AAUP@FHSU


University of Georgia System Dismantling Academic Tenure?

In an unprecedented action, the board of regents of the University System of Georgia (USG) in October voted to adopt changes to its post-tenure review policy that make it possible to fire tenured faculty without a dismissal hearing, a clear attack on academic freedom and tenure. Today the AAUP released a report on the case.

The report, Academic Freedom and Tenure: University System of Georgia, outlines the USG administration and board of regents’ flagrant violation of long-established standards on tenure. The new USG policy effectively abolishes tenure in Georgia’s public colleges and universities by allowing a system institution to dismiss a tenured professor for failing to remediate deficiencies identified through post-tenure evaluation without affording a hearing before a faculty body in which the administration demonstrates cause for dismissal. Without this academic due process, tenure does not exist.

The report also finds flagrant violations of AAUP standards of academic governance. Under those standards, the USG faculty should have played a primary role in developing any changes to the system’s post-tenure review policy. Instead, the USG administration and governing board initiated, pushed through, and imposed a new faculty evaluation policy without meaningfully involving the faculty and over the strong objections voiced by the system’s critical faculty governance bodies.

In a series of letters between Acting Chancellor Teresa MacCartney and the AAUP, MacCartney, presumably speaking for the regents, takes the position that tenure in the University System of Georgia has survived the regents’ revisions to the post-tenure review policy. But she does so by disregarding the generally accepted understanding of academic tenure, which cannot be separated from academic due process. Absent academic due process, the report states, tenure in the USG survives in name only.

At its next meeting, the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure will formulate a recommendation on censure based on the findings in this report. This recommendation will go to the AAUP’s governing Council, which will vote on whether to add the USG to the Association’s list of censured administrations. Censure, however, is not inevitable. As always, the AAUP would welcome a resolution that honors its recommended principles and standards. In this case, such a resolution would entail the restoration of the due-process protections of tenure to the USG post-tenure review policy.

Here’s the link to the report again. We will keep you updated as the situation develops.

In solidarity,
Charles Toombs, Chair, AAUP Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure
Professor of Africana Studies, San Diego State University


Violations of Academic Freedom at the University of Florida

The AAUP condemns in the strongest possible terms the decision by the University of Florida to deny permission to three University of Florida (UF) faculty members to provide expert testimony in a major voting rights case challenging Florida Senate Bill 90.

UF’s infringement of the academic freedom rights of professors Sharon Austin, Dan Smith, and Michael McDonald sets a dangerous precedent by allowing partisan politics to impede on the right and duty of faculty to share expertise for the public good. Faculty members are routinely called upon to provide expert testimony on matters of all kinds. In fact, all three of the UF faculty members who were denied permission to assist the plaintiffs have provided expert testimony in lawsuits in the past. This makes last week’s rulings by the university all the more dubious.

The written denials sent from assistant vice president Gary Wimsett justified the denial because the “activities are adverse to [the university’s] interests.” This “justification” is inconsistent with the university’s mission “to share the benefits of its research and knowledge for the public good.” The hypocrisy is breathtaking. These decisions reek of inappropriate political interference and are completely indefensible.

When a politician attempts to use the power and pressure of the state to silence scholars with expertise on any matter of public concern, it is incumbent upon the university administration to stand firm, insist on institutional autonomy and push back with the strongest possible defense of academic freedom. Universities exist to foster the independent search for knowledge and truth, and to disseminate this in support of the public good. When the university twists itself to serve the partisan interests of a politician, as appears to be the case here, the university has abandoned its mission, undermining any claim to be working in support of the common good.

UF’s decision constitutes an egregious violation of faculty members’ academic freedom and is almost certainly a violation of their free speech rights as citizens. The AAUP stands in solidarity with these scholars in accordance with our mission statement to advance academic freedom in American colleges and universities. We affirm their right to provide expert testimony and will provide whatever assistance we can to support them in their efforts.

You can find the statement on the AAUP website here.

In solidarity,
Irene Mulvey, AAUP President


Lawsuit Challenges Classroom Censorship

Yesterday, a group of plaintiffs including the University of Oklahoma chapter of the AAUP filed a lawsuit challenging an Oklahoma law, known as HB 1775, which severely restricts faculty at public universities and K–12 public schools in the state from teaching and talking about race and gender in the classroom.

Oklahoma is one of eight states that have passed similar legislation seeking to suppress discussion about race and gender in the classroom. This is the first federal lawsuit facially challenging one of these statewide bans—that is, arguing that the law is unconstitutional as it is written, not only as it has been applied. The lawsuit argues that HB 1775 chills students’ and educators’ First Amendment right to learn and talk about these issues, and also prevents students from having an open and complete dialogue about American history.

