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National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

Institute Occasional Paper 9: What Faculty Unions Say about Student Learning Outcomes Assessment


Gold, L., Rhoades, G., Smith, M. & Kuh, G. (2011, May). What faculty unions say about student learning outcomes assessment. (NILOA Occasional Paper No. 9). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.



This paper summarizes the views on student learning outcomes assessment held by the leadership of three major national faculty unions—the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the National Education Association (NEA). Framed as a conversation, a spokesperson from each group talks about how organized faculties can contribute their ideas and fashion their practices to enhance student learning and educational attainment.

Paper Abstract

Three major national faculty unions –American Association of University Professors (AAUP), American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA) – help shape the work conditions of faculty in many postsecondary education institutions. In this paper, representatives from each of the organizations describe their group’s positions on student learning and educational attainment and the role of assessing student learning outcomes.  All three affirm the importance of assessment, emphasizing that faculty must have a central role in determining how it is to be done and how the results are used. Indeed, they assert that faculty involvement in assessment is essential in order to insure that the principles of academic freedom and shared governance are honored in all phases of the assessment process. The unions are not opposed to using assessment information for accountability. At the same time, they prefer that evidence of student learning be used by institutions to enhance the quality of the student experience and not allow assessment results to drive resource allocation or other decisions in the absence of other information. Even though the positions articulated in this paper are fairly general, it is noteworthy that the unions have endorsed the value of assessment which promises to advance this important agenda on organized campuses.

Biographies of the Authors


Larry Gold has been Director of the Higher Education Department of
the American Federation of Teachers since 1992. Before joining the AFT, Mr. Gold was president of the consulting firm Public Policy Advocates. From 1981 to 1988, he was director of the Washington office of the City University of New York, where he organized the National Pell Grant Coalition and the Coalition for Aid to Part-time Students. From 1977-81, Mr. Gold served in policy posts in the U.S.
Department of Education. Mr. Gold attended New York University, and was a doctoral candidate in Government at the University of Maryland.


Gary Rhoades has been the general secretary of AAUP since January 2009. Prior, he was a professor of higher education at the University of Arizona and director of the university’s Center for the Study of Higher Education. Rhoades holds BA, MA, and PhD degrees in sociology from UCLA. His research focuses on professions in academe, university restructuring, and science and technology issues in higher education. A meticulous researcher, incisive writer, and engaging lecture, Rhoades is the author of Managed Professionals: Unionized Faculty and Restructuring Academic Labor (1998) and Academic Capitalism and the New Economy with Sheila Slaughter (2004). He is currently working on books about strategic positioning in higher education and academic unions.

Mark Smith is a senior policy analyst in higher education for the National Education Association. He has been with NEA since March 2006. Prior to joining the Association, he served as director of government relations at the American Association of University Professors. He advocates the policy goals of the association and its affiliates on behalf of college and university faculty and staff. Smith holds a B.A. in history and political science from the University of Wisconsin, and an M.A. in government from Johns Hopkins University. Prior to joining NEA, he served as director of government relations at the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). He is a member of the American Historical Association and the American Political Science Assoation. He is the author of “In Search of a Problem: The Student Academic Freedom Hearings in Pennsylvania” in The Academic Bill of Rights Debate, edited by Stephen H. Aby.

George Kuh is Adjunct Professor at the University of Illinois and Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus of Higher Education at Indiana University. Founding director of the widely-used National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), George has written extensively about assessment, student engagement, institutional improvement, and college and university cultures, and consulted with more than 350 colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad. Two of his recent books are High Impact Practices (2008) and Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter (2005, 2010). In 2001, he received Indiana University’s prestigious Tracy Sonneborn Award for distinguished career of teaching and research. George earned the B.A. at Luther College, M.S. at St. Cloud State University, and Ph.D. at the University of Iowa.



This occasional paper was mentioned in a May 17, 2011, article of Inside Higher Education titled, "Faculty Unions Weigh In on Assessment."

This occasional paper was mentioned in a May 17, 2011, article of The Chronicle of Higher Education titled, "Leaders of 3 Major Faculty Unions Cautiously Support Learning Assessments."


"The very fact that leading representatives of all three major national faculty unions (AAUP, AFT & NEA) were willing, for this paper, to engage in a dialogue on the assessment of quality in higher education is noteworthy and bodes well for advancing the assessment and institutional improvement agenda."

Stan Ikenberry

Stanley O. Ikenberry
Co-Principal Investigator
National Institute for Learning
Outcomes Assessment