Founded in 1915, the American Association of University Professors is a professional organization of academics that establishes standards for maintaining tenure and academic freedom in colleges and universities. Its policies and procedures are the model for professional employment practices on campuses throughout the country. Although the AAUP has bargaining chapters in its Collective Bargaining Congress, it is not a traditional labor union, like the American Federation of Teachers. It cannot dictate policy to its collective bargaining chapters, take over chapters, or replace elected leaders. While it can provide needed support in other ways, such as legal counsel and advisors, the AAUP has no resources for sustaining its unionized members through a long strike.
In 1973, the UB faculty decided to unionize, partly in response to a financial crisis at the institution. The trustees had reacted in panic to a sudden downturn in enrollment, and embarked on a series of drastic cuts in programs and personnel. The professors wanted a voice in decision-making and a legally enforceable contract to protect their rights. The faculty had a choice of which collective bargaining organization to affiliate with: The American Federation of Teachers, The Teamsters, or the American Association of University Professors. It chose the AAUP because that organization, as the standard-bearer of professionalism in higher education, most suited the faculty’s values and sensibilities; they did not see themselves as members of a labor union. Common standards of academic governance, tenure, and due process informed their approach to contract proposals. The trustees, resistant by nature to rule by consensus, appointed an autocrat to lead the institution. The ensuing 13 years of personnel reductions and retrenchment put the union in conflict continuously with an administration whose unilateral attempts to reshape the school in response to budgetary demands or demographic projections always found an obstacle in the collective bargaining agreement. The chapter earned a reputation for “militancy” and obstreperousness, while the administration and board seemed to escape blame for not reading or understanding the contract. In its 16-year history, the union struck five times. Where wages and benefits were the issue, the strikes were settled quickly; where academic principles were at stake, the battles were long and tenacious.
AAUP 1940 Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure
The 1940 Statement sets standards for due process and the awarding of tenure. It also allows the removal of tenured professors in cases of “financial exigency.” The 1940 Statement was incorporated into the University of Bridgeport’s contract with UB-AAUP, under Article 10. In March 1990, the administration believed it had discovered a giant loophole in the 1940 Statement, which allowed mass firings of tenured professors without notice or severance pay.
In 1978, contract negotiations ended in a strike that threatened to close down the University. The conflict was resolved with an uneasy compromise: Article 10 allowed the administration to layoff tenured faculty for reasons other than the two mentioned in the AAUP 1940 Statement (moral turpitude or financial exigency). “Institutional need” and “programmatic need” became justifications for breaking tenure, and was invoked frequently by the administration thereafter. The faculty was allowed a voice in these programmatic decisions (the Program Evaluation Committee), and a codified process and schedule was created for phasing out programs and professors, which included a year’s notice and severance pay. The 1940 Statement was incorporated into the article as Article 10.1A.
The Weber Report
In 1987, UB-AAUP hired financial consultant Richard Weber, an economics professor from Monmouth College, to review the University’s financial statements. Contract negotiations had stalled on the issue of faculty raises, with an administration team determined to hold the line at no increase, later modified to 1%. Weber reported to the union that contrary to its claims, the University was in excellent financial health: from 1981 to 1986 its Net Fund Balances had increased every year, averaging more than $2 million annually, with the increases used to expand the plant facilities and the endowment fund, and decreasing the level of debt. The report stunned the faculty, whose academic programs and staff had been continually down-sized during the same period, because of the need for belt-tightening. The administration disputed Weber’s conclusions, but did not produce any evidence or contrary report to refute it. The Weber Report united the bargaining unit behind the union negotiating team. A two-day strike that fall ended when President Greenwood intervened and agreed to a 6% increase; she then magnanimously gave the same raise to the administration and support and maintenance staff as well. Before the academic year was over, the University reported a $2.2 million budget deficit, attributed to a shortfall in student enrollment, followed by more uncovered deficits. The frantic rounds of layoffs and cost-cuttings that ensued in the next two years seemed to some a clear refutation of Prof. Weber’s report on the school’s financial health; the argument on the other side was that Weber’s examination was current to 1986, the latest financial statements available, and the downturn happened later; also, that the school had subsequently changed its accounting system. In any case, the Weber Report was still an item of controversy when in 1990, the union invited him back to address the administration’s claim of “exigency.”
The Bank Bailout
When Janet Greenwood assumed the presidency of UB in the fall of 1987, consultants were hired to evaluate the entire institution and to build a budget “from the bottom up,” with recommendations that would be used in formulating a new five-year plan. (The confidential report was never shared with the faculty.) The change in the University’s budget methodology “uncovered” a series of deficits, which consumed the administration’s attention for the next three years. To address the real and anticipated budget deficits, the Greenwood administration sought a $12 million loan from a consortium of local banks. The loan proposal stated that the administration had found “excess teaching personnel in some areas of the institution…This financial plan anticipates the reduction of sixty full-time faculty from the workforce, accompanied by a comparable reduction in the part-time or adjunct faculty ranks.” The “bank bailout” was granted in June, 1989, and from then on, the commitment to a massive reduction in the teaching staff was set in stone: “The banks require us to do this.”
