January 24, 2020

Professors form Webster chapter of national organization

The group seeks to address common issues in higher education including academic freedom and salary. 

A group of Webster professors concerned with local and national trends in higher education re-established a local chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) last month. 

The AAUP is a national organization of academics in the U.S. The organization’s mission is to provide academic freedom and shared governance, as well as define professional values, according to its website. Chapter president Dan Hellinger said the Webster chapter’s main goal  is to give faculty a voice. 

“It’s hard to have a voice if you’re not in the circuits of everyday life on campus,” Hellinger said. 

The AAUP chapter will complement the faculty senate, according to Kelly-Kate Pease, the senate’s vice president and at-large AAUP member. Any faculty member can join the AAUP, but only faculty of certain status can join the faculty senate. 

Pease said she felt a need to bring the AAUP chapter back for a variety of issues, including academic freedom, inequality between faculty and issues of shared governance.  

“Higher education is undergoing a major transformation and it’s really nice to have a professional organization for faculty members,” Pease said. “We’re seeing a lot of liberal arts colleges who are seeing student enrollments decline.” 

Hellinger has taught at Webster since 1979. He said the university had an active AAUP chapter in the ‘80s and ‘90s that dissipated in 2003. 

“When AAUP began to phase out when everybody was happy,” Hellinger said. “Things were going along fine. Enrollments were increasing everywhere, not just at Webster.”

This year is the eighth straight year of decline in higher education enrollment, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Overall enrollment fell 10% since 2011. Webster’s enrollment saw a near 8,000 student decrease from 2011 to 2018. 

“We’re in a different period now,” Hellinger said. “There’s a certain amount of downsizing almost everywhere in higher education and faculty need a voice in that.”

Political economy professor and AAUP member Allan MacNeill said the declining enrollment puts a lot of challenges on curriculum. 

“It puts pressure on us that we didn’t have before,” MacNeill said.  

Faculty have to make sure the classes they teach have enough students. MacNeill said professors also have to make sure their programs seem attractive to protect students, something they didn’t have to worry about before.

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