AAUP@FHSU


Why are congressional staffers threatening faculty?

It’s very simple: members of Congress and their staffs should not be in the business of threatening faculty members. Why does this need to be said? It happened last week. Join 1,000 faculty members who’ve already taken action and sign an open letter standing strongly against this kind of behavior by powerful legislators.

Here’s what happened. Ari Kohen, an associate professor of political science at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, came across this photo on a progressive blog’s Facebook page.

He hit “like” because it amused him, and moved on with his day. Later that week, the staff of Nebraska congressman Jeff Fortenberry’s office combed through the names of people who’d liked and shared the photo. Then the chief of staff to Fortenberry, Reyn Archer, made a 53-minute call to Kohen to lambaste and threaten him for exercising his well-established right to free speech. He not-so-subtly implied that he could use his position and power to bring down a rain of harassment on Kohen. “We have a First Amendment opportunity to basically put you out there in front of everybody…we could do that publicly, would you like that?,” said Archer in the call. Archer also contacted Kohen’s employer.

Sign the open letter to Congressman Fortenberry.

It should go without saying that a legislator and his staff should not harass and threaten a faculty member based on his or her social media activity, and that it is absurd to equate “liking” a Facebook joke with support for vandalism. However, it’s clear that, in the current political climate, this DOES need to be said.  We’re calling on Fortenberry to publicly repudiate his chief of staff’s actions to threaten and harass Professor Ari Kohen, and to stand unequivocally for academic freedom and free speech for all faculty.

Thanks,
Mariah Quinn
Digital Organizer, AAUP


The scary stats on contingency in higher education

Earlier this month, we sent you a data snapshot breaking out the numbers on faculty and graduate employee appointments at US colleges and universities. The composition of the academic workforce varies between institution types–at community colleges, a whopping 66 percent of positions are classified as part-time, while at research institutions much of that work is done by graduate employees. At all US institutions combined, the percentage of instructional positions that is off the tenure track amounted to 73 percent in 2016, the latest year for which data are available.

Two recent AAUP investigative reports illustrate what these numbers mean on the ground. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln last year, the administration dismissed Courtney Lawton, a doctoral student who also held a part-time lecturer appointment, following her protest of an on-campus recruitment table for Turning Point USA. Lawton’s protest was recorded and widely disseminated online, which led to threats against her and the university. Political pressure on the university was at the very heart of the case, and the investigating committee concluded that the basis for Lawton’s dismissal was related to the political content of her speech and that the due process afforded to her was inadequate.

At Colorado’s Community College of Aurora,  part-time faculty member Nathanial Bork, an advocate for adjunct rights, was fired because he allegedly had failed to adequately implement a curriculum redesign mandated by the administration. Bork, who had taught philosophy and related courses at the college for six years with positive reviews, had written to the institution’s regional accrediting agency, criticizing CCA’s efforts to raise course completion rates by lowering standards.  Investigators noted that at CCA the academic freedom of part-time faculty members “is not universally guaranteed as a matter of institutional policy but selectively bestowed as a function of administrative benevolence. That is to say, it does not exist.”

Exposing such conditions is one tool that the national AAUP has to improve protections for academic freedom.  When institutions are censured by the AAUP, as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Community College of Aurora both have been, they often respond by making restitution to affected faculty members and working to improve their practices and bring their policies into accordance with the AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations. These regulations spell out, in language suitable for use in faculty handbooks and collective bargaining agreements, policies that protect academic freedom.

The AAUP this year released a revised version of the Recommended Institutional Regulations that clarifies the AAUP’s long-standing position on due process protections for part-time faculty members.  As a newly added note in the regulations explains, “There should be no invidious distinctions between those who teach and/or conduct research in higher education, regardless of whether they hold full-time or part-time appointments or whether their appointments are tenured, tenure-track, or contingent. All faculty members should have access to the same due-process protections and procedures.”

AAUP chapters and members are vital in the fight for academic freedom. Member support enables the national AAUP to produce research on the state of the profession, conduct investigations of particularly egregious academic freedom cases, and provide tools such as the recommended institutional regulations. And working at the campus level to improve institutional policies is a key function of AAUP members and chapters. Joining together in solidarity across ranks and roles is the only way we can protect academic freedom and shared governance for all.

Here’s a simple step you can take right now: share the graphic below to help raise public awareness of contingency in higher education.

Sincerely,
Gwendolyn Bradley
AAUP Senior Program Officer

Graphic to share on Facebook of stats


AAUP Releases Investigation of Campus Protest Case

I’m writing to you today about a case that crystallizes the current right-wing assault on higher education. It involves issues that the AAUP has been working on intensively this year: faculty harassment and exaggerated controversies over free speech on campus.

The case concerns Courtney Lawton, a graduate student, and part-time lecturer at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. At the beginning of the fall semester, Lawton protested an on-campus recruitment table of Turning Point USA, a conservative organization that maintains the Professor Watchlist. Her protest was recorded by the undergraduate student staffing the table, and the resulting video was widely disseminated online—one of the primary strategies of right-wing groups in their attacks on higher education—leading to threats against her and the university.