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 established the use of “permanent replacements” as a means of giving employers leverage during a strike. In its cynical logic, an employee cannot be fired for striking, but can be “permanently replaced.” An otherwise temporary worker is hired to replace a striking employee; the striker who wants to return must apply to get his job back and, if it is filled by a replacement, must wait indefinitely for another position to become available. Despite its existence for decades, use of the permanent replacement option was rare until President Reagan used it to break an air-traffic controllers strike in the early 1980s; after that, it became an all-too-common strikebreaking tactic. Before the UB Strike of 1990, it was never used to replace striking professors, for reasons that may seem obvious. The hiring of a qualified full-time professor usually takes a year, including search, interviews, and department review. The hired faculty member then works a probationary seven years before being eligible for tenure, and crossing that hurdle involves intense reviews of the candidate’s scholarship, teaching, compatibility with the department, and ability to contribute to the program. At the University of Bridgeport, striking tenured professors with years of service, recognition, and awards were replaced permanently, overnight, by anyone the administration could find to staff their classes, many of them included teachers from a local employment agency and, in at least one case, a postal worker. Some of the replacements were given appointments with tenure. One would assume that this shocking disregard for the hiring process and the integrity of programs would have prompted a response from students, parents, or regulating agencies. That did not happen. There was no student protest, parents were satisfied that the school was up and running. Accreditations were maintained. The implications of this, too, should have had a chilling effect on the common, basic assumptions underlying higher education, but never became a serious issue for discussion in the press, the profession, or anywhere else. Life went on, and so did the strike, indefinitely.
In 1980, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of National Labor Relations Board vs. Yeshiva University that university faculty function as managers, and therefore have no protected right to collective bargaining. (The decision applied only to private universities; unionization in public institutions is governed by state laws.) The ruling was immediately followed by a wave of private colleges decertifying their faculty unions, or refusing to bargain with them, and unionization in private schools came to a virtual halt. The threshhold for determining whether a university’s faculty qualified as “managers” was the extent to which they had autonomy or a role in governance; a faculty which could demonstrate that it was routinely ignored or overruled in policy-making could escape being “Yeshiva-ed.” Although Yeshiva was a constant threat to the faculty union at UB through the 1980s, the administration and board chose not to apply it until well into the last strike, as a last resort that failed.
A Short History of the Longest Strike
On September 1, 1990, all three of the employees’ unions at the University of Bridgeport–maintenance and food service workers (1199), secretaries (Local 153) and faculty (UB-AAUP)–went on strike together after months of negotiations with the administration failed to produce a contract for any of them. The administration’s final offer to UB-AAUP cut pay and benefits by 30 percent, stripped away nearly every right and protection under the previous contract, and made faculty participation in decision-making unenforceable. It eviscerated the grievance process, gave management authority over teaching methods and materials, and the right to fire tenured faculty without notice or severance pay. The administration argued that it needed $3 million in permanent savings from the faculty budget, and the “flexibility” to change and implement policy at will. The union believed the management proposal violated faculty rights, tenure, and academic freedom, and ceded too much power to an administration it deemed reckless and incompetent. The union’s picket signs echoed this conviction: “On Strike to Save the University.”
On September 13 the administration implemented its final offer and began hiring “permanent replacements” for strikers, including professors, a move unprecedented in higher education. Panicked faculty members fled back to save their jobs, and the strikers’ coalition collapsed. In October, 1199 and Local 153 made unconditional offers to return. By then the administration had achieved what it determined was the minimum number of employees it needed to continue operations and shut the door on the rest. Those whose jobs had been eliminated, or filled by a replacement, could wait for another position to become available. The faculty union remained on strike with 70 professors on the picket line and an administration that saw no need to compromise. The school’s lawyers rebuffed all offers of mediation or arbitration on strike issues. “We have everything we want,” UB’s chief negotiator told the press, “what’s mediation or aribtration going to do for us?”
The union appealed to the Connecticut Labor Department, which ruled the administration’s actions a “lock-out” under state law, making the strikers eligible for unemployment compensation. The union also began legal action against the school on grounds that the administration had used the strike to reduce its workforce, amounting to a de facto layoff. This would mean that the shut-out faculty could be entitled to severance pay and back wages in the millions of dollars. A federal judge agreed the union had a case, and ordered arbitration of the layoff dispute, a process that took many months.
The Greenwood administration declared that the motley teaching staff it had pulled together to break the strike were now the Second Founders of a new University. The administration also claimed that it had balanced the budget with the drastic reduction of the employee payroll. The strikers, meanwhile, continued their efforts to disrupt the school’s normal operations.
In the Fall of 1991, the news media learned that UB was considering a merger with the Professors World Peace Academy, a branch of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, which prompted a public outcry. The proposal was voted down by the trustees, but in short order the bottom fell out of the school’s balanced budget. President Greenwood resigned and the administration announced that without a major cash infusion, the school might close before the end of the academic year. In the winter of 1992, UB literally went to pieces as other schools made bids for its programs and the law school seceded. The trustees revisited the Unification Church offer and this time accepted it: the Professors World Peace Academy was given control of the board in exchange for $50 million. In May 1992 the striking faculty made an offer to return, calculating correctly that the new management would not want them back. The administration settled with the union for $2.7 million, just shy of the $3 million the University had saved from the faculty budget. UB-AAUP closed its office and dissolved in the autumn of 1992. In 1994, National AAUP placed the University of Bridgeport on its list of censured institutions for implementing policies which violated tenure and academic freedom. The censure remains in effect.