AAUP at UW: Old Challenges and New Challenges
“A nation that believes that it can live long, free and ignorant, believes what never was and never will be.”
In April the Washington State Legislature granted unionization and collective bargaining rights to state faculty. Its success has been a result of crisis and opportunity both coming together in the past year. Threats to faculty status and funding as a result of a deepening budget crisis and aggressive labor action from the Graduate Student Employee Action Coalition (GSEAC) were the fuel that drove the campaign for these rights to Olympia. But the University of Washington chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has been campaigning for these rights here since the early 1970s, and the national organization has always campaigned along similar lines. So why now? What has taken academia so long to recognize the rights of its faculty? The issues at stake, as I will show, are not simply the ones at the forefront today. These struggles concern the very nature of higher education itself. This essay attempts not only to account the history of the AAUP, but to study the underlying fabric it is woven into.
The AAUP has always been an idealistic organization, and not simply because of the nature of its membership. It has rather been a matter of sheer necessity. Its primary commitments have always been academic freedom and the institution of tenure to assure it, and, more or less it has remained solidly dedicated to these principles. Compromising on principles is, as any union knows, a mistake. For the AAUP, the cost of mistakes may mean more than the loss of a few benefits. Created in 1915 in response to actions against university faculty for their views, political and otherwise, it was already setting itself against the educational trend of the day. Between 1889 and 1906 William Torrey Harris had all but finished the systemization of American education through his tireless promotion of a model informed by the perceived brilliance and strength of the Prussian education philosophy and Harris’ own Hegelianism. He transferred his reputation as America’s leading German philosophical scholar and his extensive political connections into the “scientific” construction of school, and what we now regard as a proper and modern model spread from state to state, beginning with Missouri, where he began his political career as Superintendent of Schools. In many ways, Harris is a hero, a pioneer who believed wholly in education as the key to a working society. He established the first kindergarten system in St. Louis in 1873, transplanting the structure (and name) straight from Germany. But there is a wholly darker side to this philosophy, leading directly from the teachings of Hegel himself, whose philosophies dominated continental thinking well into the 20th century. Hegel believed in the state as the absolute expression of reason, as the end product of history itself. Everything must be therefore subordinate to the state, especially education. Students were to be state property, their education centrally dictated for its benefit. In his magnum opus, The Philosophy of Education, published in 1906, Harris wrote the following:
“Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.”
Harris was aided on his quest to eliminate the individual from the student by the emerging ultra-wealthy of America, who had already by this time begun to subvert the political process for their own ends, wielding enormous influence in society and funding the transfer of Harris’ model across the states. One of Harris’ greatest supporters was Andrew Carnegie, who from a poor Scottish immigrant rose to become a super-rich railroad and steel magnate, and was held up as an example of the success of the “American Dream.” In 1889, Carnegie published an essay in the magazine North American Review grandiosely entitled The Gospel of Wealth. Concerned mostly with urging the wealthy to support social causes, it is often held as an example of Carnegie’s humanitarianism. It is, however, much more a veiled call for the wealthy to assume control of society for the benefit of the ignorant masses. Do not be fooled by the gracious language of the following quote.
“This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of Wealth: First, to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and after doing so to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer, and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial result for the community-the man of wealth thus becoming the sole agent and trustee for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer-doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves.” [Emphasis mine]
It was America’s ultra-rich that pushed and funded the so-called “Progressive Era” at the beginning of the 20th century. The Rockefellers, Morgans, Mellons, and other ultra-wealthy families of America worked together – indeed, often outright conspired – to seize control of the economy, politics, and society outright. Hegel, who taught that history could be controlled by the deliberate provoking of crises, would have been pleased with the deliberate creation of economic panic in 1907 by the banking cartels, which led to the establishment of the Federal Reserve System, conceived in secret by the banks themselves, in 1913. In education, it was Harris who led the charge for them. He abolished nearly every educational model that existed before him regardless of its apparent worth, replacing mixed-age single classroom models with age-grading and teacher initiative with a set curriculum of approved topics. The model was being cast for a new society of strict social hierarchy and central control, a society that reached complete fruition in Germany, Hegel’s home, in the 1930s with Nazism.
