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.


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