AAUP@FHSU


Dismissal of Professor Likely Retaliatory

According to an AAUP investigative report released today, the most plausible explanation for the dismissal of a faculty member from Nunez Community College was that it occurred as a retaliatory measure, violating his academic freedom. Professor Richard Schmitt, a nontenured associate professor of English with twenty-two years of service at the institution, had disagreed with the administration over the accuracy of an accreditation report.

Schmitt was informed during a conference call that his appointment was not to be renewed. In blatant disregard of commonly accepted standards in higher education, he was given no due process for contesting his termination, no dismissal hearing, and no reason for the decision not to renew his contract.

A little about the work of the investigating committee, on which I served as chair: AAUP investigating committees are appointed in a few select cases annually in which severe departures from widely accepted principles and standards of academic freedom, tenure, or governance have been alleged and persist despite efforts to resolve them. Investigating committees are composed of AAUP members from other institutions with no previous involvement in the matter; Professor James Klein of Del Mar College served on the Nunez investigating committee with me.

To learn more about the case, join me for a brief Facebook Live on Thursday, February 14, at 2 p.m. ET,  where I’ll discuss the investigation and its implications. RSVP here.

A recorded version will be available on the AAUP’s One Faculty, One Resistance site and Facebook page after the conclusion of the broadcast.

Nunez Community College, located in Chalmette, Louisiana, does not have a formal tenure system, and appoints all of its instructors on contracts of one year or less, in violation of the widely accepted academic standards codified by the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. That statement, jointly formulated by the AAUP and the American Association of Colleges and Universities, has been endorsed by more than 250 scholarly and educational groups. Because he had served well past an acceptable probationary period, AAUP standards recognize Schmitt’s appointment to be with de facto continuous tenure. Accordingly, he should be dismissed only for cause or as a result of institutional financial exigency or program closures for educational reasons.

The administration’s abrupt nonrenewal of Schmitt’s appointment, without stated cause, after more than two decades of service, constitutes a gross violation of the protections of academic due process, and in the absence of any stated cause for the administration’s actions and on the basis of the available information, must be deemed a retaliatory measure that violated his academic freedom.

You can read the full report here.

At its June meeting, the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure will consider whether to recommend to the AAUP’s annual meeting that censure be imposed on the Nunez Community College administration for substantial noncompliance with AAUP-supported standards of academic freedom and tenure.

Nicholas Fleisher
Chair of the AAUP Investigating Committee
Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee


Stand Up For Students, Stand Up to Privatization

Over the past decade, steady drops in state funding have created the need for new revenue streams at public colleges and universities. Similarly, private nonprofit institutions have felt the impact of the great recession on their budgets. As a result, many institutions are building out their online offerings to bring in more students and revenue by contracting with for-profit online education companies, who do much of the technical work and some of the core academic work.

To keep instructional costs low and maximize revenue, many new online offerings create low-paid, at-will instructor positions with no job security or opportunity for advancement, and require the teaching of information that has been preassembled into canned courses by contracted consultants. The savings on instruction are directed to marketing and recruitment programs to bring as many students as possible into virtual classrooms run by an under-resourced instructor.

As we know, these online education contracts often result in big losses for students and faculty. Faculty are experiencing a loss of academic freedom in their teaching, a loss of intellectual property rights over their original research and course materials, and the loss of the protections of tenure. When faculty lose the latitude to freely teach and research within their expertise, students lose access to high-quality coursework, lectures, and discussion. Furthermore, in a crowded and under-resourced online format, students lose access to substantive interaction and dialogue with their instructors.

Your AAUP chapter or faculty governance bodies can help regain what is being lost and ensure quality online education for students. Start by downloading the AAUP’s Education Not Privatization toolkit from our One Faculty, One Resistance site. The toolkit contains a primer on privatization, a list of ten actions chapters can take to help shape quality online education for students, and important questions to ask administrators about your institution’s development of online offerings with a private, external company.

