Advocating for quality public higher education, and the faculty who deliver it, is a difficult duty at this point in our history. Across the country, and especially in Nevada, these are hard times which require us in the NFA to take some hard looks and face some hard truths.
Last year, the NFA state board began that hard reckoning. We acknowledged that the Alliance had not kept up with the times and needed to become both more professional and more adept. We took significant first strides in that direction by establishing a new media presence – a new website (nevadafacultyalliance.org), a widely read blog, Facebook, Twitter and a weekly e-newsletter that reached thousands of faculty, lawmakers, press and general interest readers. This year we will continue that work by integrating the Alliance more closely with our electronic communications. To make the most of this tool, we will rely on our members, and our colleagues, to contribute thoughtful content on the wide range of issues of concern to higher education faculty.
But that is really the easy part.
We also began last year taking an even harder look at our relationship with the AAUP, of which we have been the Nevada state affiliate for more than 30 years. Many of us have been disappointed that the AAUP has not been more responsive to our calls for help during the state financial crisis that has led to threats of program cuts and faculty terminations (including tenured faculty); and we have been outright indignant about the AAUP’s decision not only to raise member dues on some income bands but also to charge us at the highest income band for all our members – and to charge us at the collective bargaining rates.
That bill to Washington would, if paid, consume more than 60 percent of NFA member dues – at a time when the need for member services in this state is the greatest in our history. So the NFA state board made a hard decision in January to withhold any further dues payments to the AAUP until we have resolved what sort of relationship the NFA and AAUP should have going forward. We have proposed to the AAUP that we would pay the dues in full but the national office would retain only enough to pay for services actually rendered – the magazine to our members and our members’ grants to travel to summer institutions and other leadership training. NFA would be immediately rebated the rest of our members dues, with 100 percent of that rebate being devoted to recruitment and member services in Nevada. This reasonable proposal remains on the table, but the time will come soon when the NFA membership – as a block, by campus chapters, or as individuals – will have to make a hard choice about whether the AAUP affiliation is in our best interest.
In these times, we must take a hard look as well at our relationship to the System and Board of Regents. The NFA has long prided itself on being a constructive partner with the Regents and Chancellor’s office, but we must ensure this year that this partnership works both ways. Faculty leadership was rarely, if ever, called upon to speak during Regents’ discussions of the budget crisis; while students were regularly solicited to speak to the board on matters of concern such as fees, and while the impact on the community was given hours of public comment, the faculty perspective on degree program eliminations and the curricular review process was too often glossed over. As we look forward, and the System begins a new phase of strategic planning, we note with regret a near-total absence of faculty from the preliminary documents. The System, and its institutions, will never find a successful path out of the current crisis without its faculty taking a leading role, and it is our task and responsibility not only to the faculty but to the students, the System and the state, to stand firm when need be to ensure our classroom perspective guides the planning. And when faculty contract and due process rights are not respected, we will provide legal support to members with valid cases to bring.
In our government relations, we must take a hard look at our allies. The NFA Political Action Committee – which has generally sought to lend our good name and precious treasure to the better candidate in nearly every race – will now have to make hard decisions and focus our efforts on a few candidates with a demonstrated commitment to quality, public higher education. We can no longer afford to support candidates merely due to party affiliation or a statement of support for “education.” We may well focus our attention in the coming cycle on the few elected officials in the state legislature and on the board of regents who demonstrate a real commitment to the concerns of higher ed faculty – ensuring adequate and fair funding for all our institutions, addressing the loss of competitive compensation and health benefits, and protecting what is best for our students, including contract rights and due process for faculty in hard times.
Most of all, though, we must each take a hard look in the mirror at ourselves. NFA campus chapters and members cannot simply rely on the state board to address all concerns. All of us need to be involved this fall in developing active and effective strategies, suited to the situation on each campus, to recruit new members, mobilize existing members, and establish sustainable, effective models of advocacy. If you have not heard from your campus chapter president, contact him or her and volunteer your time and your energy.
These are hard times for public higher education. For the NFA, this means it is a time for a hard look around.