AAUP@FHSU


AAUP Releases Investigation of Campus Protest Case

I’m writing to you today about a case that crystallizes the current right-wing assault on higher education. It involves issues that the AAUP has been working on intensively this year: faculty harassment and exaggerated controversies over free speech on campus.

The case concerns Courtney Lawton, a graduate student, and part-time lecturer at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. At the beginning of the fall semester, Lawton protested an on-campus recruitment table of Turning Point USA, a conservative organization that maintains the Professor Watchlist. Her protest was recorded by the undergraduate student staffing the table, and the resulting video was widely disseminated online—one of the primary strategies of right-wing groups in their attacks on higher education—leading to threats against her and the university.

While Lawton was under vicious attack for her protest speech, state legislators launched a campaign of political pressure on the university, suggesting that Lawton’s conduct toward the student staffing the recruitment table was representative of a campus climate hostile to conservative views and calling for her dismissal. The Nebraska Republican Party filed open-records requests for email correspondence related to the case, and “campus free-speech” legislation was introduced in a clear example of legislative overreach.

Under pressure, the university administration suspended Lawton from her teaching responsibilities and subsequently refused to reinstate her to the classroom, thus extending her suspension to the end of her term of appointment. This action was tantamount to summary dismissal, as the administration did not afford her any academic due process. An AAUP investigation found that “the conclusion seems inescapable that the basis for Ms. Lawton’s dismissal was related to the political content of her speech and thus may have violated her academic freedom, a conclusion that stands unrebutted absent the affordance of a dismissal hearing.”

We’ll be discussing the case during a Facebook Live tomorrow, May 11, at 1:30 EST. Click here to RSVP.

Campaigns of targeted harassment against individual faculty members and legislative attempts to impose misguided rules on institutions of higher education are on the rise. The AAUP believes that democracy thrives on dissent, critical inquiry, free speech, and free research. That’s why we investigated the case at the University of Nebraska and why we’ve developed resources for you to use in fighting harassment of faculty and misleading “free-speech” legislation on your own campus.

Read our investigative report here.

Hans-Joerg Tiede
Senior Program Officer, Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance


Professor’s Academic Freedom Violated, AAUP Brief Argues

In an amicus brief filed on Friday, the AAUP emphasized the importance of faculty being able to use controversial language and ideas to challenge students in the classroom, and argued that Professor Teresa Buchanan’s academic freedom was violated when Louisiana State University dismissed her for making statements in the classroom that the university improperly characterized as sexual harassment.

The brief explains that sexual harassment policies, particularly those focused on speech, must be narrowly drawn and sufficiently precise to ensure that their provisions do not infringe on rights of free speech and academic freedom. In public universities, these policies must meet constitutional standards under the First Amendment. LSU’s policies, and their application to the facts, failed this test.

The case originated when, in 2014, LSU’s Office of Human Resource Management found Buchanan guilty of sexual harassment based solely on her occasional use of profanity and sexually explicit language with her students, despite the fact that Buchanan did not use language in a sexual context and instead employed it to further educational objectives. Buchanan’s dean recommended her dismissal, and has stated that he did not condone “any practices where sexual language and profanity are used educating students.”

Subsequently, a faculty hearing committee recommended unanimously against the dismissal of Buchanan. While the committee faulted her for having violated LSU’s policies on sexual harassment by her occasional use of “profanity, poorly worded jokes, and sometimes sexually explicit ‘jokes’ in her methodologies,” it found no evidence that this behavior was “systematically directed at any particular individual.” Despite this, Buchanan was dismissed.

Professor Buchanan filed suit against the school, arguing that LSU’s sexual harassment policy violated her First Amendment rights because it was vague and overbroad both facially and as applied in her case, and that her due process rights were violated. The district court ruled against her, Buchanan appealed, and the AAUP filed an amicus brief in support of her appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The use of provocative ideas and language to engage students, and to enliven the learning process, is well within the scope of academic freedom and is protected by the First Amendment. Many things a professor says may “offend” or even “intimidate” some students. If every such statement could lead to formal sanctions, and possibly even loss of employment, the pursuit of knowledge and the testing of ideas in the college classroom would be profoundly chilled.

The AAUP recognizes the importance of combating sexual harassment and has long emphasized that there is no necessary contradiction between a university’s obligation to address problems of sexual harassment effectively and its duty to protect academic freedom. To achieve these dual goals, hostile environment policies, particularly those focused on speech alone, must be narrowly drawn and sufficiently precise to ensure that their provisions do not infringe on First Amendment rights of free speech and academic freedom.

You can read the full brief here.

Risa Lieberwitz
General Counsel, AAUP
Aaron Nisenson
Senior Counsel, AAUP

P.S. If you’d like to support AAUP’s legal work, you can donate to the AAUP Foundation today.