Now is the time to act. Recently released deregulation proposals reveal that the DeVos Department of Education is aiming to further enable the privatization of higher education. The proposals water down requirements for establishing new accrediting agencies, limit accreditor oversight and give universities the latitude to contract full programs to unaccredited education companies that can market and recruit students using the brand of the institution. These proposals expand and normalize scenarios like Purdue’s recent acquisition of Kaplan University, wherein Kaplan, operating under the name Purdue University Global, benefits from the Purdue brand without the rigorous standards and quality.

Help make sure online education is quality education. Download our Education Not Privatization toolkit to take action, and stay tuned for upcoming actions.

In Solidarity,

Monica Owens
Political Organizer

P.S. For more on DeVos’ deregulation proposals, read New America’s “DeVos Deregulation Will Leave College Students in the Lurch” and Inside Higher Ed’s “Roiled Over Rules on Regional Accreditors.”


AAUP will investigate violations of shared governance at Vermont Law

This week, the AAUP authorized an investigation into apparent departures from widely adopted standards of shared governance at Vermont Law School after the school’s administration and governing board “restructured” the faculty by lowering salaries, reducing the number of full-time positions, and stripping many of tenure, all without involving the faculty in the decision-making process.

A June 5, 2018, memorandum presented fourteen tenured professors with a stark choice: either surrender their full-time, tenured positions and faculty voting rights, sign an agreement containing general and age-discrimination releases along with nondisparagement and nondisclosure provisions, and accept nontenured appointments at lower pay, or have their appointments summarily terminated as of July 1, 2018, with immediate cessation of salary and benefits.

After one faculty member contacted the AAUP seeking assistance, we wrote to the administration three times highlighting our concerns in the case and reiterating appropriate procedural standards for terminating appointments because of financial exigency.

Our concerns, in this case, are myriad. A decision of far-reaching importance and consequence to the entire law school community, and particularly to the faculty members and students, appears to have been taken by the Vermont Law School administration and board without meaningful consultation with the faculty. The Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, jointly formulated by the AAUP with the American Council on Education and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, “rests on the premise of an ‘inescapable interdependence’ in the relationship among governing board, administration, and faculty, which calls for ‘adequate communication among these components, and full opportunity for appropriate joint effort.”

In addition, with only five faculty members having retained tenure at an institution with more than six hundred students, the restructuring appears to have effectively eviscerated the existing tenure system and, with it, protections for academic freedom.

AAUP investigating committees in the area of college and university governance are charged with inquiring into cases that appear to feature severe departures from AAUP-supported governance standards. Committees are composed of AAUP members from other institutions who have had no previous involvement in the matter. If the investigating committee’s published report finds that serious violations have occurred, the AAUP may place the institution on its sanction list by vote of the Association’s annual meeting, which informs the academic community and the public that conditions for academic governance at the institution are unsound.

We will keep you apprised of developments in the case. If you’d like to support our investigative work around shared governance and academic freedom, please donate to the AAUP Foundation, which supports our investigations.

Thank you,

Anita Levy
Senior Program Officer, Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance


Why are congressional staffers threatening faculty?

It’s very simple: members of Congress and their staffs should not be in the business of threatening faculty members. Why does this need to be said? It happened last week. Join 1,000 faculty members who’ve already taken action and sign an open letter standing strongly against this kind of behavior by powerful legislators.

Here’s what happened. Ari Kohen, an associate professor of political science at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, came across this photo on a progressive blog’s Facebook page.

He hit “like” because it amused him, and moved on with his day. Later that week, the staff of Nebraska congressman Jeff Fortenberry’s office combed through the names of people who’d liked and shared the photo. Then the chief of staff to Fortenberry, Reyn Archer, made a 53-minute call to Kohen to lambaste and threaten him for exercising his well-established right to free speech. He not-so-subtly implied that he could use his position and power to bring down a rain of harassment on Kohen. “We have a First Amendment opportunity to basically put you out there in front of everybody…we could do that publicly, would you like that?,” said Archer in the call. Archer also contacted Kohen’s employer.

Sign the open letter to Congressman Fortenberry.

