Unionizing Faculty – the AAUP at Wesleyan

Recently I had the opportunity to explore some of the papers of the Wesleyan chapter of the American Association of University Professors. During the 1970’s and 80’s, the AAUP worked to unionize college and university faculty and professional librarians, and to coach them in collective bargaining with administrations. This collection is a fascinating one, tracing the often tense relations between the faculty and the administration during a difficult period in Wesleyan’s history. During the period covered by the documents, 1973-1987, Wesleyan faced severe budget shortfalls along with rising demands from both the faculty and the student body.

A group calling itself the Faculty Caucus voted to become a chapter of the American Association of University Professors in October of 1974, reactivating what was then a dormant chapter. The reconstituted Wesleyan chapter adopted its constitution on October 9, 1974, with Victor Gourevitch as its president pro tem. Over the following two decades, the chapter took part in negotiations over pay and benefits for faculty and professional librarians with the administration, including University President Colin Campbell. Beginning in 1977, Nathanael Greene, Vice President for Academic Affairs, would serve as Campbell’s liaison to the AAUP. AAUP activities at Wesleyan also included collecting information on faculty compensation at various colleges and universities and attempting to gather student body and alumni support for their bargaining efforts. Membership was voluntary, and the group never represented more than a bare majority of the faculty. The activities of the group appear to have dropped off around 1990.

Of interest in the collection is the intense dispute over faculty compensation that occurred during 1978-1980, as well as documents comparing faculty compensation at Wesleyan to compensation at its peer institutions. The AAUP at Wesleyan did not only lobby for higher pay and benefits, but also for a variety of political causes. The collection includes documents related to the group’s support for divestment from South Africa in protest of apartheid, as well as many documents on the role (real and alleged) of the C.I.A. on university campuses. Several letters from the AAUP to then-C.I.A. director George H.W. Bush are also of interest, as well as copies of Bush’s written responses to their concerns.

Much of my archival work this semester has focused on forms of political activism at Wesleyan, and this project has continued the trend. It provides a unique look into the activist activities of Wesleyan faculty, many of whom still work for the university. The AAUP at Wesleyan collection provides a unique window into a form of campus activism that is so often ignored or misunderstood.

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