AAUP@FHSU


AAUP Opposes University Litmus Tests

AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure released the following statement calling on public universities to not require speakers and others to pledge that they do not now, nor will they in the future, endorse a specific political movement.

“According to the National Coalition Against Censorship, at least seventeen states have passed legislation imposing punitive measures against supporters of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) with regard to Israel. As a result, some public universities in those states have begun to require that external speakers invited to campus and others who contract with these universities, such as external reviewers of tenure and promotion materials, sign a statement pledging that they do not now, nor will they in the future, endorse BDS.

The American Association of University Professors does not endorse BDS. We take no position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict nor on calls for divestment or economic sanctions. But we oppose all academic boycotts, including an academic boycott of Israel, on the grounds that such boycotts violate the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas for which our organization has stood for over one hundred years. We believe that academic freedom ought not to be subordinated to political exigency; there will always be compelling political causes that will challenge the ideal of free and open scholarly exchange.

It is precisely for this reason that our opposition to BDS is matched as resolutely by our opposition to these pledges, which are nothing short of an attempt to limit freedom of speech and belief. Indeed, they conjure the specter of loyalty and disclaimer oaths, mainstays of McCarthyism. The right of individuals to engage in political boycotts, and to come together collectively to support a boycott, has a long and storied history in American civil protests. At colleges and universities especially, where reasoned disagreement and debate should be the order of the day, demands that faculty and students forswear support for a peaceful protest are repugnant.

At a time when there is widespread interest in making sure that speakers on all points of the political spectrum are able to make themselves heard on American campuses, the contradiction in seeking to ban advocates of this particular position is obvious and unacceptable. We, therefore, call on all institutions of higher education in the United States to challenge the required renunciation of BDS and uphold freedom of speech and belief for all members of the academic community.”

The AAUP also sent a letter to the Israeli government this week in regard to the interrogation, subsequent expulsion, and apparent banning from Israel of Columbia Law School Professor Katherine Franke in April of this year. Franke, a supporter of BDS, was expelled from Israel when attempting to visiting Israel in her capacity as a scholar and civil rights leader, not as a supporter of BDS. We believe such actions have grave implications for international academic exchange and are urging the Israeli government to reconsider the expulsion and to revoke any further ban on Professor Franke’s entry for purposes of collaborative academic and scholarly work in Israel.

The link to the statement and letter can be found here.

Thank you,
Henry Reichman, Chair, Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure


SCOTUS decides Janus case

Today, a narrow majority of Supreme Court justices sided with extremely wealthy interests in the long-awaited decision in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31. Although this decision was not unexpected, we are disappointed by the opinion of the majority in this case, which seeks to undermine our freedom to join together to create better colleges and universities for everyone. Stay tuned for more information about the impact of Janus as we analyze the repercussions of this opinion.

You can find out about the background of this case at https://www.aaupcbc.org/together.

You may have heard in the news that this case is about being “forced” to pay union dues. But what it’s really about is an effort to undermine the voice of faculty at our colleges and universities and to diminish the rights of working people all over. The Janus case and similar court cases and legislative initiatives are part of a broad assault that seeks to erode our freedom to join together to ensure that our students have challenging learning environments and to strengthen our institutions of higher education.

But make no mistake, our fight as AAUP members to have a positive impact on our colleges and universities, to strengthen public higher education, and to protect academic freedom is not over. Together, we will continue to fight for our students, our campuses, and our communities. We will continue to say, loudly and clearly, that strong universities and well-educated citizens are essential to our survival as a democracy. That’s why our work as educators, union members, and advocates has never been more important than it is now.

In solidarity,

Rudy Fichtenbaum              Paul Davis
President, AAUP                  Chair, AAUP-CBC


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.


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


Day of Action as Supreme Court Debates Our Future

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, an attack by wealthy, anti-union organizations on the voice of working people and their ability to negotiate collectively.

People from around the country rallied at the Court to let the world know that, regardless of the outcome of the Janus case, we will continue to organize for the public good and for our rights. This followed the Working People’s Day of Action over the weekend, which called attention to our rigged economy and the need to defend our rights at work. It marked the fifty-year anniversary of protests by Memphis sanitation workers and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. against discrimination, low pay, and inhumane conditions that led to worker deaths. Share the graphic below on Facebook and spread the word.

Photo of Supreme Court protests

The AAUP supports the right of working people, including faculty, to join together in unions as well as in traditional nonunionized AAUP chapters. Our collective voice is a powerful force to set standards and create better workplaces. Together, we fight for higher education and the critical role it plays in this country. Together, we defend academic freedom, shared governance, and due process protections. 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.

At issue in Janus is whether non-union members, who share in the wages, benefits, and protections that have been negotiated into a collectively bargained contract, may be required to pay their fair share for the cost of those negotiations. Learn more about the Janus case and the amicus brief we filed.

Yesterday’s oral argument went largely as expected. Many of the justices sharply questioned the attorneys. Justices Sotomayor, Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan generally asked questions and advanced arguments that were supportive of the constitutionality of fair-share fees, pointing to their benefits and to the fact that unions and others had relied on the prior decisions of the Court. Justices Kennedy, Alito, and Roberts took the opposite approach. Justice Kennedy seemed particularly hostile, asserting that unions compel nonmembers to subsidize their political speech.

Because none of the justices appeared to depart from their expected position, today’s oral argument reinforced the view that the Court will rule against us.

AAUP members are sticking together as One Faculty, One Resistance to fight for our collective voice, to promote safe and challenging learning environments, and to defend the important role our universities play in advancing the public good.

Thanks for standing with us.

In unity,
Rudy Fichtenbaum, President, AAUP

Paul Davis, Chair, AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress


I Was a Target

Last summer, the right-wing website Campus Reform misrepresented social media postings that I made, leading to a barrage of online and voicemail threats against me and others at my institution, Trinity College in Connecticut. Like other faculty who have been threatened and harassed this year, I was targeted over remarks I made that drew attention to racism. The threats were so severe that I feared for my safety and that of my family.

I expected administrators at my school to defend academic freedom against the right-wing outrage machine that is targeting faculty across the country. Instead, they placed me on involuntary leave and publicly criticized my comments, as if the threat was coming from me.

Fortunately, the AAUP was there. The AAUP chapter on my campus and a large group of other colleagues signed a statement noting that the decision to place me on leave was a clear violation of AAUP standards. Chapter leaders consulted with the national AAUP, which urged the Trinity administration to reinstate me. Ultimately, the administration acknowledged that my posts were protected by academic freedom, noting that “Our understanding of academic freedom in America today is rooted largely in a joint statement from 1940 by the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges that asserted the fundamental importance of academic freedom for the common good and the advancement of truth.”

Now more than ever, we need an organization that exists to protect academic freedom, and that stands up against targeted harassment of faculty. Thank you for being there.

Regards,

Johnny Williams
Professor of Sociology at Trinity College