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July 9 COVID-19 Update

This week marked the kickoff of our Summer Institute Online, with webinars focusing on issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope you join! Read on for more on SI Online, our new statement on shared governance during times of crisis, and how you can take action now to urge Congress to fund aid to states and higher education.

Summer Institute Online

The AAUP Summer Institute Online is now underway. Join hundreds of AAUP members from around the country in our special series of training webinars focused specifically on the challenges facing higher education today. Running through August 4, the virtual summer institute features two webinars each week. Our 90-minute sessions will cover a wide range of topics, from campus decisions about reopening to supporting student protests to pushing back against austerity budgets. In addition, hour-long breakout sessions after the governance and organizing webinars will provide a special opportunity for smaller groups of attendees to brainstorm about how to apply the guidance to their chapter’s circumstances. There is also a special plenary panel that will highlight the experiences of frontline health-care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You can view the complete schedule and register for these webinars today.

Principles of Academic Governance during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The AAUP Committee on College and University Governance has released a new statement affirming the principles of academic governance in the face of growing concern over unilateral actions taken by governing boards and administrations during the pandemic. “During this challenging time,” the statement reads, “the committee calls upon administrations and governing boards, in demonstrated commitment to principles of shared governance, to maintain transparency, engage in ‘joint effort,’ and honor the faculty’s decision-making responsibility for academic and faculty personnel matters as the most effective means of weathering the current crisis.”

You can read the full statement here.

Send a Letter to Your Member of Congress

Many of our states and communities continue to face mounting and very serious financial shortfalls as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ability of states to provide adequate funding for higher education and other public goods will be dependent upon the inclusion of relief for state and local governments in the next federal stimulus package. If you haven’t already, you can to write to your US congressional representative and your senators and urge them to include relief for state and local governments in the next stimulus package. Here’s the link to send a letter now.

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

In solidarity,
Julie Schmid
Executive Director, AAUP


May 14 COVID-19 Update

As summer approaches, we continue to develop guidance and plan webinars to help us organize and respond to the challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guidance on Reopening Campuses

The decision to reopen a campus raises not only logistical and health and safety concerns but also concerns about how best to achieve the academic mission both during the COVID-19 pandemic and in its aftermath. The AAUP has developed guidance on reopening campuses for our chapters, faculty governing bodies, and administrations. As with all the AAUP’s resources related to COVID-19, we will continue to update this guidance as new information becomes available.

Financial Crisis FAQs

Colleges and universities are facing challenging financial situations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis. In some cases, particularly those in which ongoing financial problems have threatened institutions’ survival, the challenges are extraordinary. To assist members of the academy in addressing the challenges faced in times of financial stress, the AAUP has updated our web page with FAQs on financial crisis in order to help our chapters, our members, and the profession as a whole navigate this crisis.

International Student Visas

The AAUP has signed on to a letter sent by the American Council of Education and sixty-two other associations to the Department of Labor, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of State in regard to international students. The letter from the associations outlines the role international students play in the US economy and their contributions to education and research, as well as some of the issues these students and colleges and universities will likely be facing in the fall. The groups urged the Secretary of State to prioritize applications for student visas once the consulates reopen. They also requested that the State Department and DHS extend regulatory flexibility for international students to begin their studies online if campuses are unable to open in the fall or student visas are delayed.

Rescind Proposed Rules for Distance Education

The AAUP and the American Federation of Teachers have submitted joint comments urging the Department of Education to rescind proposed rules for distance education. The comments emphasize that the rules would weaken the interaction between students and faculty members—the key relationship in higher education—and would allow increased outsourcing of core educational responsibilities. Read more here.

Support Faculty at Rutgers University Biomedical and Health Sciences

Clinical faculty in the AAUP-BHSNJ chapter need your support for their petition to win a fair contract after two years of bargaining. These members’ work on the frontlines of the COVID crisis, including work on developing a COVID-19 saliva test, is a real-life example of higher education for the common good. While Rutgers University’s president praises them as “heroes,” his negotiators take a hard line in bargaining by looking at layoffs and ways to de-tenure faculty. AAUP-BHSNJ hopes to revamp health and safety measures, clarify the role of family leave, and reduce gender pay inequity. Add your name.

Send a Letter to Your Member of Congress

Many of our states and communities face serious financial shortfalls as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ability of states to provide adequate funding for higher education and other public goods will be dependent upon the inclusion of relief for state and local governments in the next federal stimulus package. On Tuesday, we sent a message from AAUP president Rudy FIchtenbaum asking you to write to your US congressional representative and your senators and urge them to include relief for state and local governments in the next stimulus package. Here’s the link to send a letter now.

We’ll be in touch with more updates in two weeks.

In solidarity,
Julie Schmid
Executive Director, AAUP


Attacks expertise and higher ed threaten democracy

Today the AAUP issued In Defense of Knowledge and Higher Education, a statement that advances an impassioned argument for the importance of expert knowledge and the institutions of higher education that produce and transmit it. Addressing an ongoing movement in the United States to attack the disciplines and higher education institutions, the statement defends the critical role these institutions perform in producing the knowledge that sustains American democracy, especially in this moment of intense global instability. In Defense of Knowledge and Higher Education was prepared by the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure and has been endorsed so far by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Council of University of California Faculty Associations, the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, PEN America, and the Phi Beta Kappa Society.