It should go without saying that a legislator and his staff should not harass and threaten a faculty member based on his or her social media activity, and that it is absurd to equate “liking” a Facebook joke with support for vandalism. However, it’s clear that, in the current political climate, this DOES need to be said.  We’re calling on Fortenberry to publicly repudiate his chief of staff’s actions to threaten and harass Professor Ari Kohen, and to stand unequivocally for academic freedom and free speech for all faculty.

Thanks,
Mariah Quinn
Digital Organizer, AAUP


The scary stats on contingency in higher education

Earlier this month, we sent you a data snapshot breaking out the numbers on faculty and graduate employee appointments at US colleges and universities. The composition of the academic workforce varies between institution types–at community colleges, a whopping 66 percent of positions are classified as part-time, while at research institutions much of that work is done by graduate employees. At all US institutions combined, the percentage of instructional positions that is off the tenure track amounted to 73 percent in 2016, the latest year for which data are available.

Two recent AAUP investigative reports illustrate what these numbers mean on the ground. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln last year, the administration dismissed Courtney Lawton, a doctoral student who also held a part-time lecturer appointment, following her protest of an on-campus recruitment table for Turning Point USA. Lawton’s protest was recorded and widely disseminated online, which led to threats against her and the university. Political pressure on the university was at the very heart of the case, and the investigating committee concluded that the basis for Lawton’s dismissal was related to the political content of her speech and that the due process afforded to her was inadequate.

At Colorado’s Community College of Aurora,  part-time faculty member Nathanial Bork, an advocate for adjunct rights, was fired because he allegedly had failed to adequately implement a curriculum redesign mandated by the administration. Bork, who had taught philosophy and related courses at the college for six years with positive reviews, had written to the institution’s regional accrediting agency, criticizing CCA’s efforts to raise course completion rates by lowering standards.  Investigators noted that at CCA the academic freedom of part-time faculty members “is not universally guaranteed as a matter of institutional policy but selectively bestowed as a function of administrative benevolence. That is to say, it does not exist.”

Exposing such conditions is one tool that the national AAUP has to improve protections for academic freedom.  When institutions are censured by the AAUP, as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Community College of Aurora both have been, they often respond by making restitution to affected faculty members and working to improve their practices and bring their policies into accordance with the AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations. These regulations spell out, in language suitable for use in faculty handbooks and collective bargaining agreements, policies that protect academic freedom.

The AAUP this year released a revised version of the Recommended Institutional Regulations that clarifies the AAUP’s long-standing position on due process protections for part-time faculty members.  As a newly added note in the regulations explains, “There should be no invidious distinctions between those who teach and/or conduct research in higher education, regardless of whether they hold full-time or part-time appointments or whether their appointments are tenured, tenure-track, or contingent. All faculty members should have access to the same due-process protections and procedures.”

AAUP chapters and members are vital in the fight for academic freedom. Member support enables the national AAUP to produce research on the state of the profession, conduct investigations of particularly egregious academic freedom cases, and provide tools such as the recommended institutional regulations. And working at the campus level to improve institutional policies is a key function of AAUP members and chapters. Joining together in solidarity across ranks and roles is the only way we can protect academic freedom and shared governance for all.

Here’s a simple step you can take right now: share the graphic below to help raise public awareness of contingency in higher education.

Sincerely,
Gwendolyn Bradley
AAUP Senior Program Officer

Graphic to share on Facebook of stats


A Victory for Unions at University of Northern Iowa

We had a big win in Iowa this week, with 97% of voting faculty at the University of Northern Iowa voting in favor of recertifying their union, the United Faculty/AAUP. Recertification became necessary after a 2017 bill drastically altered Iowa’s collective bargaining law for state employees.

In addition to limiting the mandatory and permissive subjects of bargaining (for example, health insurance and evaluation procedures are now prohibited subjects of bargaining), the bill also eliminated payroll deduction and requires recertification of the bargaining unit one year prior to the expiration of each collective bargaining agreement.