While Lawton was under vicious attack for her protest speech, state legislators launched a campaign of political pressure on the university, suggesting that Lawton’s conduct toward the student staffing the recruitment table was representative of a campus climate hostile to conservative views and calling for her dismissal. The Nebraska Republican Party filed open-records requests for email correspondence related to the case, and “campus free-speech” legislation was introduced in a clear example of legislative overreach.

Under pressure, the university administration suspended Lawton from her teaching responsibilities and subsequently refused to reinstate her to the classroom, thus extending her suspension to the end of her term of appointment. This action was tantamount to summary dismissal, as the administration did not afford her any academic due process. An AAUP investigation found that “the conclusion seems inescapable that the basis for Ms. Lawton’s dismissal was related to the political content of her speech and thus may have violated her academic freedom, a conclusion that stands unrebutted absent the affordance of a dismissal hearing.”

We’ll be discussing the case during a Facebook Live tomorrow, May 11, at 1:30 EST. Click here to RSVP.

Campaigns of targeted harassment against individual faculty members and legislative attempts to impose misguided rules on institutions of higher education are on the rise. The AAUP believes that democracy thrives on dissent, critical inquiry, free speech, and free research. That’s why we investigated the case at the University of Nebraska and why we’ve developed resources for you to use in fighting harassment of faculty and misleading “free-speech” legislation on your own campus.

Read our investigative report here.

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


Goodbye 2017 – It Was Quite a Year!

2018 looks to be no different, and we’re starting off strong.

In January, an investigating team will visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to look into the case of a lecturer who was dismissed at the behest of Nebraska legislators after she protested a recruitment table for Turning Point USA, a radical right-wing organization that maintains the Professor Watchlist website. Her protest, which included the use of anti-fascist slogans, expletives, and obscene gestures, was filmed by the undergraduate student staffing the table and was subsequently posted on websites such as Campus Reform. This case is one of many troubling recent incidents in which right-wing organizations have fomented outrage against higher education, and actions taken by university administrations or legislators in response have had particularly negative consequences for contingent faculty members and faculty of color. We’ll keep you posted as the case develops.

Starting January 22, we’ll devote a full week to sharing resources and information on the issue of targeted harassment of faculty. We’ll share stories from those who have been targeted, provide information on what you can do before and after an incident occurs on your campus, and hold a Facebook live event with a Q&A. Sign up to become part of our action team to help spread the word to as many faculty as possible. We all need to join in this important fight.

Our work fighting political interference on campus continues with a strong showing in the courts. We scored a victory for science this fall when a court rejected harassing public records requests against two University of Arizona faculty members. The case started with a lawsuit filed by a “free market” legal foundation that targets climate scientists in an effort to “put false science on trial.” In an amicus brief in support of the scientists, we argued that public records laws should not be misused in order to chill academic freedom. The court agreed, but the foundation has vowed to “keep peppering universities around the country with similar requests under state open records laws.”

We’re working to ensure that the free flow of information and international academic exchange is not hindered by dangerous governmental interference like the Trump administration’s travel ban. In September the AAUP joined with the American Council on Education (ACE) and other higher education groups in an amicus brief before the US Supreme Court opposing the travel ban. As the case around the revised ban continues to move through the courts we will likely join ACE again in filing a brief. We’re also heartened by your support on this matter–our petition against the ban earlier this year was widely shared and signed.

In November, we filed an amicus brief supporting a challenge to a Texas mandate compelling faculty to permit concealed handguns in college classrooms. Citing decades of social science research, we argued that the presence of weapons has a chilling effect on the rigorous academic exchange of ideas. Our work on this case is ongoing, and we’ll keep you apprised of developments. Want to continue to support our legal work? Donate to the Legal Defense Fund now.

One case that could have a profound impact on the collective voice of those who teach and research in higher education is Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, set to be heard by the Supreme Court in the spring term. This legal threat to union rights is part of a broad and well-funded attack on working people, including faculty members and other academic professionals. We anticipate submitting an amicus brief in the case.

The urgency that our members and supporters feel in fighting such attacks is evident in the overwhelming response to provisions in the GOP tax bill that would devastate graduate education by reclassifying tuition waivers as taxable income and repeal the current student loan interest deduction, a change that would result in an increased cost of roughly $24 billion to student borrowers over the next decade. Thousands of you signed a petition to key members of the House, and many followed up with calls to the Senate and public activism both online and on the ground.

As we head toward January and prepare to shine a spotlight on the targeted harassment of faculty, it’s nice to be able to report a victory for academic freedom. Earlier this year, Professor Johnny Williams of Trinity College in Connecticut was subjected to threats of violence after the radical right-wing organization Campus Reform inaccurately reported on statements he had made on social media. Rather than receiving immediate support from his administration, he was suspended. When the AAUP came out strongly in his defense, the administration acknowledged that the social media posts were protected by academic freedom. We thank our Trinity College AAUP chapter and all those who worked hard to ensure that Williams’s academic freedom was protected.

We look forward to your active participation in our work as we head toward what promises to be an exciting year!

Thank you.

Rudy Fichtenbaum
President, AAUP