The enactment of HB 1775 has already harmed teachers and students. In public universities, professors fear sanctions for continuing to teach material related to race, gender, and sexual orientation, and some professors have restructured their pedagogy to avoid such topics. Oklahoma school districts have instructed teachers not to use terms including “diversity” and “white privilege” in their classrooms, and have removed important works of literature such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Raisin in the Sun from a list of “anchor texts.” Multiple Oklahoma public schools have also scaled back or eliminated diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings.

In the words of Michael Givel, president of the OU-AAUP chapter, the law “directly curtails academic freedom in public universities in Oklahoma. It has a chilling effect on academic freedom as it can and has purposely targeted Oklahoma public school teachers and administrators from imparting a complete history in our schools, free from censorship or discrimination. Curriculum decisions and what is taught in a college classroom for the promotion of a balanced education are unequivocally protected from outside political requirements and interference. University professors are not sock puppets for the biased ideological agendas of elected politicians.”

The groups are asking the court to declare the law unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and are urging the court to issue a preliminary injunction.

This lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Oklahoma, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and pro bono counsel Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP.

More information about the wave of bills seeking to suppress teaching about race can be found on the AAUP website here. More information about this lawsuit can be found on the ACLU’s website here.

In solidarity,
Risa Lieberwitz, AAUP General Counsel


AAUP Files Brief Opposing Political Attacks on Teaching About Race in Texas

Last week the AAUP submitted a brief to Texas attorney general Ken Paxton strongly opposing recent political efforts to ban ideas from the classroom. The brief was filed in response to a recent request from State Rep. James White for an opinion on whether teaching about race and racism in America, including critical race theory (CRT), would violate the civil rights of Texans. This insidious political maneuver to ban discussion of racial inequality is part of a broader right wing assault on the ability to teach truthfully about the impact of racism on American history and society.

These attempts to limit classroom discussion stand in irreconcilable conflict with the principles of free inquiry, free thought, and free expression, which the AAUP has championed for more than a century. The AAUP’s brief underscores how these transparent attempts to dictate the education provided by faculty could undermine higher education, violate academic freedom, and result in censorship and indoctrination. As the brief states,

“Academic freedom is the chief cornerstone of higher education. Unless academic activity is protected from government intrusion, the integrity of the educational system as a whole is imperiled. In higher education, the principle of academic freedom is closely linked to the function of the university as an institution charged with the attainment of the common good through the discovery and transmission of knowledge. In the absence of academic freedom, colleges and universities are prone to becoming instruments for the advancement of narrow partisan interests, mouthpieces for the propagation of specific doctrines, and factories of indoctrination rather than places of legitimate education. A government ban on classroom discussions of ideas and analysis concerning historical context and current issues of race and racism in the United States would violate academic freedom and undermine the higher education system.”

The deadline for the Texas attorney general to issue an opinion is January 31, 2022. An AAUP statement on legislation restricting teaching on race can be found here. We will keep you posted on updates in the case.

Aaron Nisenson, AAUP Senior Counsel


Contingency and Upper Management Growth on the Rise in Higher Ed

The steady rise of contingent faculty appointments and the growth of administration in higher education present a significant threat to academic freedom and shared governance. That’s the conclusion of studies on contingency and administrative growth in the AAUP’s Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2020–21.

Some key findings on contingency and administrative growth:

  • In fall 2019, 63.0 percent of faculty members were on contingent appointments; 20.0 percent were full-time contingent faculty members and 42.9 percent were part-time contingent faculty members. Only 26.5 percent of faculty members were tenured and 10.5 percent were on the tenure track.
  • From fiscal year 2011–12 to fiscal year 2018–19, the numbers of staff classified as “management” increased 12 percent per FTE student, real average salaries increased 7 percent, and salary outlays per FTE student increased 19 percent, including an extraordinary 24 percent increase in real salary expenditures per FTE student in public colleges and universities.

As we note in the report, contingent appointments are the least secure, lowest remunerated, and generally least supported faculty positions. Most faculty members who are paid per course section do not receive retirement or medical benefit contributions, and in most states, adjunct faculty members do not have rights to unemployment insurance. Faculty tenure is the only secure protection for academic freedom in teaching, research, and service.

The prevalence of contingent faculty appointments also means that shared governance in higher education is increasingly at risk. Without adequate numbers of full-time tenure-line faculty members, many institutions now appoint administrators to committees that govern areas formerly within the sole purview of faculty committees.

This deep imbalance between the rise of contingency and the rise of management, particularly the exorbitant rise in high-level administrative salaries, requires urgent action. Governing boards, legislators, and other policy makers must provide funds for a substantial readjustment of academic salary levels to avoid irreparable harm to the US higher education system. Additionally, the AAUP holds that full and part-time faculty members, regardless of rank, are to be considered eligible for tenure and the protections it affords. Faculty teaching, research, and service must remain the focus of higher education.

You can read the full report and view charts of our findings on contingency and administrative growth here.

Next week, we will discuss the report’s findings on rising institutional debt and share resources from our New Deal for Higher Education campaign on this issue.

The AAUP Research Department