My name is Marc Rice. I am a Professor of Music here at Truman State University. Like almost all of my colleagues I’m very concerned about the diminishing support for faculty resources at TSU, including salaries that rank among the lowest in the nation. A few years ago, feeling that I had to do something to help my career and my family, I joined the TSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors. Now I serve as chapter President, and this past July I attended a workshop for training chapter members to engage proactively with administration and politicians towards the empowerment of their faculty colleagues.
The workshop was held at Hofstra University on Long Island. There were, by my estimate, about 800 people in attendance from all across the U.S. There were dozens of workshops, 90-minute sessions that included lecture, group discussion, and breakout work. The workshops that I attended enabled me to develop my skills at dialogue and negotiation with administration and politicians.
The first session that I attended, “Introduction to Negotiations” was led by faculty from California State University, who were very experienced at negotiating with administration during times of budget cutbacks. We listened to an overview of their process, and then proceeded to practice our own negotiating skills.
The next day I attended two sessions. In the morning I went to “Building an Effective State Conference,” where we learned how to communicate with other chapters in our state, towards forming a unified voice to address state government. There are several AAUP chapters in Missouri, and all of us have been negatively impacted by the diminishing appropriations to higher education. The afternoon session that I attended, “Using Communications to Motivate Action,” gave me ideas for building up the membership in our own TSU chapter, and mobilizing my faculty colleagues to work for our common goals.
The next morning I attended “Press Relations and Messaging.” We worked on communicating with the media, including formulating a message and presenting it in print, in social media, and on television and radio in a manner that will garner support. We also practiced the technique of giving a radio or television interview, so I am ready for our local media outlets!
The final session that I attended was personally important for the development of my own teaching skills. In “Embracing the 21st Century Classroom,” we looked at the challenges faced by professors as our students become increasing diversified, and we need to prepare them for a complex, globalized world. I’m a white scholar of jazz history, and this workshop happened weeks before the events of Ferguson, so the ideas that I received in this workshop have been invaluable to the teaching that I’m doing this semester.
This academic year I am striving to put into action at TSU many of the skills that I learned at the workshop. AAUP work is vitally important at this time, because the past several years have been difficult ones for faculty who have committed themselves to Truman State University, its mission, and our community, both on and off of campus. Like many workers in the U.S. we have seen our wages stagnate during the last 10 years, while the cost of living, in particular health care, continues to rise. We have seen a decline in the faculty resources that many years ago had made our University special, including a decrease in faculty numbers that has led to an increase in class size, and a decrease in support for faculty research and travel funding. Things are generally worse for American workers and the middle class than they were 10 or 12 years ago, but because of a variety of factors, including diminishing state support for higher education, and TSU’s commitment to low tuition, TSU professors are among the worst paid in a state that ranks near the bottom for faculty salaries and resources.
This is my 16th year at Truman State. Like many of my colleagues I’ve had the opportunity to leave. I’ve stayed because of my belief in an affordable liberal arts education, the wonderful, creative, and intellectual students that I’ve had the privilege of teaching, the friendships that I have with my faculty colleagues, and the passion that I have for the subjects I teach. I’ve bought a house in Kirksville, and have transplanted my family here. My daughter will probably be entering TSU next year.
But like many American workers today, I’m faced with financial, professional, and ultimately personal constrictions that should not happen in the most prosperous country in the world. To address these issues and to help my family, I work with the American Association of University Professors because a united voice is a stronger voice. There was a famous songwriter named Joe Hill, who belonged to a union called Industrial Workers of the World. He was framed for murder, and as he was about to be executed his last words were “Don’t mourn, organize!” The faculty of TSU are not mourning, but many of us remember better times, for ourselves and our beloved institution. We know that things have been better, and we have hope that the future holds great promise for Truman State. And this is why having an active chapter of AAUP on our campus is so important. Our cause is the University’s cause.