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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “UA professor, new national faculty leader, reflects on job, UA”

    UA professor of higher education Gary Rhoades has recently been appointed General Secretary to the American Association of University Professors, the nation’s largest faculty association. Rhoades will move to Washington, D.C., where he will tackle national education issues. News reporter Penelope Coleman sat down with Rhoades to discuss his work at the UA and the future at his new post.

    What is your role at the UA?
    I’m a professor of higher education and a director in the Center for the Study of Higher Education, which was established in 1977, and these centers were established in a lot of universities around the country basically to study and understand a range of issues and policy surrounding colleges and universities. My research focuses on restructuring of institutions and restructuring of the academic profession and of entire higher education systems.

    Where do you travel for UA business?
    We do a lot of work in Mexico. There is a lot of travel around the country to different faculty groups. Internationally, I’ve recently given talks in Japan about the same topic, because they’re reforming their universities – also in London, because in the UK, they’re also moving their universities more in the direction of the USA.

    What does the American Association of University Professors do?
    It’s an association of faculty which, in this country, has been connected to developing the idea of academic freedom … (I)t was instrumental (in) helping to establish due process and procedures about tenure. It was created in 1915 and it really came out of a range of universities’ professors who were concerned that some professors were getting fired for work that they were doing that was, for example, focusing on unions or railroads that were big issues at the time. They wanted to form an association to protect the right of faculty to explore the ideas that they wanted to.

    Has the AAUP been effective in maintaining these agendas?
    I think to a considerable extent they have been effective. The idea of academic freedom is something in these places most people recognize. It’s always a negotiation … They have also been effective in establishing tenure. It’s a pretty standard issue of employment for people who are in tenure-eligible positions. The challenge increasingly is that a lot of people are not on the tenure track. At our university, there are between 1,600 and 1,700 tenure-eligible faculty and around 1,100 academics who are not on the tenure track … I think it becomes a problem when the balance shifts to the extent that there are a lot of academics that do not have the security of achieving tenure and, because of their job situation, have limited academic freedom.

    Is this an issue you will tackle in your new position?
    It’s a major issue nationally that now two-thirds of all new faculty hired are off the tenure track. Close to 47 percent of faculty nationally are part-time. Another 20 percent are full time but also not on the tenure track, so that is a huge issue not only for the academic profession but the institutions as well.

    What else will your AAUP role entail?
    Two other parts of the job are: there is a staff of about 35 professionals in Washington, D.C., that provide all kinds of services to the 46,000 members. A major part of the job is managing that staff. In addition, there’s an opportunity to meet regularly with various policy associations in Washington, D.C. … (Other institutions) are also doing initiatives to promote change in higher education. A good part of the job will also be getting involved in policy matters in Washington, D.C.

    How were you selected?
    In December, I got a call from somebody on the staff of the AAUP in Washington, asking me to apply. I thought about it, I talked to a whole lot of people … (T)hen I applied. In the spring, there was a three-stage interview process: a meeting with the search committee, with the staff on the next trip and then another trip meeting with a counsel that the general secretary was in.

    Will you travel a lot with the new General Secretary role?
    Most of the travel will be in the USA, going to campuses where there are members. Many of the members are in unionized settings. We will provide various services and give talks to them.

    How do you feel about moving to Washington D.C.?
    I am moving to Washington, D.C. in January. I am excited. It’s a totally different environment, but I think D.C. is a fabulous city and I’m looking forward to it. The contract is for three years. I’m on a leave from the university for the first year in case I get there and they decide it was the wrong choice or I decide it was a big mistake.

    I don’t think that will happen … I love being a professor. I love being on a university campus. I love working with students and with my colleagues, so this is a huge change. I’m going to a totally difference place in an office, not a university campus, and doing a whole lot of different things, so I’m really not sure how long I will be there and how much I will like it. I think I will like it a lot because it’s a natural progression in my career. I study this stuff and now it has given me an opportunity to do it. I think it will be a lot of fun.

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