In order to maintain its certification, United Faculty needed to get majority support from all eligible faculty members, not just a majority of those voting. In effect, there was no way to remain neutral – not voting would be counted as a vote against the union. Of the 643 faculty members who were eligible to vote in the election, 547 faculty members voted in favor of United Faculty and only 17 faculty members voted against the union.

Iowa has long had laws unfriendly to workers, so our UNI colleagues have been operating under a Janus environment for quite some time. These election results, however, show that UNI faculty clearly see the value of their union and support the union’s work. The chapter plans to build on this victory by increasing membership numbers over the rest of the academic year and is set to begin bargaining for a new contract before the year ends.

Congratulations to all the faculty at UNI!

In solidarity,
Kira Schuman
Midwest Lead Organizer
Department of Organizing and Services


AAUP Investigation Finds Abysmal Conditions for Academic Freedom

Calling general conditions for academic freedom and governance at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, “abysmal,” a report we released today found credible the claims of three faculty members that their criticism of administrative decisions led to actions against them. Two of the faculty members, both tenured, were suddenly fired in their twelfth year of service. The third was not reappointed after her fifth year on the tenure track, ostensibly for financial reasons.

An AAUP investigative committee found that administrators had violated the academic due process rights of all three faculty members. The committee also noted that  “fear and demoralization” are widespread among the faculty at the university.

Read the full report here.

The tenured faculty members, Shannan Butler and Corinne Weisgerber, who happen to be husband and wife, were dismissed in a meeting by the institution’s acting vice president for academic affairs, on the stated grounds of “continued disrespect and disregard for the mission and goals of the university.” The vice president alleged a pattern of unprofessional conduct on their part toward their departmental colleagues, and especially toward two interim chairs. Following the meeting, they were escorted from campus by a university security officer.

Despite the urging of the AAUP’s staff, the university’s president declined to afford the two faculty members—who sharply contested all the charges against them—an adjudicative hearing before a faculty body in which the administration would have to demonstrate that adequate cause for their dismissal indeed existed.

The tenure-track faculty member, Katie Peterson, learned of her nonreappointment in a meeting with the same vice president for academic affairs. She was not given adequate notice of nonrenewal, nor was she afforded an opportunity to appeal the decision to an elected faculty committee. She was thus denied the opportunity to ask a faculty body to review her allegation that the real reason for her nonreappointment was that the dean perceived her as a troublemaker. In 2015 she had filed a complaint of sexual harassment against an associate dean, which did not, according to her account, result in a complete cessation of the objectionable conduct. As a result, she filed additional complaints. The new dean, she charged, seemed irritated by the complaints, spoke of them disparagingly, failed to support her tenure bid, and brought the associate dean (who had retired) back into proximity with Peterson.

In addition to finding that none of the three faculty members was afforded academic due process, the investigating committee also concluded that the dismissals of Professors Butler and Weisgerber were plausibly the consequence of their “persistent outspokenness about administrative decisions and actions.” And it found credible Peterson’s allegation that the nonrenewal was the consequence of her having lodged complaints of sexual harassment against an administrator, noting that the allegation stood unrefuted absent an appropriate faculty review procedure

AAUP investigating committees are appointed in a few select cases annually in which severe departures from widely accepted principles and standards on academic freedom, tenure, or governance have been alleged and persist despite efforts to resolve them. Investigating committees are composed of AAUP members from other institutions with no previous involvement in the matter.

At its June meeting, Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure will consider whether to recommend to the AAUP’s annual meeting that censure be imposed on the St. Edward’s University administration for substantial noncompliance with AAUP-supported standards of academic freedom and tenure.

Join us this Friday, October 26, at 12 p.m. ET, for a Facebook Live discussion of the case and examination of the work of Committee A with Henry Reichman, the chair of Committee A, and Hans-Joerg Tiede, a senior program officer in the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance. RSVP here.

Gregory Scholtz
Director, Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance

P.S. Help support the continued work of the AAUP to protect faculty and academic freedom and due process. Donate to the Academic Freedom fund of the AAUP Foundation today.