The AAUP is launching investigations into the dismissals of one faculty member at Linfield University and two faculty members at Collin College. In all cases, the faculty members were dismissed without due process and for reasons that appear to have violated their academic freedom.
At Linfield University, investigators will look into the case of Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, a professor with ten years of service, who told the AAUP that his tenured appointment was terminated after he publicly criticized the governing board for its handling of alleged sexual misconduct among its members and accused the university president of having made anti-Semitic remarks. An action to dismiss a tenured professor without the administration’s having first demonstrated adequacy of cause is in violation of principles and procedures established by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and endorsed by more than two hundred other groups in higher education. AAUP principles and procedures are in fact incorporated into the Linfield University faculty handbook, so the administration’s action against Professor Pollack-Pelzner was evidently taken in flagrant violation, not only of AAUP-recommended standards, but of the institution’s own regulations.
At Collin College, investigators will look into the summary dismissal of Professor Suzanne Jones and the nonrenewal of Professor Lora Burnett. The stated basis for the dismissals of Professor Jones was her critique of the administration’s COVID-19 policies, in evident violation of her academic freedom to address any institutional policy or action while exercising her governance responsibilities. The stated reasons for the nonrenewal of Professor Lora Burnett were that she made “private personnel issues public that impair the college’s function” and engaged in “personal criticisms of coworkers, supervisors, and/or those who merely disagree” with her, which suggests that the nonrenewal may have been in response to activity which should be protected by academic freedom—speaking freely as a citizen and as an educational officer of her institution. Taken together, actions by the Collin College administration suggest a pattern of indifference toward academic freedom and norms of shared governance. The actions to terminate the services of both faculty members appear to have been taken in disregard of the AAUP–AAC&U 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Since Professor Jones had served the institution beyond what the AAUP regards as the maximum period of probation, she had de facto tenure, but the administration failed to afford her a faculty hearing, as the AAUP requires when an institution dismisses a tenured faculty member.
As is our practice, the AAUP reached out to the administrations repeatedly in order to determine whether they wished to make additions or corrections to the information we received from the faculty members and to urge them to afford the affected faculty members appropriate due process. Since they were not responsive, the AAUP’s executive director authorized the investigations. Investigations are carried out by ad hoc committees composed of professors from other institutions who have had no previous involvement in the case so that they can conduct their inquiry without prejudgment. The AAUP’s staff will provide each ad hoc committee with relevant available information for its examination, and the committee will arrange to interview the administration, the faculty members, and any other involved individuals to ensure that all parties have the opportunity to present their positions. The committee will submit its report to the Association’s standing Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which authorizes publication. Prior to publication, the staff will circulate a draft text of the report to the principal parties with an invitation for comment and factual corrections.
American Association of University Professors