AAUP@FHSU


AAUP will investigate violations of shared governance at Vermont Law

This week, the AAUP authorized an investigation into apparent departures from widely adopted standards of shared governance at Vermont Law School after the school’s administration and governing board “restructured” the faculty by lowering salaries, reducing the number of full-time positions, and stripping many of tenure, all without involving the faculty in the decision-making process.

A June 5, 2018, memorandum presented fourteen tenured professors with a stark choice: either surrender their full-time, tenured positions and faculty voting rights, sign an agreement containing general and age-discrimination releases along with nondisparagement and nondisclosure provisions, and accept nontenured appointments at lower pay, or have their appointments summarily terminated as of July 1, 2018, with immediate cessation of salary and benefits.

After one faculty member contacted the AAUP seeking assistance, we wrote to the administration three times highlighting our concerns in the case and reiterating appropriate procedural standards for terminating appointments because of financial exigency.

Our concerns, in this case, are myriad. A decision of far-reaching importance and consequence to the entire law school community, and particularly to the faculty members and students, appears to have been taken by the Vermont Law School administration and board without meaningful consultation with the faculty. The Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, jointly formulated by the AAUP with the American Council on Education and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, “rests on the premise of an ‘inescapable interdependence’ in the relationship among governing board, administration, and faculty, which calls for ‘adequate communication among these components, and full opportunity for appropriate joint effort.”

In addition, with only five faculty members having retained tenure at an institution with more than six hundred students, the restructuring appears to have effectively eviscerated the existing tenure system and, with it, protections for academic freedom.

AAUP investigating committees in the area of college and university governance are charged with inquiring into cases that appear to feature severe departures from AAUP-supported governance standards. Committees are composed of AAUP members from other institutions who have had no previous involvement in the matter. If the investigating committee’s published report finds that serious violations have occurred, the AAUP may place the institution on its sanction list by vote of the Association’s annual meeting, which informs the academic community and the public that conditions for academic governance at the institution are unsound.

We will keep you apprised of developments in the case. If you’d like to support our investigative work around shared governance and academic freedom, please donate to the AAUP Foundation, which supports our investigations.

Thank you,

Anita Levy
Senior Program Officer, Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance


Challenges to Academic Governance at Maricopa

Today we wrote to the governing board of the Maricopa Community College District in Arizona to convey our concern over apparent departures from generally accepted principles of academic governance. The matter stems from a February resolution of the 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. The “meet-and-confer” process is specified in the current faculty policy manual as a process of deliberation “for the purpose of articulating agreement regarding change with respect to responsibilities, wages, governance, benefits, and all other terms and conditions of Residential Faculty employment.”

Significant changes to the structure and procedures for faculty participation in institutional governance should not be made unilaterally. As the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, jointly formulated by the AAUP with the American Council on Education and the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities, observes, “The structure and procedures for faculty participation should be designed, approved, and established by joint action of the components of the institution.” The governing board’s action to terminate the “meet-and-confer” provision effectively eliminated the role of its representative faculty body in the process of making changes to the policy manual and thus has unilaterally modified the structure and procedure for faculty participation 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.

The AAUP’s letter further expresses concern that, following the adoption of the governing board’s resolution, Provost Karla Fisher wrote to college presidents to inform them that “Senate Presidents and Representatives must be dutiful in avoiding any [Faculty Executive Council] or Faculty Association-related work or conversations during business hours.” As the AAUP’s statement On the Relationship of Faculty Governance to Academic Freedom observes, “The academic freedom of faculty members includes the freedom to express their views … on matters having to do with their institution and its policies.” The provost’s directive thus appears to interfere with the academic freedom of the identified faculty members.

The letter concludes by urging the governing board to rescind its resolution and restore the “meet-and-confer” provision. It further urges the administration to rescind its proscription against certain “conversations during business hours.”

Read the full letter here.

Hans-Joerg Tiede
Senior Program Officer,  Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance