The AFT, the nation's largest union of higher education faculty and staff, launched its national effort to reclaim the promise of higher education April 11 during the annual AFT National Higher Education Issues Conference in Baltimore. More than 300 AFT members, leaders and experts in higher education, students, and community partners attended the conference.
"Higher education should be about expanding opportunities for middle- and working-class families, not a 'debt sentence,' and not a way for Wall Street and for-profit colleges to profit off of students and families," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. "Together we can reclaim the promise of higher education as a means to opportunity and success."
Weingarten launched the national effort in a speech and town hall meeting with attendees and stressed the need to unite educators, students and community to reclaim the promise of higher education—to ensure rigorous instruction that is student-centered and faculty-driven, while supporting independent and innovative research; to make college affordable and accessible to all and relieve the burdens of those costs that have been shifted onto students and families; to foster diverse institutions that provide a richer educational environment for all students; and to ensure students are taught and mentored by faculty and staff who are well-prepared, professionally supported and have a voice in academic decisions.
"An accessible, affordable and high-quality system of public higher education is critical to the health of our nation—both to ensure that students reach their fullest potential, and to enable the United States to continue to develop as a just society, a vibrant democracy and an engine of economic opportunity," said Weingarten.
Attendees also discussed how to mobilize against the forces attacking the promise of higher education.
"Instead of valuing higher education, we've seen growing austerity and budget cuts, and the promotion of polarization and privatization of America's higher education, resulting in massive disinvestment in our colleges and universities and the deprofessionalization and exploitation of faculty—particularly contingent faculty, who teach the majority of undergraduate courses but are underpaid, undersupported and not recognized for the important work they do," Weingarten said. "These types of cuts benefit no one—particularly the students who need the most help—and actually hurt our communities, our local economies and our country as a whole."
In the coming days, the AFT will release a report detailing the extent to which Wall Street profits off of our higher education system.
[AFT press release]