AAUP@FHSU


Cause for Alarm and Hope in Governance Survey Data

Today we are issuing a report on data from the first national survey about shared governance in two decades. It follows and complements our recently released Special Report: COVID-19 and Academic Governance, which is the report of an investigation into a number of instances in which governing boards and administrations opportunistically exploited the pandemic, using it as an excuse to put aside established academic governance processes and unilaterally close programs and lay off faculty members.

The Survey Data on the Impact of the Pandemic on Shared Governance released today analyzes responses to a survey completed by faculty governance leaders at four-year institutions. It provides additional evidence of severe pressure on governance.

However, it also offers a hopeful counterpoint by documenting an increase in faculty influence at some institutions, including those where faculty members benefited from leadership transitions or from being more vigilant and outspoken.

The report, which is the first in a series that will highlight key findings of our survey, focuses on the portion of the survey concerning the impact of the pandemic.

  • Almost a quarter of respondents reported a reduction in faculty influence at their institutions, while almost fifteen percent reported an increase in influence.
  • Respondents at fewer than a third of institutions reported an opportunity for meaningful faculty participation in budgetary decisions. More than two-thirds reported that the administration had made such decisions essentially unilaterally.
  • Over a quarter of respondents from all institutions reported that faculty on contingent appointments had been laid off.
  • Almost a tenth of respondents at institutions with a tenure system reported terminations or nonrenewals of tenured or tenure-track faculty. The number climbed to over forty percent at institutions where programs had been eliminated.
  • At institutions where administrations or governing boards declared institutional regulations no longer in force, over forty percent of respondents reported the elimination of programs.
  • Almost a quarter of respondents indicated that faculty members could not voice dissenting views without fear of administrative reprisal, but the number exceeded forty percent at institutions where regulations were declared no longer in force.

The report’s findings about the impact of the pandemic on shared governance provide cause for alarm, but they also affirm the importance of governance and the difference faculty members can make when they come together and demand a meaningful role in institutional decision-making. The formation of dozens of new AAUP chapters over the past year has been a silver lining of the grave crisis brought on by the pandemic. We urge all AAUP members—including those who do not yet have chapters on their campuses—to organize to amplify the faculty voice and make increased participation in shared governance part of the “new normal” for the coming academic year and beyond.

Read the complete report.

AAUP Department of Research


Special report: crisis in academic government

Higher education in the United States is experiencing a crisis in academic governance. Many institutions faced dire challenges in the 2020–21 academic year; for some, the pandemic exacerbated long-festering conditions. At other institutions, governing boards and administrations opportunistically exploited the pandemic. They used it as an excuse to put aside established academic governance processes and unilaterally close programs and lay off faculty members.

That’s the conclusion of a report we are releasing today: Special Report: COVID-19 and Academic Governance.

Read an executive summary or download the complete report.

Visit the AAUP Facebook Page today at 12 ET to watch a brief Facebook Live presentation on the report.

It’s the report of an investigation, which we chaired, focusing on eight institutions: Canisius College (NY), Illinois Wesleyan University, Keuka College (NY), Marian University (WI), Medaille College (NY), National University (CA), University of Akron, and Wittenberg University (OH). But as soon as news of this investigation was released, faculty members from a wide range of institutions contacted the AAUP’s staff with accounts of similar developments on their campuses, and news reports continued to pour in about the financial effects of the pandemic on other institutions. The crisis is widespread, and our report should be understood as illustrative rather than exhaustive.

What We Found

  • Faculty members faced the dilemma of either participating in flawed ad hoc governance processes or refusing on principle to participate at all.
  • Governing boards or administrations made sudden, unilateral decisions to set aside institutional regulations.
  • Sudden decisions to revise faculty handbooks unilaterally may be even more corrosive, since these revisions will become permanent aspects of governance.
  • Force majeure-type clauses in collective bargaining agreements, faculty handbooks, and faculty contracts or letters of appointment provide administrations with a nuclear option that nullifies all the other financial exigency‒related provisions of those documents.
  • At most of the institutions under investigation, restoring or maintaining financial health was the board and administration’s rationale—yet financial exigency was not declared at any of the eight.
  • Tenure—and, thus, academic freedom—has faced a frontal assault at these institutions and many others in the wake of the pandemic.
  • The policies and procedures at the investigated institutions were generally adequate, yet boards and administrations chose to ignore, revise, or circumvent them.
  • AAUP policies and regulations regarding institutional governance, financial exigency, academic freedom and tenure, and academic due process remain broad and flexible enough to accommodate even the inconceivable disaster.
  • This has been a watershed moment. There is no question that many colleges and universities are in financial distress, and many more will face daunting challenges in the next decade. The question is whether robust shared governance will survive those challenges.

What We Must Do

The best way to protect and preserve shared governance is through concerted efforts by your chapter on your campus. This work is not quick or easy, but it can be effective, and the consequences of not doing it are dire.

  • Governing boards, administrations, and faculties must make a conscious, concerted, and sustained effort to ensure that all parties are conversant with, and cultivate respect for, the norms of shared governance as articulated in the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities that was jointly formulated in 1966 by the AAUP, the American Council on Education, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
  • Faculty members should be vigilant about changes to handbooks that may change the character of academic employment at their institutions irrevocably.
  • Faculty should steadfastly oppose the inclusion of force majeure clauses in collective bargaining agreements, faculty contracts and letters of appointment, and faculty handbooks.
  • Faculty should be centrally involved in deliberations about exigency; they should also object to any attempt to introduce new categories of financial crisis that would circumvent AAUP-supported standards on financial exigency.

That’s the conclusion of the special report we are releasing today: COVID-19 and Academic Governance.

Best wishes,

Michael Bérubé, Pennsylvania State University

Michael DeCesare, Merrimack College; chair of the AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance


Investigations into Dismissals at Linfield University and Collin College

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


Victory at Oregon Institute of Technology

After six days on strike, the AAUP chapter at Oregon Institute of Technology successfully settled their first collective bargaining agreement. The new CBA includes significant improvements across a range of issues that inspired the faculty to unionize in the first place: workload, compensation, academic freedom, and more.

This victory is an important step forward for higher education, the AAUP, and the academic labor movement.

We congratulate the faculty on their new contract and their successful strike, and we thank the AAUP membership for showing your support in your messages, comments, and social media posts.

In Solidarity,

Christopher Simeone
Director, AAUP Department of Organizing and Services


Transforming Campus Safety

Campus police forces are not immune to broader injustices in US law enforcement, and these injustices intersect with core AAUP concerns over shared governance and academic freedom. That’s why I agreed to serve on a working group charged with drafting a report on the role of police on campus.

We looked at the appropriateness of higher education institutions’ having their own police forces and considered the impact of systemic racism on campus policing—as well as the role of campus police in perpetuating systemic racism and inequities. We found that campus police forces have expanded and militarized at an alarming rate, and that there are clear tensions between the AAUP’s core values and the existence and function of campus police forces.

Our goal is to encourage and enable AAUP chapters to work in coalition with other publicly minded groups to transform campus safety into something more just, accountable, and effective, up to and including reorganizing campus safety in toto. Accordingly, we recommend changes needed to ensure that campuses are safe and welcoming for diverse peoples—especially those who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color—and provide tools for chapters to use when assessing the state of policing on your campus and organizing for change.

Download the report here. See questions we suggest chapters ask themselves to get started.

—Megan Horst, Portland State University
Chair of AAUP Campus Police Working Group