Centenary's AAUP: Past and Present

When we think of higher education in the 1950s, we rarely view it as an eventful period. Unlike the dynamic 1960s and 1970s, colleges and universities seemed to slumber, populated by the students of the so-called "Silent Generation" content with little change. But in March 1957, something happened that had a profound long-term impact on Centenary College. The campus chapter of the AAUP sent a letter to college President Joe Mickle requesting that he and the Board of Trustees "extend" the tenure system at the college and bring it into conformity with the 1940 Statement of Principles of the national AAUP. The letter further requested the faculty, administration, and board collaborate on creating a variety of written statements about such matters as salaries, promotions, qualifications for faculty ranks, and "obligations of faculty members." These statements, the letter noted, could take the form of a faculty handbook, much like the ones at Millsaps and Texas Christian University. Thus, was born both Centenary's commitment to the AAUP 1940 Statement and the faculty handbook. These pivotal changes have shaped the college to this day.

The campus chapter of the AAUP was not finished. With a membership that reached 42 in the early 1970s, the chapter investigated and promoted such causes as sabbatical leaves, fair course-loads, support for faculty travel, limiting resources for intercollegiate athletics, statements of racial inclusiveness, and faculty salary increases. In 1980 the chapter called upon the administration to elevate faculty salaries, targeting as a goal having faculty salaries at all ranks be in the second quintile in the national AAUP rankings. In doing so, the Centenary AAUP declared: "Centenary cannot continue to present itself as a quality institution while paying its faculty salaries substantially below those of nearly every institution of higher learning in the state." Indeed, the AAUP noted, "the quality of the faculty is the foundation of Centenary's academic reputation and its greatest asset in recruiting and retaining students of distinction." Yet without proper compensation, the college could not hope to attract even "competent teachers, let alone outstanding scholars" necessary for a strong college experience. The journey to the AAUP salary goal took more than a decade, but in the early 1990s, it was achieved.

Then something else happened. Membership in the campus chapter declined, especially in the 1990s. Part of the decline could be attributed to a change in generations. Another major reason had to be that it seemed as though the AAUP's work was done. Other organizations and groups have often suffered such lapses.
But the work of the AAUP is never been done. The need for faculty engagement in shared college governance and maintenance of professional standards, not to mention faculty salaries has remained. Since the peak of the 1990s, Centenary faculty salaries and compensation have by turns flattened and then declined compared to peer institutions. By 2006 Centenary's faculty salaries had fallen to the third quintile at all faculty ranks and today they sit at the fourth quintile

Thankfully the legacy of earlier days has remained. The spirit and purpose of shared governance have remained alive in Centenary's Faculty Handbook and in its committee structure. With higher education and our own campus in the midst of difficult and controversial changes, the decision to come together can be pivotal. Our connections to the state conference and the national AAUP afford us with a host of essential resources. Those resources begin with the AAUP Redbook with its many appropriate statements about college standards and policies. We can hope that no committee chair on our campus will be without one!

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