A New Age of Activism

From teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona to faculty walkouts in the UK, we’re reminded of how activism can breathe life into movements. Thanks to these amazing demonstrations of solidarity and a renewed focus on education and educators in the media, we have an opportunity to remind the public why faculty and higher education matter.

Summer is a great time to get more involved with this work.

Our Summer Institute will be held July 19 to 22 in Durham, New Hampshire. We bring in organizers, data analysts, seasoned campaigners, and issue experts to build your skills as an advocate for AAUP principles, collective bargaining, and higher education. Learn more here.

You can also take the summer to dive into two of our recently released toolkits, one focused on the targeted harassment of faculty and the other on “campus free-speech” legislation.

  • Campaigns of targeted harassment pose a profound challenge to higher education’s most fundamental values. Our toolkit pulls together resources for addressing it, focusing specifically on Turning Point USA, the right-wing organization behind the Professor Watchlist. Find out more here.
  • “Campus free-speech” legislation, increasingly prevalent in state legislatures, is a solution in search of a problem. Bills purporting to protect free speech on campus have become a popular method for chilling campus dissent and undermining the institutional autonomy of public colleges and universities. Read more and access the toolkit here.

With a potentially damaging decision in the Janus case expected by the end of June, a strong and organized academic workforce has never been more important. Our collective voice is a powerful force to set standards, protect and create better workplaces in our country and in higher education. Standing together also makes it possible for us to negotiate affordable healthcare, a fair return on our work, and the ability to retire with dignity. To learn more about this case, check out our resources on preparing for the challenges ahead.

National AAUP staff and leaders will be busy this summer as well. We’re working to protect your rights to organize and bargain collectively. When opportunities arise, we file amicus briefs in court cases that impact union rights, academic freedom, and other key issues. We respond to incidents of faculty harassment and violations of academic freedom. And we help chapters organize and grow stronger to face the challenges ahead.

Make sure to connect with us on Twitter and Facebook to get regular updates.

Mariah Quinn
Digital Organizer, AAUP


Challenges to Academic Governance at Maricopa

Today we wrote to the governing board of the Maricopa Community College District in Arizona to convey our concern over apparent departures from generally accepted principles of academic governance. The matter stems from a February resolution of the governing board that terminated a “meet-and-confer” provision of the faculty policy manual and ordered the creation of a new manual that would severely limit the participation of the faculty in institutional governance. The “meet-and-confer” process is specified in the current faculty policy manual as a process of deliberation “for the purpose of articulating agreement regarding change with respect to responsibilities, wages, governance, benefits, and all other terms and conditions of Residential Faculty employment.”

Significant changes to the structure and procedures for faculty participation in institutional governance should not be made unilaterally. As 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 Colleges and Universities, observes, “The structure and procedures for faculty participation should be designed, approved, and established by joint action of the components of the institution.” The governing board’s action to terminate the “meet-and-confer” provision effectively eliminated the role of its representative faculty body in the process of making changes to the policy manual and thus has unilaterally modified the structure and procedure for faculty participation in institutional governance.

Of particular concern is the governing board’s directive that the new manual, to be prepared unilaterally by the administration, may not allow faculty to participate in matters related to “compensation, benefits, accountability, and organizational operations.” Not only would such a change modify the structure and procedure for faculty participation, the resulting changes would themselves be at odds with principles of academic governance, which call for meaningful faculty participation in decisions that affect all of these areas.

The AAUP’s letter further expresses concern that, following the adoption of the governing board’s resolution, Provost Karla Fisher wrote to college presidents to inform them that “Senate Presidents and Representatives must be dutiful in avoiding any [Faculty Executive Council] or Faculty Association-related work or conversations during business hours.” As the AAUP’s statement On the Relationship of Faculty Governance to Academic Freedom observes, “The academic freedom of faculty members includes the freedom to express their views … on matters having to do with their institution and its policies.” The provost’s directive thus appears to interfere with the academic freedom of the identified faculty members.

The letter concludes by urging the governing board to rescind its resolution and restore the “meet-and-confer” provision. It further urges the administration to rescind its proscription against certain “conversations during business hours.”

Read the full letter here.

Hans-Joerg Tiede
Senior Program Officer,  Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance


Free Speech on Campus: A Solution in Search of a Problem

“Campus free-speech” legislation, increasingly prevalent in state legislatures, is a solution in search of a problem. Threats to free speech on campus have received outsized media attention in relation to issues with more widespread incidence and deleterious effects, such as diminished public funding of higher education, the adjunctification of the faculty, and a student debt crisis. One thing is clear: bills purporting to protect free speech on campus have become a popular method for legislatures to interfere with and undermine the institutional autonomy of public colleges and universities.

This week, we’re taking a look at the drivers of the current environment of legislative interference on campuses, and giving you tools to help you stay informed and active.

