Affirmative Activism

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

Affirmative action remains a controversial issue in American society; opponents argue that racial preferences undermine the equal treatment of citizens, while supporters argue that endemic racism requires policies which compensate for long-standing racial inequalities. The American Federation of Teachers, AFT, stands firmly on the latter side and in a new report lists a number of activities that union members can use to further the “diversity agenda” on campus.

“We see the process of effectuating a diverse faculty and staff as an essential element in achieving a greater measure of economic and social justice in America,” states the report (pdf).

As for minority faculty, the teachers union argues in the report that “While some critics continue to argue that African-American, Women’s, Latino and Asian Studies programs and scholars are ‘noncanonical,’ [sic] or balkanized (even ghettoized), most of the scholars in these fields see and understand their work as creating new canons rather than trying to fit their scholarship into pre-existing disciplines.”

“The research interests of underrepresented faculty add new knowledge and, often, alternative political perspectives as well.”

“Of the 10.4 percent of faculty positions held by underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in 2007, 7.6 percent are contingent positions—which means that 73 percent of underrepresented faculty hold positions that do not give them adequate wages or benefits, job security, or meaningful academic freedom,” contends the AFT report. According to their website, in Fall 2007 tenure-track faculty made up 27.3% of “instructional staff.”

This would indicate that the faculty hiring trends for “underrepresented racial and ethnic groups” cited above seems roughly comparable to that of their academic peers.

In order to increase diversity in higher education, the report recommends, among a series of activities listed, that union members “Create and/or strengthen proactive partnerships with coalition partners to educate the public about the value of affirmative action (emphasis added).

“This is especially important when the public is being presented with anti-affirmative action measures; however, such efforts should be made before attacks arise as well,” states the report, “Promoting Racial and Ethnic Diversity: What Higher Education Unions Can Do.”

However, at the heart of AFT’s policy is not just ensuring greater ethnic diversity among students but staff members as well. For example, they suggest that union members foster a diversity plan at their universities and also “Educate hiring committees about the institutional diversity mission and plan, and establish protocols, through collective bargaining whenever possible, for the search and hiring process.”

“Negotiate contracts that call for diverse hiring practices,” the report states.  “For example, the Cook County College Teachers Union [CCCTU] negotiated a contract that mandates at least one person of color be interviewed for every open position.”

“The faculty ranks have gone from less than 10 percent African-American to nearly 50 percent, thanks to this provision in the contract.”

Cook County, Illinois was 25.6% black and 66.8% white in 2008, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Arguably, then, the CCCTU contract could be disproportionately favoring persons of color over the local population.

The publication provides a “laundry list of activities for you [members] to chew on” when considering how to further a diversity on campus, which include

  • promoting and rewarding “the success of departments that have made substantial efforts toward increasing the diversity of their faculty as well as students,”
  • “building relationships with colleagues at minority-serving institutions (MSIs)…” and
  • “forming or strengthening” partnerships and “devoting resources, if needed, to on-the-ground activities opposing attacks on affirmative action.”

“Our initial focus will be on diversity in the ranks of ethnic and minority faculty members, and we hope to move on from there to explore gender and professional staff issues,” states the AFT website.  “Building further connections between preK-12 and higher education affiliates also may play a key role in this effort.”

The teachers union is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.