Torn by divergent missions of academic freedom and collective bargaining, the organization struggles for recognition among younger faculty.
The Chronicle of Education offers (without subscription) a mini case study of the decline of the American Association of University Professors (EIN 53-0196570 Form 990), by reporter Robin Wilson. The organization was founded in 1915 and reached its membership peak around 100,000 in the 1950s and 60s, when it stood for principles of academic freedom during the years when Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee regularly accused individuals of affiliation with the Communist party.
In 1972, the organization took up a new direction of engaging in collective bargaining. Its membership declined and now stands in the low 40,000 range, who are mostly from smaller colleges, not the large research universities. The article implies that collective bargaining was the cause, but it seems just as likely that another reason is the end of anti-Communist witch-hunts. Academic freedom concerns these days are more likely to come from the right than from the left.
Of late, the organization has experienced administrative troubles: late financial reports (resulting in the firing of the CFO), problems with tracking members, and high staff turnover. Accusations of mismanagement of the Washington office led to the departure of the general secretary Roger Bowen and return of former general secretary Ernst Benjamin in the interim.
A look at the IRS Form 990 for the organization suggests that the Chronicle of Education article may be letting the organization off relatively lightly. The AAUP has income of $5.9 million, of which $4.9 million represents dues (averaging about $112 per member). About a third of its expenses go for administration and fund raising.
But very little of its program expense—only $400,000—goes for its academic freedom activities. The article notes that AAUP investigations are often slow, and professors are often long gone from institutions before AAUP is able to act on complaints.
The article contrasts their track record with that of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (EIN 04-3467254 Form 990), a group founded in 1999 that spends even less on free speech defense (around $250,000), but has a $633,000 public awareness program and web site that lets it quickly and agressively publicize cases where it claims academic freedoms are attacked. FIRE, which has a more conservative or libertarian bent, is funded by contributions, mostly from foundations, and had no membership dues.
On the collective bargaining side, AAUP is not in the same league as either the National Educational Association (labor union, EIN 53-0115260 Form 990), with $292 million in dues, or the American Federation of Teachers (labor union EIN 36-0725240 Form 990), with $123 million in dues. Consequently, the largest local AAUP chapter, at Rutgers (labor union EIN 22-2956199 Form 990), pays dues both to the AAUP ($260,844) and to the AFT ($192,790).
The most serious problem facing the AAUP is the lack of interest or participation by younger faculty. In a sidebar story (unfortunately subscriber only), the Chronicle reports that the most common response among PhDs from the last ten years is that they have not even heard of the organization. Those that had heard of it are reluctant to join because they are afraid that membership might affect their chances for tenure because of its labor union connection.
Without a more serious commitment from the next generation of faculty, the discussion of reforms at AAUP will remain (cough) academic.