AAUP@FHSU


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.


Privatization in Online Ed

Privatization of online higher education is on the rise. For-profit online education corporations like Academic Partnerships, Kaplan, Wiley, Pearson, and Blackboard contract with public and private nonprofit institutions to provide digital platforms for educational content, recruit students, manage enrollment, facilitate the development of course materials, and more. While the use of digital platforms and online teaching tools can enrich education, elements of the contracts that institutions make with for-profit online education corporations can present problems in areas of interest to faculty, particularly academic freedom and shared governance.

Your AAUP chapter can meaningfully shape the quality of online education at your institution. Check out our Education Not Privatization toolkit here.

To find out more about how online education is operating at different institutions, the AAUP launched an informal privatization survey this fall.

So far more than four hundred respondents have spoken up about online education contracts at their institutions, and this is what they have to say:

  • Shared governance takes a backseat. 57 percent disagreed with the statement “faculty exercised oversight of the education components of the contract.”
  • Quality is not a focus.  66 percent disagreed with the statement “educational quality has improved as a result of the contract.”
  • Reputation may be at risk. 74 percent disagreed with the statement “the reputation of our institution will be improved because of the contract.”

The emerging themes are clear. Shared governance is not playing a robust role in the development of online education contracts, and as a result quality and reputation may not meet the highest standards. There is a solution: faculty can develop their own proposals for these contracts and demand a seat at the table.

Your AAUP chapter has the power to shape online offerings at your institution and change the course of privatization in higher education. Check out the toolkit here.

Monica Owens
Political Organizer, AAUP

P.S. Join us on Wednesday, October 24, at 1pm ET for a live discussion with David Hughes of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT chapter to hear about the chapter’s anti-privatization efforts and get tips for your own chapter campaign (RSVP here).


Assault on Research and Academic Freedom

Dear Ron,

The Trump administration’s disregard for assaults on science has been well documented by the AAUP, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and others. Now President Trump himself has attacked the credibility of a study by George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. He falsely claimed that the study, which found some 2,975 excess deaths in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit the island in September 2017, was “done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible.”

The AAUP takes no position on the accuracy or inaccuracy of the GWU study or, for that matter, of any other scientific research.  But such research can be properly evaluated only by qualified experts through open channels of review and debate. Studies of this sort must not become political footballs.  For the president of the United States to accuse scholars of political bias, without a shred of evidence, is an unacceptable assault on independent research and the academic freedom of scientists.

Click the graphic to share on Facebook.


Prefer Twitter? Here’s the link.

The AAUP

P.S. A link to the statement can be found here.


Victory at Purdue: NDAs Dropped

Big news: Purdue Global announced yesterday that it will immediately stop requiring faculty members to sign nondisclosure agreements. It also rescinded any previously signed agreements.

This is a huge victory. It removes a threat to the academic freedom of those currently employed by Purdue Global, and may serve as a bulwark against the use of these agreements by other academic institutions.

Purdue Global’s announcement comes in response to a public outcry that followed upon the work by the Indiana Conference of the AAUP and the national AAUP to expose its use of NDAs; thousands of AAUP members and supporters signed our petition demanding the end of the practice. The victory demonstrates that when faculty join together they have a powerful voice to protect academic freedom, shared governance, and higher education for the common good.

Purdue Global has not yet announced an end to another shameful practice, the use of forced arbitration agreements for students. Tell Purdue the forced arbitration must stop. Add your name now and keep the pressure on.

Today is a step in the right direction, and we hope that Purdue Global will continue to make more positive changes in response to the concerns that we and others have raised as it transitions from a for-profit institution to one that benefits the public.

The AAUP

P.S. You can read coverage of the story in Inside Higher Ed here.


WELCOME – 2018 AAUP Fall Semester

Welcome to fall! Like many AAUP members who taught classes, pursued research projects, and organized around campus issues, national AAUP leaders and staff have been busy this summer. We aim to make these final months of 2018 as productive as possible as we work with all of our members and chapters to advance academic freedom and the faculty voice in decision making.

One thing we did over the summer was to launch investigations into cases at the Maricopa Community Colleges in Arizona and St. Edwards University in Texas. Investigations are conducted a few times a year in cases where extreme violations of academic freedom or shared governance prove irresolvable through other means. When an administration responds by improving its policies and practices, the changes broadly benefit faculty and higher education.

At Maricopa Community Colleges, we’re investigating apparent departures from widely adopted standards of academic governance. The matter stems from a February 2018 resolution of the college’s 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. 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. We’ll notify you when the investigation is completed, likely in late fall or early winter.

At issue in the St. Edwards case is the summary dismissal of two tenured faculty members who were apparently fired for questioning the administration’s efforts to assert control over their department. Before launching an investigation, the AAUP communicated extensively with the administration, expressing our concern about the apparent lack of key elements of academic due process. We also stressed that academic freedom, as widely understood in American higher education, includes the right to express dissenting and critical views regarding one’s institution, its policies, and its administration. When the administration failed to address these concerns or provide the faculty members with due process, an investigation was authorized, and the investigating team visited St. Edwards in August. We’ll share the results when the investigation is completed.

