Going Forward from the Election

The voters have spoken. Unprecedented voter turnout has affirmed the strength of our democracy. Like others who value education and truth, science and facts, Black lives and human rights, we breathed a collective sigh of relief on Saturday.

We celebrate the return of a competent and ethical president to the White House and the historic election of the first woman, first Black woman, first woman of South Asian descent, and first daughter of immigrants for the vice presidency of this country. We look forward to working with an administration that cares about education, believes in science, and will work for justice and opportunity for all.

Let’s all take a moment to stop and appreciate the amazing voter engagement and organizing work that went into this election. The future looks brighter to me today. I can see a future in which higher education is accessible and affordable, Black lives matter, health care is a human right, everyone is paid a fair wage and treated with dignity in the workplace, and public policy is formulated based on expertise and science. We can make that future a reality.

Our good work will continue. The opportunity is now to work with our allies to build a stronger and more equitable America.

Enjoy a well-deserved celebration, and then let’s get back to our work!


Irene Mulvey, AAUP President

Every vote must be counted

Election Day has passed, and, as predicted, we are still awaiting the outcome while states continue to count ballots.

The outcome of this election could have a profound impact on our nation, our local communities, and our campuses. The next days and weeks may be challenging for all of us. They have the potential to be especially difficult for students and colleagues of color, as the higher education community grapples with what a potential Trump second term could mean for the movement for Black lives and for the rights of international students and faculty. I urge my fellow AAUP members to stand in allyship with these members of our campus communities.

I have never seen the kind of voter engagement and get-out-the-vote efforts that we saw in this election. Even in the midst of a highly infectious and deadly global pandemic, we found creative ways to organize and to work collectively. I am so appreciative, in particular, of the voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote efforts targeting younger and first-time voters that took place at colleges and universities all over the country. Your efforts resulted in massive early voting and record high turnout.

In the short term, it is essential that we ensure that vote counting continues. The democratic process must be allowed to play itself out and all states must be allowed to finish their vote counts. We need to call out and resist the president and his surrogates when they make false claims of voter fraud or falsely declare victory.

In the longer term, regardless of the outcome of the election, we must channel our engagement into real activism on our campuses and in our states as we continue to struggle with the impact of COVID-19 and to push back on the decades-long public disinvestment in higher education. We must continue to stand firm for academic freedom and for the role of science and expertise in shaping public policy—in truly serving the common good. We must continue to fight for economic security for all those who teach and research in higher education, and for all campus employees. We must continue to fight to ensure a more socially just society and a more socially just academy.

Thank you for your hard work—for voting, for volunteering, for organizing. For continuing to demand the best of our nation.

In solidarity,
Irene Mulvey, AAUP President

Vote… Volunteer… Organize

I write to you today, as voter registration deadlines fast approach, with an urgent call to action. These are extraordinary times and much is at stake. Since its founding in 1915, the AAUP has never endorsed a candidate for office or engaged in partisan political activity. What the AAUP has done in its one hundred- and five-year history is defend and protect academic freedom, promote shared governance, and advocate for the economic security of individuals who teach and research in higher education. These are interconnected necessities to ensure that higher education serves the common good. Most of the time, the AAUP has responded to attacks on higher education exceptionally well, and sometimes we have not lived up to our mission and our founding principles. Now, we find ourselves in a moment to which we must respond with clarity and strength.

There is no downtime in the 24/7 news cycle. There is a constant and yet depressingly unpredictable stream of fresh outrages to process. Our national leadership’s response to the global pandemic is incompetent, at best, and borders on malevolent. We have the highest number of deaths by far of any country. As I write, our death toll is over two hundred thousand, a number which, based on modeling of the pace of spread in March 2020, was suggested as the total number of deaths we would have from the virus, and there is no end in sight. The resulting hit to the economy and the real-world implications for people who are unemployed or underemployed and for small businesses is no less than devastating. As a nation, we may—at long last—be willing to begin to reckon with systemic and institutional racism, but this is likely only due to the fact that instances of brutality and racism, long hidden, are now being captured on video and broadcast. It’s not possible to look away anymore.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell announced that he would have the Senate vote on President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court before some people had heard that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away. At least he saved us the effort of having to speculate if he would respect the precedent he put into place during the Merrick Garland confirmation fiasco. “Of course he wouldn’t. What did you expect?” is a very common response I hear from my cynical friends and colleagues. I view that kind of cynicism as cognitive protection, a form of self-care that is completely understandable. It’s a lot more painful to acknowledge that Mitch McConnell views you and all of your fellow citizens as chumps, but that acknowledgement may help us to see this moment with clarity, and respond with the needed action and strength.