In the statement, the AAUP calls attention to the threats posed by attacks on expert knowledge. How can a government develop effective policy when it rejects informed, dispassionate studies of climate change, suppresses its own data collection on white supremacist domestic terrorism, or imposes gag orders on doctors under regulations prohibiting discussion of abortion or contraception, merely because they contradict ideological belief? “We cannot eat ideological belief; wishful thinking will not keep us safe,” the statement asserts.

In Defense of Knowledge and Higher Education connects the current attack on the disciplines and higher education with the undermining of universities that has occurred since the 1970s. Cuts in federal and state funding for public universities and for basic research have weakened universities by increasing their reliance on private support, encouraging the substitution of contingent positions for faculty appointments with indefinite tenure, widening the gap between richer and poorer institutions, and facilitating the rise of corporate management styles by administrators and trustees with the consequent diminution of faculty participation in university governance.

The statement reemphasizes the pledge of the AAUP’s founders “to safeguard freedom of inquiry and of teaching against both covert and overt attacks and to guarantee the long-established practices and principles that define the production of knowledge.” It concludes by calling on “those who value knowledge to take a stand in the face of those who would assault it, to convey to a broad public the dangers that await us—as individuals and as a society—should that pledge be abandoned.”

Read the full statement.

Henry Reichman
Chair,  Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure


Is a Campus “Free Speech” Bill in Your Legislature?

The answer is: Extremely likely.

Due to a surge in efforts to chill dissent, undermine academic freedom, and destabilize higher education, over a dozen states currently have a campus “free speech” bill in their state house or senate.

Use this free tool to search for the bill in your state, track its progress, and capture contact information for the legislative committee members reviewing the bill. Simply click on your state, select “Bills” at the top, and type “campus free speech” into the search bar to the right. For committee members, click “Committees” at the top.

Then see the AAUP’s Campus “Free Speech” Toolkit for a phone script, talking points, a primer, and a full report on the issue. With the toolkit, it’s easy to make a quick call or fire off an email to the appropriate legislator.

You’ll be glad you did. Campus speech legislation is an example of legislative interference in the autonomy of universities and colleges. It undermines academic freedom, and chills dissent on campus. This damaging legislation often has some or all of the following characteristics:

  1. Forbids public institutions from disinviting speakers and requires that they remain neutral on “issues of public controversy.”
  2. Establishes mandatory minimum penalties for students or others found to have twice interfered with the free expression of others. Suggested minimum penalties are suspension and expulsion.
  3. Provides that individuals who believe that their free speech has been disrupted or prevented on a public campus may sue the institution to enforce the legislation and can recover court costs and attorney’s fees.
  4. Requires that public institutions create an oversight committee, sometimes called a “Committee on Free Expression,” to oversee the implementation of campus free-speech law and to produce an annual report about the management of free speech on campus.
  5. Requires public institutions to provide training to incoming students, faculty, and staff on their free speech rights under the new law.

Concerned? We all are.

You can make a difference. First, track the bill here.

Then review the AAUP’s Campus Free Speech Toolkit.

Thank you for defending higher education from this unnecessary and speech-chilling legislation.

Monica Owens
Political Organizer, AAUP

P.S. Want to get more involved in defending against campus “free speech” legislation? Click here and an AAUP organizer will get in touch.


How to Fight for Higher Ed as a Public Good

As states divest from public higher education, our colleges and universities face unprecedented threats from undue donor influence and corporations seeking to privatize our public institutions. Here is some information about resources that you may find helpful as we work nationwide to ensure that higher education continues to serve the public good, and not the interests of a wealthy few.

Fight Undue Donor Influence

As a faculty member and president of the AAUP chapter at George Mason University, I’ve been involved in the fight against undue donor influence. Together, faculty, students, public-education allies, and concerned citizens have been working to expose what the Koch brothers and other members of their dark-money network have gotten from over $100 million in restricted gifts to GMU. Turns out—it’s a lot! We’ve exposed donor influence over faculty hiring and retention, research and scholarship, and affiliated centers and institutes.

Now, UnKoch My Campus, with the help of grant funding from the AAUP Foundation, has developed a report with model donor policies that you can download here. The report provides a roadmap for protecting your institution from undue donor influence and includes  templates for faculty senate motions, gift acceptance procedures, and approval processes for donor-sponsored centers.

Fight Privatization and the Primacy of Profit

As we work to end undue donor influence at GMU, we are also confronting the privatization of our public university through expanding online initiatives—and the potential for a fully online university under the Mason brand modeled after Purdue Global. Like many other institutions, GMU is contracting with a for-profit company to do much of the technical work and some of the core academic work to expand online education offerings. It is also considering the creation of a public-private online university that would further privatize higher education in Virginia. Such public-private contracts often benefit shareholders of the private companies rather than students and faculty.

To shape the quality of online education at your institution, check out the AAUP’s Education Not Privatization toolkit here.

No doubt, there is much work to do. Let’s dig in. Check out the tools on offer from AAUP and UnKoch My Campus. Together we can protect academic freedom and higher education as a public good!

In Solidarity,
Bethany Letiecq
Associate Professor, Human Development and Family Science, GMU