To their enduring credit, the American universities and their faculty reacted to this shifting towards an “ordered” and “rational” society with concern and occasionally alarm. In 1915 there would still have been a significant number of faculty (from which, at the time, university administration was drawn) who were educated under the previous a-systematic model. Even without this experience, higher education was a place where leaders were taught, where the intellectual elite propagated itself (and indeed it was an elite, the number of students continuing on to higher education still in the extreme minority.) Ordering thought in accordance with external and highly abstract intentions was antithetical to this goal, and as academic freedom collapsed on the lower tiers, higher education must have felt understandably threatened. The founding document of the AAUP, the 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure declared the three principles of academic freedom to be “freedom of inquiry and research; freedom of teaching with-in the university or college; and freedom of extramural utterance and action.” These principles specifically counteract the idea of the institutionalization of higher education, holding the individual rights of the faculty as superior to those the university might claim over them.
Fredrick M. Padelford, one of the drafters of the Declaration, brought the AAUP to the University of Washington in 1918. The AAUP helped the UW remain committed to academic freedom up through the 1930s, when a system of tenure and a faculty code enforced the principles of academic freedom, and the establishment of a Faculty Senate established at least a symbolic sharing and decentralization of power. Much of this freedom, however, was lost during the “Red Scare” years following World War Two and the solidification of the Cold War. Issues of origin aside, the Cold War was used increasingly as an excuse to increase state control over the people. It is ironic that both Marx and J.P. Morgan, who had set the foundations for the societies now in conflict, both drew from Hegel as the primary inspiration for their own philosophies. Anti-Communism paranoia swept the country. Washington, long a hotbed of radicalism, began its own Red Scare slightly before McCarthyism brought it to the nation. Radicals were thoroughly expunged from the Democratic Party as a result of massive Republican gains in ‘46 that pointed accusingly at the association between the two, and under conservative Teamster leader Dave Beck and the Communist prohibition in the Taft-Hartley act of 1947 they were driven from the state’s unions. The Committee established by Albert Canwell to investigate Communist activities in Washington State opened hearings in ’48 concerning the University of Washington. The University Administration sought to dismiss six professors in order to clear its name. Of the six – Garland Ethel, Harold Eby, Melville Jacobs, Joseph Butterworth, Herbert Phillips, and Ralph Gundlach – all but Gundlach admitted to being current or former members of the Communist Party. Under the faculty code, a committee had to be formed to review their capabilities as professors, as all six were tenured at the time. The University contended that alliance to “Communist Dogma” rendered them unfit to “seek the truth wherever it may lead” which was their scholarly duty. The Tenure Committee made no clear decisions. It voted to expel only Gundlach, accused to dishonesty for refusing to admit his Communist affiliations. Ethel, Eby, and Jacobs, all former communists, where unanimously let off for supposedly renouncing their beliefs. Phillips and Butterworth, avowed members of the Communist Party, were to be permitted to stay until the University saw fit to amend the faculty code to disallow communists. In the end, however, the decision of the Tenure Committee was meaningless. The final decision belongs to the Board of Regents, appointed by the Governor to oversee University affairs. Dave Beck was one of the Regents, and led a motion to dismiss all six professors which was narrowly defeated 3-4. In the end, Phillips, Butterworth, and Gundlach were dismissed, the other three placed on two-year probation.
The AAUP was understandably furious. Not only was the University infringing on the academic freedoms of its members, but the State itself had the final say in their dismissal because of their political affiliations. This action of direct government interference in academia should have terrified the AAUP into immediate action. The specter of full institutionalization of higher education loomed largest during this period, when expunging non-conformist or inappropriate ideas was seen as a matter of national security. However, the AAUP, most likely fearful of becoming demonized itself, issued no statement in support of the six professors beyond vague and unspecified declarations of academic freedom. As a result of their inaction, purges of Communists, real or otherwise, swept across the nations universities, and some 200 professors lost their jobs and were effectively blacklisted from academia. It wasn’t until 1956 that the national body censured the UW for its actions. But by this time the Red Scare was on the decline following McCarthy’s disastrous step-too-far 1954 investigation of the army following which he was stripped of his extra-Constitutional authority. In a series of important decisions, the Supreme Court reversed itself on several anti-Communist decisions to reaffirm First Amendment principles, and the AAUP issued vocal “Friend of the Court” statements to help the Justices make the right decision. The first of these was Sweezy vs. New Hampshire in 1957, where it was decided that University of New Hampshire lecturer was well within his rights of academic freedom to refuse to answer state attorneys questions regarding the content of his lectures. In 1964, another important case, Baggitt vs. Bullitt, declaring loyalty oaths unconstitutional, involved the University of Washington, once more at the forefront of a national trend, this time in the right direction. The final significant reversal of Red Scare policies on the part of the Supreme Court came in 1967 in Keyishian v. Board of Regents which essentially declared it unconstitutional to prevent the hiring of university faculty as consequence of their political views. The faculty were by this time beginning to reassert themselves directly in University politics. In 1954 the Administration had canceled a week-long lecture series by noted nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer for his left-wing views, despite fact that it was he who led the Manhattan Project and thus was “the father of the nuclear bomb,” and despite the science-oriented non-political nature of the lectures. The faculty resisted this move vigorously and the lecture series was reinstated.
