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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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OP-ED: AU’s Staff Union must have representation on the presidential search committee

The new president should be proud to lead a unionized workforce

The search for and transition to a new president of American University represents an enormous opportunity for the institution and its community. It is imperative that the search process for the next president represent the interests of all constituencies within the community: tenure, term and adjunct faculty, graduate and undergraduate students and managerial and frontline staff. 

These parties are not being represented with the search committee as presently constituted. We ask that the Board of Trustees immediately create a seat on the search committee to be occupied by a member of the AU Staff Union and to be chosen by the elected Union Representative Committee.

Not a single member of the AU Staff Union is included in the search committee, announced by Board Chair Gina Adams in her Aug. 8 memo. This omission is disconcerting in light of the fact that our union represents the single largest block of non-supervisory staff on campus. The only staff member included at all was the chair of the Staff Council, a body explicitly serving only non-Union and managerial staff. 

This leaves over 500 full and part-time staff without a voice in a process that will heavily impact each and every one’s work at AU. We recognize that the presidential search committee plays a primarily advisory role in a decision that ultimately rests with the Board of Trustees. Given the Board’s role in the University’s governance and the importance of the decision they will now face, they must take every step to ensure that the search committee’s recommendation embeds the interests of the entire community. 

The president determines the University’s priorities within the scope of its mission, and for staff, faculty and students, the president sets the tone for the school’s academic and work culture. That culture bears directly on AU’s success as a university and health as a workplace. The staff at that workplace are now proudly unionized. Our next president should be openly proud to lead an organized and democratized workforce. 

We require a president who is not afraid to communicate directly with the staff they lead, even when addressing contentious issues. We want a president who understands the crucial link between staff working conditions and student retention and thriving and who makes enhancing those connections a priority. 

Our new president must recommit to building AU into a truly diverse and equitable institution, and recognize that such a renewed commitment will rank AU among the most competitive institutions of higher education. Our union — as unions have consistently demonstrated in workplaces large and small across the country — will be a vehicle for equity and inclusion on campus. A president who embraces University staff as a partner in this task will make it far more effective for everybody’s benefit.

The faculty, spearheaded by the recently established American Association of University Professors chapter on campus, have presented the Board with a petition signed by hundreds of current faculty members. They too are demanding increased representation on the search committee and the ability to choose their representatives through the Faculty Senate. 

The AU Staff Union stands in solidarity with faculty and unreservedly endorses these demands. The legitimacy and integrity of the presidential search is too important to ignore or compromise the interests of any part of the community, and we hope the Board chooses to change direction and preserve its inclusive legacy before it is too late.

This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Alexis Bernstein and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti.  

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