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Historically, The American Association of University Professors has been regarded as an association primarily concerned with the preservation of academic freedom and with reprimanding those institutions that it believes have violated those principles. It has not been viewed as an organization that either focuses upon or engages in publicly visible campaigns for social and/or political change.
However, The Chronicle of Higher Education
recently published an article, written by John Gravois, that described a rally in support of striking graduate teaching assistants at New York University. Gravois reported that both the association's departing President and its President-elect were arrested during their participation in the rally after they sat down with other protesters in the center of a New York City street.
According to the article in The Chronicle
, "The idea to join the protest originated with Dr. Nelson [the incoming leader of the association], who is a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an outspoken commentator on academic labor issues, and a longtime advocate for the collective-bargaining rights of graduate students. Dr. Nelson is no stranger to protest. He fondly remembers organizing a network of psychiatrists during the Vietnam War to supply young men with doctors' notes excusing them from the draft. He promises to bring a more upstart spirit to the office of AAUP president when he assumes his new role at the association's annual meeting in June."
Ongoing coverage of unionizing efforts in academia by The Chronicle
has periodically described events that have occurred during the strike by graduate teaching assistants at NYU, which began in early November. The strike by those students, according to The Chronicle
, had hoped to persuade the university to recognize their union. However, until now the university's only response has been to issue an ultimatum saying that strikers would have to return to their teaching duties in the spring semester or else they would lose their stipends. Recently, as the article by Gravois noted, long-awaited letters of support have come from New York's two U.S. Senators (Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer), and a petition signed by a majority of NYU's teaching assistants has declared their support of the drive to establish a union.
A statement that has been released by Jordan E. Kurland, a member of the AAUP national staff for the past 42 years, stated that no other president of the organization has ever been taken to jail in the line of duty.