Since its relaunch in 2018, UNC’s American Association of University Professors has taken on the task of hosting the North Carolina AAUP Conference on October 4-5.
The conference allows for professors of public, private and community colleges from across the state to come together to discuss issues that take place on campus.
“Some are unique to individual campuses,” UNC-Chapel Hill AAUP Chapter President and professor Michael Palm said. “The majority of the attendees — just like the majority of AAUP members in the state — are faculty in the UNC System, so a lot of the issues that we face are systematic at that level as well as being within the context of higher education more generally.”
Members of the AAUP said the conference doesn’t have a singular area of importance and will be instead focusing on a few key issues that are relevant to professors in North Carolina.
“I think that there are a lot of forces in the country right now, including in North Carolina, that are really trying to undermine the kind of model of university that AAUP has advocated for,” North Carolina AAUP Conference Vice President and associate professor at Appalachian State University, Michael Behrent, said. “That’s why I think AAUP is important, to sort of remind people of why this model of higher education is so important and what the risks are of any attempt to dismantle it.”
The conference will be hosting a keynote speaker, AAUP President and Wright State University professor emeritus, Rudy Fichtenbaum.
“I think what he’s (Fichtenbaum) really going to be talking about is the threat to higher education that’s represented by what we summarize under the label of as corporatization,” Behrent said.
Another growing concern for AAUP members is the political interference of university curriculum through financial donations.
“Saturday, Jasmine Banks from UnKoch My Campus will be giving a talk about how various campuses around the country have tried to push back the Koch brothers’ efforts to establish footholds in university curriculum and programs,” UNC-Chapel Hill's AAUP Vice President and professor, Jay Smith, said.
Hearing from Banks and Fichtenbaum will give the AAUP members an idea of how to take action at their own campuses, Smith said.
“We’ll be sharing stories and trying to map out a strategy for trying to protect our faculty interests and our institutions against these forces that are buffeting us at the moment,” Smith said.
Aside from dealing with political donations and its effects on curricula, the conference will also feature a panel on salary campaigns.
“There’s stagnant salaries across the state, especially in the UNC System,” Behrent said. “There’s been very little money given by the state. Chapel Hill is in some ways less affected by that than others because their salaries with N.C. State are the highest in the system, but even they’ve had problems retaining people because you know your faculty there are finding more competitive salaries at other institutions.”
The members of the UNC AAUP chapter feel that this year’s conference is special, considering the novelty of the chapter and recent issues on campus.
“One of the reasons why we wanted to host this conference was to do our fair share in the state, especially for being the flagship of the state system," Palm said. "It seems like an appropriate time for us to host, but also there are plenty of ongoing crises and controversies concerning the University as a whole, faculty governance and academic freedom more specifically on campus."
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