Selling Water By the River: Reflections on AAUP and NEA’s national leadership strategy

Earl Warren Japanese Garden, CSU Long Beach

Selling Water By the River:  Reflections on AAUP and NEA’s national leadership strategy

Teri Yamada, Professor of Asian Studies, CSU Long Beach

In our current gilded age where all politics is business, we educators yearn for ethical leaders to admire.   Under assault in the trenches, our faculty unions are undermined at the local level, often by both political parties who are using this bad economy to privatize public education.  It is depressing as we fight the good fight against multibillionaires.   Therefore, we can at least hope that our national education associations will have our backs, effectively lobbying for us at both the federal and state levels to stop this wildcat privatization.  As associations who represent us, we expect NEA (National Education Association) and AAUP (American Association of University Professors) to model the highest standards of ethical conduct and leadership as we struggle daily on our campuses to organize against faculty apathy, and as we lobby our state legislatures to act responsibly for the public good. In our local fights for equity and access to public higher education for every qualified student in our respective states, in our struggle to maintain quality education and academic freedom, in our efforts to preserve secure jobs with benefits, we need help!  We need effective ethical help.

Our expectation of ethical and effective leadership holds true for both AAUP and NEA.  Both serve the public higher education sector as our national representatives to the media and the Department of Education in Washington D.C.  How our AAUP and NEA leaders comport themselves, what they say to the media, to Arnie Duncan and President Obama, reflects back on the entire higher education sector.  It is time for some self-reflection.

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education commentary, former AAUP general secretary Gary Rhoades made a number of points about leadership and the difficult questions that AAUP must face if it is to survive as a respected and effective association.  The challenges are great.  But we all will be diminished if AAUP is unable or unwilling to embrace constructive criticism and prove by its actions that transformation is possible.  The United University Professions  (SUNY), have demonstrated the consequences of unresponsiveness by their February vote to end affiliation with AAUP after twelve years of relationship, citing a number of complaints including poor communication and lack of responsiveness.

NEA has also challenged patience.  Several years ago, NEA decided to establish or form a relationship with a proprietary affiliate called the NEA Academy (1) .  This Academy’s purpose it to serve as a portal to “online professional development products,” which means it provides a link to other providers’ online courses for teacher continuing education and Master’s Degrees.  Claiming to have a Content Quality and Review Board, the NEA Academy has published its Requirements for Inclusion in its products list.    These requirements include such standards as “content that aligns with NEA policy.”   One of the top three providers for NEA Academy’s courses is Western Governors University (WGU)

NEA stipulates that its vision is “a great public school for every student” and that its mission is “to advocate for education professionals.”  It promotes public education as a core value: “We believe public education is the cornerstone of our republic. Public education provides individuals with the skills to be involved, informed and engaged in our representative democracy.”   The question then is why does NEA embrace Western Governors University, a private, anti-faculty union provider of online courses?  How does this fit with NEA’s mission to advocate for “education professionals” when WGU is an institution that eschews teacher-based instruction; it has no teachers.  Why do this when so many excellent public universities and community colleges across the nation have online programs of the highest quality which adhere to the philosophy that teachers form the core of education?  Shouldn’t educators also deserve “a great public school” for their continuing education?

When our national associations fail to serve us well —as we battle on the ground to protect faculty jobs and save collective bargaining, to preserve adjunct positions with benefits and job security, to ensure quality control over curriculum, to save public education and academic freedom—we must wonder whom AAUP and NEA are serving.

Notes:

(1) This relationship needs further clarification.  NEA Academy charges a course fee for its portal services.

References

Rhoades, Gary. “Forget Executives the AAUP Should Turn to Grass-Roots Leaders” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 8 January 2012.

Schmidt, Peter.  “AAUP Loses Major Affiliate at SUNY” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 6 February 2012.

2/19/12

DISCLAIMER:  Restructuring Public Hi Ed is curated solely by me.  All editorial decisions as to what is posted are based upon my interest and concern about restructuring in the public higher education sector.  These blog posts should in no way reflect upon any other person or organization since this is a “personal blog.”   Please send your blog posts and comments on restructuring in public higher education for consideration to me at teri.yamada@gmail.com.


4 Comments on “Selling Water By the River: Reflections on AAUP and NEA’s national leadership strategy”

  1. Betsy Smith says:

    This is the first I’ve heard of NEA’s relationship with WGU. I’ve already decided what I’m going to ask DVR at the closing plenary of the upcoming NEA Higher Ed Conference, but perhaps someone else on this list could ask him about WGU.

  2. Marcia klotz says:

    Thank you for this great essay. I fully agree; we are facing enormous challenges as the neoliberal forces of corporate power work to restructure higher education. Western Governors University, a “competency” model built around the notion that technology can teach students, rather than professors, represents a horrifying assault on the quality of higher education in this nation. It would effectively introduce a two-tiered system: separate and unequal. If the NEA is collaborating with them, they are selling out both faculty and students. We need to make it clear that both AAUP and NEA need to represent our interests in these desperate times. If they do not, we will have no choice but to choose other organizations, or to found new ones.

  3. Nancy Matthews says:

    Thank you Teri for shining light on NEA’s relationship with WGU.

  4. Myriam Torres says:

    Very informative piece, yet quite concerning. How can NEA leadership accept such a dangerous partner? Naivete or corruption?


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