Just days after Donald Trump’s election took many of us by surprise in 2016, the AAUP’s national leadership issued a statement in which they suggested that a Donald Trump presidency might be “the greatest threat to academic freedom since the McCarthy period.” They supported this suggestion with concrete examples from Trump’s campaign and predicted that a Trump presidency could bring a chilling effect on the rights of students and faculty members to speak out, make it difficult for universities to attract students and scholars from other countries and to engage in the international exchange of ideas, and attempt to cripple public employee unions by overturning their established right to collect fees from the nonmembers they must serve.

Despite the fact that every one of their predictions came true, I would argue that my colleagues got things wrong in that they seriously underestimated how bad things could get. Anti-intellectualism, long a thriving subculture in the US, is now the currency of our leaders. Temperatures will get cooler and the coronavirus will just disappear, according to the president. Reasoned arguments, logic, science, evidence-based conclusions, data-driven strategies, the currency of the academy, are all for chumps. In this bizarro world, it’s hard to know what’s real, and that’s the administration’s goal.

The attacks on education by the government are particularly egregious. Certainly, partisan controversy regarding the teaching of US history is nothing new, but the level of government pushback directly aimed at the Pulitzer Prize winning 1619 Project, complete with the announcement by President Trump of a competing “1776 Commission” to “promote patriotic education” and a grant supporting “the development of a pro-American curriculum that celebrates the truth about our nation’s great history” is an outrageous government intrusion into curricular matters. Trump’s recent attack on critical race theory is a fresh attack on expert knowledge and an inappropriate intrusion of politics into scholarship which puts a bulls-eye on the backs of researchers in this field. When, in a good faith effort to begin to address systemic racism at Princeton, university president Christopher Eisgruber acknowledged that racism is embedded in the university structures and history, Trump’s Department of Education initiated an investigation to determine if Princeton’s nondiscrimination and equal opportunity claims since 2013 may have been false as a result of its “admitted racism.” These are only the outrages that involve education, and all happened this month.

Let’s be clear that our problems did not begin with the current occupant of the White House. Our problems are the result of decades of the neoliberal agenda, privatizing what should be public systems and worsening income inequality. But they have been exacerbated by the Trump administration. AAUP president Rudy Fichtenbaum called it spot on when he wrote in early 2017:

The Trump presidency will be neoliberalism on steroids. The transformation of higher education into a highly stratified, for-profit business aimed at serving the interests of the wealthy and America’s corporations will accelerate under the new administration. The goal of creating an educated citizenry will be subordinated to the demands of wealthy and corporate interests, and academic freedom for faculty, students, and researchers will consequently be under attack.

All this was certainly evident in how universities have responded to the pandemic. Faculty had little or no say on how our institutions responded or on re-opening decisions, and administrations more often than not made decisions driven by finances and external political pressure over public health and the common good.

In this election, democracy as a concept is on the ballot. A well-functioning democracy requires respect for rules and standards, and respect for the rule of law. A vibrant democracy demands an educated citizenry and a free press. We need to vote for norms and standards, the rule of law, racial justice, social justice, and decision making with integrity based on reasoned arguments and expert knowledge. We need to vote for a living wage, for access to health care, for access to affordable high quality public higher education as a common good. To be silent now is to be complicit.

Vote, volunteer, organize. Find allies and build a movement for change. Join the AAUP, if you’re not already a member. Honor Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by following the advice she gave to her audience when she received the Radcliffe Medal at Harvard University in 2015, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

In solidarity,
Irene Mulvey
AAUP President

September COVID-19 Update

As many faculty have begun a new term, we continue to work to provide everyone with guidance and trainings to help navigate these difficult times. Check out our upcoming webinar, a newly announced investigation, and updated campus opening guidance below.

Financial Exigency during COVID

On Thursday, October 1, at 2 p.m. Eastern time, we will host a webinar for AAUP members providing an overview of recommended AAUP-supported standards on financial exigency and program elimination that should be included in faculty handbooks and collective bargaining agreements, with a particular focus on financial exigency and the COVID-19 pandemic. The webinar will be led by Hans-Joerg Tiede, a senior program officer at the AAUP, and Mark Criley, a professor at Illinois Wesleyan University. Note that this webinar covers much of the same material as the financial exigency webinar held in April 2020. RSVP here.