Earlier this week, we wrote to you about another recent case in which our intervention protected academic freedom. At the request of our Rutgers University AAUP/AFT chapter, we provided an analysis of a troubling report by that university’s Office of Employment Equity, which concluded that a faculty member’s Facebook posts on gentrification were not protected by the First Amendment and violated the university’s policy on discrimination and harassment. A day after chapter leaders gave the letter to Rutgers president Robert Barchi, he ordered another review.

We’re also working with members like you to protect academic freedom against another line of attack–the growing trend to privatize higher education. In August, together with AAUP activists in Indiana, we broke the news that Purdue Global, an online branch campus of the Purdue University system, is requiring instructional faculty to sign a nondisclosure agreement. (You can sign onto a petition protesting the practice here if you haven’t already. Spread the word!The resulting publicity is putting Purdue on the defensive.

Purdue’s actions are part of a larger trend wherein for-profit companies like Academic Partnerships, Kaplan, Wiley, and Pearson are increasingly contracting with public and private not-for-profit universities to perform core academic functions. Simultaneously, wealthy donors like the Koch Foundation and others are establishing secretive, strings-attached gift agreements with public institutions that end up shaping the university without input from faculty, students, or taxpayers. Both of these trends undermine shared governance, academic freedom, student learning conditions, and democracy within a state’s public higher education system. This fall, we’ll be offering a toolkit and trainings on how you can tackle this issue at your institution and more broadly in higher education.

Our work on academic freedom is about to get even more local with the creation of our Academic Freedom and Shared Governance Fellowship program. We’ll work with a cohort of fellows to deepen their knowledge about academic freedom and shared governance. At the end of the program, fellows will work on improving the culture on their campuses through trainings, presentations, and conversations with faculty and students. Stay tuned for the application materials later this fall!

The AAUP has a long history of fighting for faculty and academic freedom, and as readers of history we’re pleased to announce our new fall book club. We’ll be reading Democracy in Chains, an examination by Duke University professor Nancy MacLean of a relentless campaign to eliminate unions, suppress voting, and privatize public education. We’ll host a discussion and a Facebook Live with MacLean. We’ll send more information later this fall when the book club officially launches.

In addition to the recent and upcoming activities described here, we continue to file amicus briefs, conduct research, and develop tools for chapters–all different methods that we use to further the same aims: advancing academic freedom and shared governance, promoting the economic security of faculty and other academic professionals, and ensuring higher education’s contribution to the common good.

We couldn’t do it without you! Our work as educators, union members, and advocates has never been more important than it is now. Together, we say loudly and clearly that strong universities and well-educated citizens are essential to our survival as a democracy. One easy way you can stay engaged and up-to-date is to follow and share our social media posts. Here’s the link to our Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Best wishes,

Gwendolyn Bradley,
Director, External Relations, AAUP


Victory at Rutgers

Last week the national AAUP delivered a letter to the leaders of the Rutgers University AAUP-AFT chapter expressing concern about a report by that university’s Office of Employment Equity, which concluded that Facebook posts on gentrification made by history professor James Livingston “were not protected by the First Amendment and furthermore violated the university’s policy on discrimination and harassment.” We wrote that any discipline stemming from that finding would violate long-standing principles of academic freedom that are embraced in the university’s own policies and collective bargaining agreement. A day after chapter leaders gave the letter to Rutgers president Robert Barchi, he ordered another review of the professor’s social media posts, calling for a more rigorous assessment.

Barchi — who said he was not aware of the report before its release — wrote that “few values are as important to the University as the protection of our First Amendment rights.” In light of the “complexities of this matter and the importance of our considering these matters with exceptional diligence,” Barchi announced the formation of a special advisory group, consisting of First Amendment and academic freedom scholars and attorneys, to provide guidance on this and similar alleged violations of Rutgers policies. For more on the case, here’s an article from today’s Inside Higher Ed.

The model provided by Kent Syverud, chancellor of Syracuse University, is worth noting. When one of his faculty members was harassed for a controversial tweet, he said, “We are and will remain a university. Free speech is and will remain one of our key values. I can’t imagine academic freedom or the genuine search for truth thriving here without free speech. Our faculty must be able to say and write things — including things that provoke some or make others uncomfortable — up to the very limits of the law.”

Barchi’s move, while perhaps not finally laying this case to rest, marks a major win nonetheless. One can only imagine how Professor Livingston might have fared had the Rutgers AAUP-AFT and the national AAUP not been there to defend his academic freedom right to extramural expression.

So I offer you a challenge: if you want to help the cause of academic freedom in other cases like this, please consider making a generous donation to the AAUP Foundation.

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


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