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Presidents Message: To Practice What I Preach

by James (Jim) Klein President, Texas Association of College Teachers

I need to begin by acknowledging the extensive work by Dr. Lisa Hobson as President of the Texas Association of College Teachers. TACT has benefitted from her leadership, her determination, and her grace. Thank you Lisa for all that you have done and will continue to do on behalf of this organization. I shall strive to maintain the high standards you have set for this office. I also want to thank you for your support of TACT. There is strength in numbers and you help to keep this organization effective in working for the greater good of society, the ultimate goal of higher education. If you know of colleagues who are not members of TACT, urge them to join us in this effort. By way of an introduction, I am a Professor of History at Del Mar College, a community college in Corpus Christi. I have taught at Del Mar for fifteen years following a postdoc lecturer position at Georgia State University in Atlanta. I originated in Iowa where I grew up on a family farm growing corn, soybeans, and hay and raising cattle, pigs, and a few sheep. From 2014 until 2020, I served as President of the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors. I remain active in the AAUP and see opportunities for AAUP-TX and TACT to continue working together. Each semester, I begin my freshman-level courses by emphasizing that people make history. I tell my students that history, which I define as the study of change and continuity over time, does not just happen. If something has changed, it has changed because people changed it. If something has remained unchanged over time, it is because people chose to keep it unchanged. While this seems obvious, I regularly remind myself of this. Historical trends can appear so compelling that I overlook the role individuals and groups of individuals play in creating those trends. I return to this theme periodically throughout the semester; at its conclusion I note the historical trends we have studied, but add that these trends are the result of actions taken by people, individually or collectively. My intent is to guard my students (and myself) against assuming that historical trends (particularly recent historical trends) will automatically continue into the future. A trend (for instance, the growing presence of women in elected office in the US) will continue only if people continue to advocate for the same issues that created this trend. In the same manner, a new trend will commence only if someone(s) acts. I close the semester by stressing the importance of historical study to recognize this process of change and continuity over time. The world is not static, unchangeable. I also tell students that if or when they see something in need of change, they should act, because this is the only way change comes about. As the incoming President of TACT, I hope to practice what I have imparted to my students—to act when I see something that should be changed. This is the reason I joined TACT and the AAUP and other organizations; others share this willingness to act. Higher education in Texas is in need of change—it has been notoriously underfunded, first by the federal government and later by the state government over the past three decades. Currently, 12% of my institution’s funding comes from state appropriations; thirty-five years ago 65% of this funding came from the state. Colleges and universities across the state have similarly struggled with this reduced funding causing institutions to repeatedly raise tuition and fees to make up the difference. At the same time that the state of Texas has reduced its funding of higher education, it has dramatically increased the number of (unfunded) mandates causing institutions to hire more staff (which many institutions are anxious to do even without the additional mandates) and/or require more work by the faculty to comply with these dictates. Reversing this trend, while far from easy, would serve the greater good of Texas; and TACT is ideally situated to take on this task. Twice each year, the TACT staff organize lobby visits with state legislators and their staff to drive home the importance of funding higher education and to ensure that elected officials hear the perspective of faculty on other issues that affect research and instruction. For instance, a bill was introduced during this year’s legislative session (thankfully it did not pass) that would have sharply narrowed the definition of tenure at all public institutions in Texas. Higher education is the best investment in the future of Texas, but legislators need to hear this regularly and they need to hear from us on the value of tenure in attracting and maintaining top quality faculty. A core group of TACT members participate in these lobby visits. I implore you to join us in this. We will meet (either in Austin or virtually, depending on the pandemic circumstances) on a Friday morning in late October of this year and again next February. Legislators and staffers need to hear about what is happening in Beaumont, Wichita Falls, Huntsville, San Angelo, Nacogdoches, and Brownsville as well as in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. Join us in October if you can, for the greater good of Texans. Best wishes for a safe and enjoyable summer, James (Jim) Klein President, Texas Association of College Teachers

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