Check out our toolkit on free speech on campus on our One Faculty, One Resistance site.

A little background: the most prevalent campus free-speech legislation being introduced in state legislatures today is drafted from model bills produced by the right-wing think tank the Goldwater Institute. Goldwater-inspired legislation allows individuals to sue an institution if they feel their free-speech rights have been impinged upon on campus and calls for strict disciplinary penalties, such as expulsion or suspension for up to one year for students who are found to have interfered with free expression. While ostensibly meant to protect speech, this approach creates a litigious atmosphere that could cause administrations to become overly cautious, suppressing dissenting voices out of fear of being sued. And the harsh penalties would have serious repercussions for students, in some cases making punishments for interrupting a speaker more severe than those for more serious offenses.

The AAUP, along with other academic groups, has long held that academic administration should be in the hands of academics. Where there are legitimate threats to free speech on campus, they are best addressed by campus administration and faculty–not through the imposition of statewide legislative measures.

Here’s what you can do:

We’ve created a one-page fact sheet to get you up to date on the issue. We’ve also pulled together some effective, easy actions you can take to ensure that heavy-handed legislation doesn’t impinge on your rights on campus. Want to talk to colleagues about this issue? We’ve got some talking points to help guide your discussion and your activism.

The whole free speech toolkit can be found on our One Faculty, One Resistance website. Click here to explore what you can do on this issue.

Want more? Stay tuned — we’ll be talking more about free speech legislation on our Facebook page on Thursday, April 19 at 1:30 ETRSVP here.

Monica Owens,
Political Organizer, AAUP


The People Behind the Professor Watchlist

The funders behind the Professor Watchlist aren’t too keen on transparency. Many of the donors who support the $8 million budget of Turning Point USA  prefer to remain anonymous. That’s not surprising given that Turning Point’s work has sparked vicious campaigns of online harassment against faculty members, and, according to published reports, may also have violated federal rules prohibiting 501(c)(3) charities from engaging in political activity.

This week we’re drawing back the curtain on the right-wing organization whose Professor Watchlist purports “to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

In reality, faculty are listed for a wide variety of reasons that have included criticizing capitalism or making feminist comments on Twitter, publishing a study finding that economics textbooks heavily feature male economists and suggesting that this may be a deterrence to women pursuing economics, and criticizing conservative politicians on social media. Being listed has resulted in campaigns of harassment that have included death threats and threats against professors’ children.

We’ve created three fact sheets to help prepare you in the event that you come into contact with Turning Point. On Friday, we’ll be discussing Turning Point, the Professor Watchlist, and mobilizing to protect academic freedom during a Facebook Live.

Visit our One Faculty, One Resistance site to read and share the fact sheets.

This Friday, March 16, we’ll host a Facebook Live with Monica Owens, AAUP political organizer, and Hans-Joerg Tiede, a senior program officer in the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance. They’ll discuss Turning Point and academic freedom in the age of Trump and talk through some organizing tips for faculty dealing with these issues.

RSVP to the Facebook Live here.

Gwendolyn Bradley
Director of External Relations, AAUP


Mass shootings and academic freedom

The recent mass shooting of seventeen students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has refocused efforts to stem the epidemic of gun violence plaguing the nation. This time the effort has been initiated and led by the surviving students, supported by their teachers, parents, and students across the country. The American Association of University Professors salutes these brave and eloquent young people.

Gun violence is not a problem limited to high schools. Colleges and universities have been sites of mass shootings since 1966 when sixteen people died and thirty-one were injured at the University of Texas at Austin.

Sign on to our statement in support of gun control.

The AAUP has long opposed and continues to oppose unequivocally any legislation or policy that would compel colleges and universities to permit firearms on campus. In this, we stand with the overwhelming majority of educators across the country.

Given the widespread availability of the most deadly weaponry and the growing number of instances in which such weapons have wreaked havoc, however, it is not sufficient only to champion the right of colleges and universities to bar their presence.

We are once again raising the call to take action.

To ensure the safety of students, faculty, and others on campus, we must speak out in support of broader sensible gun control measures like those proposed by the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Specifically, the AAUP calls on faculty and students, on administrators and trustees, and most of all on our political leaders to support:

  • A total ban on the sale and possession of military-style automatic weapons designed solely to kill human beings and on high-capacity magazines and bump stocks;
  • Comprehensive background checks for all who purchase firearms, whether in a gun store or at a gun show, with reasonable restrictions on access to weapons for those with diagnosed mental illness or with a history of violence, including domestic violence;
  • A complete universal database of those banned from buying firearms; and
  • Raising the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21.

We therefore also endorse the March 24 March for Our Lives in Washington, DC, as well as the efforts of students to protest gun violence with peaceful walkouts on March 14 and April 20.

Add your name to our statement calling for gun control measures.

The AAUP

P.S. To read or share our full statement, go here.