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AAUP Concludes Indiana University Northwest Has Unwelcome Racial Climate… Violated Academic Freedom

The AAUP has published an investigative report on the summary suspension and dismissal of Dr. Mark McPhail, a tenured professor of communication at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, Indiana, who had previously served as the institution’s chief academic officer.  The investigating committee, for which I served as chair, found that, in acting against McPhail, the administration disregarded AAUP-supported standards of academic due process. The committee further concluded that conditions for academic governance at the institution are unsound and its racial climate is unwelcoming to faculty members of color.

Join us on February 16 at 2 p.m. ET for a webinar discussing the investigation and the AAUP’s process for investigations–what prompts an investigation, how they are conducted, and what the end goal is.

Register here.

In September 2021, the administration dispatched campus police officers to McPhail’s home to inform him that he had been dismissed and banned from campus, supposedly for making racially charged threats of physical violence, No accuser was identified, and no criminal charges were filed.

The AAUP investigating committee deemed “implausible” the charge that McPhail had made violent threats, and it found “highly credible” McPhail’s allegation that the administration’s actions were prompted by his criticism of the administration’s handling of racial equity issues and therefore violated his academic freedom. With respect to that climate, the committee noted that McPhail had regularly highlighted racial inequity on the IUN campus and that the criticisms and charges against him employed racial stereotypes of Black men as incompetent, angry, and violent.

Having been denied a hearing before a faculty body in which the burden of proof lay with the administration, as required under AAUP-recommended standards, McPhail was compelled to appeal the administration’s actions to a faculty grievance committee. In his appeal, he argued that institutional authorities had retaliated against him for his criticisms of the administration and for filing equal opportunity complaints against the administrators responsible for suspending and dismissing him. The grievance committee found both his suspension and his termination unwarranted. The administration rejected the committee’s findings.

Based on the report’s findings, the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure will now consider whether to recommend to the AAUP’s governing Council that it place Indiana University Northwest on the AAUP’s list of censured administrations. Placement on that list informs the academic community and the public at large that conditions for academic freedom and tenure at the institution are unsound.

Register for the webinar to learn more about the investigation.

Afshan Jafar, chair of the investigative committee,
Professor of Sociology, Connecticut College

AAUP President Condemns HBCU Bomb Threats

Bomb threats frighten people, intimidate communities, and disrupt daily life with the threat of violence. When a bomb threat is made at one of our historically Black colleges and universities, it becomes the latest entry in a long and shameful history of incidents of violence and racial terror that have resulted in the systemic and persistent racial inequity we see in US society today. The AAUP condemns the racial terrorism perpetuated by the numerous bomb threats at over a dozen HBCUs in the last several weeks.

Fear and intimidation have no place on a college campus, and this is especially true when it comes to our faculty colleagues and the students, administration, and staff at America’s HBCUs. We are inspired by their resilience but acknowledge the heavy burden that comes with being targeted routinely because of your race. The AAUP will continue to work towards dismantling systemic and institutional racism in our own organization and in higher education. We stand in solidarity with our HBCU colleagues in demanding and working toward a more just society, and in celebrating Black excellence all year long.

You can find this statement on the AAUP website here.

In solidarity,
Irene Mulvey, AAUP President

Efforts to Restrict Teaching about Race

At this time, when our nation is confronting deep-rooted racial inequity and having honest and long-overdue conversations about our history, legislators in a number of states have moved to shut down the conversation by restricting teaching about oppression, race, and gender.

The details vary, but generally the bills prohibit teaching or training in public educational institutions about vaguely defined “divisive concepts,” including racism and oppression. Some apply only to K–12 education, while others include higher education. Many include prohibitions on teaching about “critical race theory,” though most of the bills extend far beyond this. While many of the bills in question have not yet advanced, some have been signed into law — and they all have the potential to chill the free exchange of ideas at universities and colleges, and violate core AAUP principles. In some states, college courses have already been cancelled over concerns that they might run afoul of this legislation.

We are taking this attack on teaching very seriously, and are working with a wide coalition of organizations to protect the ability of faculty to teach freely. With three partner organizations, we are releasing a statement today opposing these bills and affirming that Americans of all ages deserve nothing less than a free and open exchange about history and the forces that shape our world today. We’re proud that more than seventy other organizations have endorsed this statement. These bills violate fundamental tenets of academic freedom and shared governance, the foundations of higher education.

In addition, the AAUP has developed resources to help members address legislative interference in the teaching of the role of racism in US history and society.

Decisions about curriculum and teaching materials belong in the hands of educators–not politicians. Join in our fight to keep it that way.

In Solidarity,
Irene Mulvey, AAUP president

PS–If your state conference wants to take action on bills proposed in your state, contact AAUP government relations officer Kaitlyn Vitez and she can connect you with resources.