Nov. 13, 2014

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Drescher discusses Drescher Award at UAlbany

uupdate 11-13-14

Labor activists sometimes talk about their “union moment” – an encounter or experience that illustrates the power of the union for its members. For former UUP president Nuala McGann Drescher, that epiphany came in a conversation almost 30 years ago.

Drescher was speaking with Shirley Brown, a tenured psychology professor at SUNY Albany. Brown had a career full of achievements, including appointment to the New York State Board of Regents, but had never advanced beyond associate professor. When Drescher—UUP’s first and only woman president—asked why, Brown’s answer pulled her up short. A lack of time to conduct research and publish in professional journals had stalled Brown’s academic career.

Thus was born the idea for what would become the Nuala McGann Drescher Affirmative Action/Diversity Leave Program – commonly and lovingly referred to by UUP members simply as “the Drescher Award.”

Albany Chapter members celebrated the program’s success with a Nov. 13 lecture by Drescher, a retired labor historian at SUNY Buffalo State. Statewide Vice President for Professionals Philippe Abraham and Secretary Eileen Landy were at the event, organized by the chapter’s Women’s Concerns Committee.

Nearly 100 faculty—including a number of Drescher recipients—listened with expressions of admiration and appreciation as Drescher, a Distinguished Service Professor and lifelong labor activist, reflected on what the award has accomplished, and what remains to be done.

“Your colleagues and your union said, ‘We want a diverse faculty,’” Drescher said in recounting the response to her proposal for a grant program to assist with academic leave for research. “We wanted this to be, ‘Who’s going to be with us for a long period of time?’ This is an investment in experience.”

The Drescher Award has been a formative experience for hundreds of young academics and professionals with its goal of nurturing a diverse faculty at SUNY. By providing paid leave for the pursuit of research through a joint labor/management agreement with the state, the Drescher Award has given hundreds of diverse faculty the gift of time to help them complete a thesis or book, secure tenure and share their knowledge with students and colleagues.

As Albany Chapter President Bret Benjamin and Timothy Mulcahy, interim senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, put it: The world is a better place for the Drescher Award, and SUNY is a better university for the hundreds of careers the award has helped foster.

For her part, Drescher would like to see the award be used in the future to help young academics not only complete that first critical part of their research, but also to advance to full professorships once they attain tenure.

That seems attainable, even in an era when tenure is under attack and full-time faculty lines are fewer than they were when the Drescher Award began. Looking around the packed room just before the lecture started, Professor Julie Novkov, a political scientist and co-chair of the Women’s Concerns Committee, struck an optimistic note.

The turnout, she said, was “a real testament to the different this award has made to people of this university. It’s a relatively small investment, but the payoff is tremendous.”

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