The AAUP was finally back on its feet by the 1970s when the campaign for collective bargaining rights began in earnest. This remained the UW Chapter’s primary goal throughout the ‘80s and the ‘90s. During this time, however, a different trend began to arise among universities. As the ‘90s passed it became increasingly difficult to structurally distinguish universities from corporations. Faculty, rather than being seen as the core of the institution, increasingly were becoming seen as employees of a largely professional managerial administration that had begun to rise during the ‘70s, and had now reached ripeness. Sheila Slaughter explains the situation in Academe, the AAUP’s magazine:
“The rise of the university president as CEO signaled a subtle organizational shift. The president is no longer primus inter pares, a faculty peer first and a leader second. Instead, presidents are heads of ever more complex, increasingly differentiated organizations, concerning themselves with expanding and protecting their staff and managing their faculty, from whom they distance themselves. Administrators, who have become more like managers and less like faculty, represent the university both to the external world and to diverse and fragmented groups of faculty within the university.” - Professional Values and the Allure of the Market, September-October 2001, Volume 87, Number 5
Universities, particularly large research-oriented institutes, are tying themselves quite needlessly to the market as the desire for increased cash flows becomes seen as all important. Pure research came increasingly under assault in favor of research that could demonstrate an immediate profitable return. Alarmingly, the university administrations are also seeing themselves, often with court approval, as the primary agents of academic freedom. Such rights increasingly are applied to the institution itself and not the individual faculty, increasing the ability of management to override academic freedom for market purposes. To fit the corporate model of academia, tenure also is increasingly under assault, tenure track positions being replaced with the equivalent of temporary workers; part-time professors who will never be granted recognition or tenure track positions for their work. It is as if Harris’ Hegelianism has finally begun to move up to higher education, but that is perhaps a simplistic view. The new model university increasingly resembles a business dedicated to creating students with the skills necessary to enter the economy. The University of Washington is struggling with these very problems directly. Corporations are increasing their influence over it through massive donations. Bill Gates and Paul Allen fund computer centers and law schools despite savage financial needs in other areas, and the administration roles out the red carpet to encourage them to donate ever more. One would be right to recall Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth, for there would seem little doubt that the two Microsoft founders have read it. They can easily be seen as model Carnegieans, staying away from the public eye and increasing dependent of social institutions upon their donations and the state itself upon their continued corporate presence in the economy. Is it any wonder that the Board of Regents has those with corporate ties in majority, a former CEO as Board President, and Bill Gates’ father on it? The effect is felt not only on the faculty, but on the student body. Corporations campaign on campus under the guise of career fairs, and the students are responding, seeking less and less to satisfy their own educational curiosities and are instead entering professional degree programs as quickly as possible. The conclusions are possible stark: education is being roped to a model of corporatism that does little to allow freedom or thought and gives little thought to the progress of the nation and of American society, instead seeking the maintenance and enhancement of existing paradigms that exist solely to serve the interests of wealth. After all, universities have always been a business seeking to provide a product to a consumer. Except, once upon a time, the product was education and the consumer was the student. Now, we must fear, the product has become indoctrination, the consumer big business.
The organization of GSEAC and the increased activity of the AAUP in the past few years, culminating in collective bargaining rights, have driven the differing views of higher education into stark contrast. On one side is the administration, building an institution dedicating to filling the requirements of the market. On the other stand the tenuous organizations of faculty and academic employees, not entirely certain of what they represent, but demanding the freedom to figure it out for themselves. These are the champions of education, those who offer choice and growth to those who will grow to make this country anew in their image. Andrew Carnegie’s vision for a future where the wealthy control us and those institutions we created for our benefit may or may not yet come to full fruition, but it will never feel complete victory until the AAUP, GSEAC, and organizations like them have long fallen by the wayside, dead and forgotten.
©2002 Nassir Isaf
These articles were written in Spring 2002. For problems or questions contact James Gregory.