of Organizing and Member Services and requested AAUP support in three areas: legal support for the defense of faculty contract rights, membership recruitment and chapter development, and communications.
And that's where it has stood to this day - NFA requesting support from AAUP whose response has been to propose actions that we did not ask for and which we doubted would help our situation. Of course, the AAUP did impose a new dues policy in July 2010 which would increase the total NFA dues bill by at least 15% and require more than half of our members' annual NFA dues to be sent to Washington. Paying such a dues bill would leave the NFA in the red -- even after having reduced our annual overall expenditures by nearly 20% in the past few years, while enhancing services in communications, legal defense, and government relations,
Clearly the AAUP's demand that we pay such a level of dues is not viable. Is there an alternative? We believe so, but the AAUP has yet to agree to a serious discussion that recognizes the NFA's unique organization and set of member service we think are needed in Nevada higher education.
NFA members are asking, rightly, are we still AAUP members? To be clear, yes you are. No change in membership status with respect to the AAUP has been or will be initiated by NFA.
I think the more pressing question is what it means to be an AAUP member when the Association staff has been unresponsive to our needs, since January 2010, during the gravest threat to quality affordable higher education and to faculty employment rights in our organization's history?
On legal defense, the AAUP has never contributed any funds or legal research to the NFA's legal defense program. Our legal defense efforts are entire the work of our members and, when outside counsel is retained, paid for by our members' dues. There is simply no AAUP support there.
The AAUP's investigative authority of potential violations of academic freedom and tenure is supposed to be its most valuable service to members, but even as we've worked hard, and with some success, to fend off or reduce layoffs of tenured faculty on two NSHE campuses in the past two years, we've received little follow-up from the AAUP aside from letters sent to the president on one institution.
On membership recruitment and chapter development, the NFA needs help, because our campus chapter presidents have been unable to undertake sustainable membership drives in recent years. We asked the AAUP staff organizer who came in 2010 - for all of two days - for ideas on how restructure and re-energize our campus chapters to be more effective but received no follow-up. (Indeed, our longstanding concern with the AAUP over its acceptance of Nevada members who enroll directly in any campus chapter -- and who do not pay dues to the NFA -- has never been addressed.)
Most frustratingly, the AAUP seems to prefer to focus its communications efforts on causes that generate national headlines but are not in service of our members. It took the AAUP only days to issue a statement of support for "Occupy Wall Street protestors" but despite repeated requests, not any public statement or public communication has ever been made about the steep budget cuts or their impact on faculty in Nevada.
Certainly the AAUP publications, including Academe, are tangible benefits to members, but the total annual cost per member for an Academe subscription is $35. However, the dues assessments we have received from the AAUP - but which we have not paid - assess almost all our members at the highest of the AAUP's seven rates , an average of over $150 per member per year.
This situation is why the NFA state board voted last January to suspend dues payments to AAUP until a more reasonable balance could be struck between actual services rendered and the dues demanded. We have proposed, in writing and in face-to-face meetings with national representatives, that our dues be put into an escrow account to be used to pay for those services actually rendered to members in the state of Nevada - whether by AAUP or the NFA. The per capita cost of Academe and any actual leadership training by the AAUP would of course be paid out of this fund. But in the absence of an AAUP presence in the state, those funds would be used to continue to professionalize our operations, as we have done with communications very successfully in the past year.
To prove our seriousness of purpose in devoting 100% of dues money to member services, we have cut our expenditures significantly. For instance, we have in the past year reduced the cost for state board members to travel to meetings by over $5000 by opting for videoconferences and conference calls. Moreover, we have cut staff expenses by nearly $10,000. And we have cuts in our communications, while greatly expanding the scope and influence of our communications, by consolidating print and electronic publications into a single production process and by reducing the number of excess copies of the Alliance sent to each campus. Moreover, we continue to benefit from professional work provided by state board members without compensation above a stipend to cover modest expenses and release time.
But the AAUP's response has been, repeatedly, that "there is no alternative" to the exorbitant dues, and they have asked us to pass that cost along to our members through higher in-state dues. Our Board has refused to consider that option.
We are now applying for what the AAUP terms a "State Conference Grant" which would reduce our per capita assessment, so this application would seem the perfect opportunity for the AAUP to work with us to help refocus members' dues into badly needed improvements in services in the state. We must improve the available services in the state, because we cannot continue to function on a "kill the volunteer" model in which the highly demanding tasks of Legal Defense, Government Relations, operations and, most importantly member recruitment and chapter development, are borne entirely by our members who also have full-time jobs and lives to attend to. Certainly we need more of our members to become engaged. But even so, we cannot continue to rely on members to function as full-time volunteers for the NFA in capacities such as board president, legal defense chair, or government relations officer (as we have done for years).
To find that support and put the NFA on a sustainable footing for the future, we must have a response from the AAUP that addresses concretely our members' needs. We are hoping and expecting such a response during the first quarter of 2012. If it is not forthcoming, we will have to decide then on our next step. Should we seek another affiliation? Or should we set our own course and use the money that we have been holding effectively in escrow to hire a part-time or full-time executive director to oversee member services and chapter development? Other state conferences have field staff to assist their members and officers. I believe that in the next few months, the NFA ought to act definitively to plan for the future by budgeting for and contracting an organizing director.
Many NFA members, including myself, value greatly our AAUP affiliation, but the fact remains that the NFA provides all its own legal defense, government relations, communications, member services and chapter development work with no financial, logistical or even moral support from the AAUP. Certainly there is much we cannot do on our own - and especially without a more engaged and active membership. So there is a need for AAUP support to expand and energize our membership if they can do that. In the next few months we hope to hear from them a proposal to provide the support and services we need, at a dues price we can afford.
If such a proposal is not forthcoming, then we will consult the membership on the alternatives we as individuals and as a state conference have to achieve these goals, either in affiliation with or, if need be, separate from the AAUP.
In closing, please know that the spirit of the AAUP - the defense of faculty rights and the advocacy for quality, accessible higher education -- is not in Washington or in our state board or our chapter officers; it is in each and every one of you as members. Your actions, your energy and your involvement, more than ever, are needed for the future of higher education in Nevada.