AAUP Investigates Academic Governance during COVID-19

The AAUP has authorized an investigation of the crisis in academic governance that has occurred in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on seven institutions: Canisius College (NY), Illinois Wesleyan University, Keuka College (NY), Marian University (WI), Medaille College (NY), National University (CA), and Wittenberg University (OH). Given the comprehensive nature of the undertaking, the investigating committee may decide to discuss relevant situations at additional institutions. The report, to be released in early 2021, will reach findings on whether there have been departures from AAUP-supported principles and standards of academic governance, as set forth in the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities and derivative AAUP policy documents, but it may explore other issues as well, such as the effects of unilaterally imposed mass layoffs on academic freedom and tenure, the enrollment and financial challenges facing many institutions, and the impact of these challenges on higher education, especially the humanities and liberal arts. Read more and watch a Facebook Live with the co-chairpersons of the investigation here.

Campus Opening Guidance Updated

We have updated our guidance on reopening and operating campuses during the pandemic to include recent developments.

Fall Academe Preview

Last week, Academe published several online articles, including a new series of “pandemic reflections” by faculty members and AAUP activists, in a preview of our forthcoming fall issue on the COVID-19 crisis. Visit Academe online to read more.

An Invitation from Academe Blog

Colleges and universities around the country have approached the fall term in a variety of ways, and those approaches are constantly evolving. Whether your institution is holding classes in person or online or using a hybrid model, Academe Blog welcomes submissions from members about the challenges of teaching and engaging with and supporting students—and about other faculty concerns—during the ongoing pandemic. See submissions information here.

We’ll be in touch with another COVID-19 update in October. Stay strong, stay safe.

In solidarity,
Julie Schmid
Executive Director, AAUP

AAUP investigates governance issues posed by the COVID-19

The American Association of University Professors has authorized an investigation of the crisis in academic governance that has occurred in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on seven institutions: Canisius College, Illinois Wesleyan University, Keuka College, Marian University, Medaille College, National University, and Wittenberg University. Given the comprehensive nature of the undertaking, the investigating committee may decide to discuss relevant situations at additional institutions. The report, to be released in early 2021, will reach findings on whether there have been departures from AAUP-supported principles and standards of academic governance, as set forth in the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities and derivative AAUP policy documents, but it may explore other issues as well, such as the effects of unilaterally imposed mass layoffs on academic freedom and tenure, the enrollment and financial challenges facing many institutions, and the impact of these challenges on higher education, especially the humanities and liberal arts.

Since March, the AAUP has received numerous complaints from faculty members detailing unilateral actions taken by their governing boards and administrations to dictate how courses are taught, to suspend key institutional regulations, to reduce and close departments and majors, to compel faculty members to teach in person, and to lay off long-serving faculty members. In most cases, the stated basis for the actions was the need to deal with pandemic-related financial shortfalls.

This investigation will be unique in the annals of the AAUP. The AAUP conducted another omnibus investigation in 2006 of mass terminations at five New Orleans universities following Hurricane Katrina, and in 1956 the Association issued a celebrated report, Academic Freedom and Tenure in the Quest for National Security, reviewing the attacks on academic freedom that had occurred at eighteen institutions during the McCarthy era. These investigations and reports, however, dealt with issues of academic freedom and tenure, not with issues of academic governance.

AAUP governance investigations are conducted under the aegis of the Association’s standing Committee on College and University Governance by AAUP members who have had no previous involvement in the cases under investigation. The investigating committee is charged with independently determining the relevant facts and the positions of the principal parties before reaching its findings. The committee’s draft report, if approved for publication by the parent committee, is distributed to the administration and the relevant faculty bodies for comment and correction of fact. The AAUP takes these comments into account when preparing the final report.

The investigating committee is co-chaired by Michael Bérubé of Pennsylvania State University and Michael DeCesare of Merrimack College, chair of the AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance. Additional members are Ruben J. Garcia, of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Pippa Holloway of the University of Richmond; Susan Jarosi of Hamilton College; and Henry Reichman, of California State University, East Bay, chair of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

For more insight, you can watch a livestream discussion of the investigation with committee co-chairs Michael Bérubé and Michael DeCesare on Wednesday, September 23, at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time on our Facebook page. The video will be available after the stream concludes if you’re unable to watch live.

We will send updates on the investigation as they come.

In solidarity,
Gregory Scholtz
Director, AAUP Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance