The AAUP released today a new research report, Policies on Academic Freedom, Dismissal for Cause, Financial Exigency, and Program Discontinuance, that examines the prevalence of AAUP-supported policies in faculty handbooks and collective bargaining agreements at four-year institutions that have a tenure system. The analysis replicates a study conducted in 2000 and tracks changes that have occurred since that time. It finds that many AAUP-supported procedural standards are widely prevalent, but it also finds reason for concern, especially with respect to policies on financial exigency, which have recently received renewed attention at many institutions of higher education because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report finds that the AAUP language on academic freedom is widely adopted. The 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, formulated jointly by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities and endorsed by more than 250 disciplinary societies and educational associations, serves as the primary source for academic freedom language in institutional regulations. Seventy-three percent of four-year institutions with a tenure system base their academic freedom policy directly on the 1940 Statement, and more than half cite the AAUP specifically as the source. Only 3 percent of institutions have no academic freedom statement, and 24 percent of institutions have an academic freedom statement not based on AAUP language.
Overall, the study found that 95 percent of four-year institutions with a tenure system have financial exigency policies that allow for the termination of appointments. A central question is if and how the conditions that allow such terminations to occur are defined. The study found that 55 percent of institutions do not define those conditions and simply state that appointments can be terminated for “financial exigency,” “fiscal emergency,” or similar conditions. That percentage has decreased since 2000, when it was 69 percent. The AAUP provides a definition of “financial exigency” in its Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure. That definition can be found in 13 percent of handbooks and contracts, up from 8 percent in 2000. Other definitions that often provide less protection than the definition provided by the AAUP can be found at 33 percent of institutions, which represents an increase of 10 percentage points since 2000.
Policies on terminations of appointments because of financial exigency also need to include procedural safeguards, such as requirements that the administration seek another suitable position for affected faculty members and, failing that, that affected faculty members receive timely notice of the termination or severance pay. Other safeguards include the requirement that the faculty, through an appropriate faculty body, such as a senate or union, participate in the decision to declare a financial exigency and identify faculty appointments to terminate. The prevalence of such procedural safeguards has increased since 2000, with specific provisions concerning the role of the faculty increasing the most, from 50 percent to 66 percent. The prevalence of each of these procedural elements at institutions at which the faculty engage in collective bargaining is higher than at institutions without faculty unions.
Senior Program Officer and Researcher