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Open Letter to Graduate Students

    I am writing as the national president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to invite you to join the most unequivocally principled organization representing all of American higher education. We are not seeking passive members. The AAUP is looking for representatives of the next generation of faculty who can help us shape the academy of the future.

    Graduate student members pay reduced dues of $38 a year, but they have the same membership rights as faculty. They already serve on our committees, drafting educational policy for the country as a whole. They are fully eligible to run for national office in the organization. They vote in all elections. We invite your active participation in our ongoing efforts to secure enhanced rights and protections for all of the academy’s contingent workers. We invite you to help us secure academic freedom in all the emerging technologies we use–from email to university web sites. We invite you to help us strengthen graduate employee academic freedom in the classroom and to articulate due process rights for graduate employees threatened with dismissal.

    These organizational commitments have been backed up with key policy statements. The AAUP’s “Statement on Graduate Students,” which establishes a series of graduate student rights, was endorsed by our venerable Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure and our National Council; it is published in our Redbook. The policy statement affirming the graduate employee right to bargain collectively was adopted unanimously by the AAUP’s national Council. Having been a member of our Committee on Graduate Students since it was founded, I have been closely involved in all these projects. And I have been writing about graduate student rights and struggles for over two decades in such books as Will Teach for Food: Academic Labor in Crisis, Manifesto of a Tenured Radical, Academic Keywords: A Devil’s Dictionary for Higher Education, and Office Hours: Activism and Change in the Academy. But neither my personal work nor the collective work of the AAUP is done. And we face new threats, among them the new conservative attacks on classroom academic freedom.

    We seek your activism on both the local and national level. One of the best ways to guarantee healthy, influential campus AAUP chapters is to recruit graduate student members. Those chapters can then give joint graduate student and faculty voice to local priorities and help define fair local policies and practices. In the national AAUP you can strengthen your local advocacy by framing national policy. We are also a national watchdog for academic freedom and a lobbying organization on higher education issues. You will find no voices opposing grad student and employee rights among our elected leaders. Our vote to support graduate employee rights was unanimous and greeted with universal applause. The AAUP gives you a window on the profession that promotes graduate student and faculty solidarity. We urge you to join us. If you cannot give us your time and energy now, sign up as a member and increase our graduate student numbers.


    Cary Nelson
    AAUP President 2007