UA Repped at NEA Higher Ed Conference

Graphic for the 2023 NEA Higher Ed Conference

In what seems to have been the first time, at least officially, the University of Arkansas was represented at the annual Higher Education Conference of the National Education Association. UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 is the first NEA higher ed chapter in the state.

NEA President Becky Pringle in her welcome said a major goal is to re-establish public education, including public higher education, as a common good for the country, adding “We are the ancestors of future generations.”

Local 965 President Hershel Hartford and Vice President Ben Pollock traveled to San Jose, California, for the March 17-19 meeting. Because the two represented the state, the Arkansas Education Association picked up their air fare and the NEA their hotel. No money from the Local treasury was needed.

Here are some highlights:

Two leaders of the Michigan State University chapter noted their strategy is to continually focus on both recruiting and retaining union members. Their meetings are best attended when on Zoom and when held during a weekday lunch hour, as “it’s hard to get people to attend in person or online after work.” They also give away lots of logo souvenirs, noting that desktop items, often with their slogan “Stronger Together,” seem to be most effective.

NEA Senior Digital Strategist Justin Conley had dozens of tips. Use social media to “take an action” or “share a message,” noting that “authenticity is the secret sauce.”

Still images and videos remain important in sharing the message or telling a story, the “TikTok-ization” of digital messaging, he said. But videos shouldn’t be longer than a minute. Always set the automatic closed-captioning on videos as people often don’t have their volume up.

Most of Justin’s knowledge comes from his observing how the apps’ algorithms seem to work. Be mindful those change periodically, he said. Algorithms are to help us, help the companies make money but also to thwart competitors (using hashtags on Facebook tells it you probably copied over a Twitter tweet so that pushes the post down). YouTube has come to function as a social media outlet so it should be used as that in sharing information.

Doug Hurst of St. Louis Community College teaches communications skills there. His previous career as a criminal defense lawyer gave his hour a unique spin. As a union leader, Doug reminded us: “We are always organizing.” He noted with examples and exercises how unreliable perceptions and memories are, and that “communicators can influence but not control perceptions of others.”

Gary Rhoades, a professor of higher education at the University of Arizona as well as a union leader there, discussed strategies for collective action. The main strategy against us is “divide and conquer” using categories of employees to separate from our goals faculty from support professions from graduate student employees. Gary recommends forming alliances with students and campus media as well as the region’s political leaders and other unions. 

The closing speaker Sunday morning was U.S. Rep. Katie Porter, D-California. She’s a former professor and known in recent years for piercing, well-prepared questions at hearings. Porter noted, “Nothing prepares you (in teaching and lecturing experiences) for dealing with a corporate blowhard or incompetent government official in Congress.” Yet she noted to us, “Every voice matters” no matter how soft and that “education is a public good that should be publicly funded.”

Graphic for the 2023 NEA Higher Ed Conference

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