The issue of reprisals by administrators appears to remain a substantial drag on progress toward effective shared governance and may contribute to another aspect of the erosion of academic freedom (along with the receding prominence of tenure among other things). In its report, Academic Freedom and Tenure: Northeastern Illinois University (December 2013, the AAUP concluded in part:
The investigating committee finds, on the basis of the information made available to it, that President Hahs’s stated reasons lack credibility as grounds for denying tenure to Professor Boyle. What stands unrebutted is the opinion, broadly held by NEIU faculty members, that the president denied tenure to Professor Boyle in retaliation for the linguistics professors’ expressed opposition to the administration and for their central role in the votes of no confidence in her and her provost. (Ibid., p. 11)
Particularly disturbing was the use of the collegiality prong of assessment as a weapon behind which to hide what appears to be ulterior reprisal motives. And indeed, as used by the NEIUC administration, collegiality is defined as avoiding any disagreement with administrators. This turn is particularly troubling because of the recent efforts to consider the value of collegiality in assessing faculty performance. (e.g., Collegiality as Factor in Personnel Decisions. . . But Only for Faculty, June 17, 2013). Faculties, like those at Penn State and Virginia, where faculty took strong stands against either administrative decisions or the actions of a board of trustees, might view this turn in administrator behavior cultures with some trepidation.
In its announcement, the AAUP noted:
The administration of Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago violated principles of academic freedom when it denied tenure to a candidate who had opposed its wishes in a dispute between linguistics faculty and teachers of English as a second language (TESL), concludes an AAUP investigating committee in a report (http://www.aaup.org/report/academic-freedom-and-tenure-neiu) issued December 17. The committee found that the activity of the professor was protected under principles of academic freedom and that the administration had allowed allegations that the tenure denial was retaliatory to go unrebutted. Additionally, the committee concluded that the administration, in not providing a credible explanation for the tenure denial, placed itself fundamentally at odds with a key provision of the AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities.
The candidate, an assistant professor of linguistics, had been recommended for tenure during the 2011–12 academic year by his tenured linguistics colleagues, his department chair, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and, unanimously, the faculty’s elected University Personnel Committee. The NEIU president, however, rejected his candidacy—the only rejection among the sixteen candidacies for tenure to reach her desk that year.
The president cited two reasons for denying tenure: the candidate’s failure to meet a deadline for filing a plan regarding student advising and the inadequacy of his “cooperation with colleagues and students.” But the AAUP’s investigating committee found that neither reason was credible.
NEIU faculty members interviewed by the investigating committee asserted that the president was instead motivated by the fact that the rejected candidate had been a leader in the dispute between linguistics and TESL faculty, which culminated in faculty votes of no confidence in the president and her provost. The three other leaders in this anti-administration movement already had tenure.
The NEIU administration provided lengthy objections to a draft text of the investigative report, emphasizing its commitment to AAUP policy recommendations and its resentment about being faulted for having declined to provide “confidential personnel information” to the AAUP, an external organization. In response, the chair of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure wrote that the basic problem “is not NEIU’s refusal to provide the information to AAUP. The AAUP’s concern is instead that [the candidate] was not afforded credible reasons, stated in detail, for the decision to deny him tenure and, as called for in the AAUP’s procedural standards, opportunity for him and his supporters to contest what they alleged to be an unstated reason that violated principles of academic freedom.”
AAUP investigating committees, which are authorized in a few selected cases when significant violations of academic freedom, tenure, or governance have been alleged and persist despite AAUP staff efforts to resolve them, are composed of AAUP members from other institutions with no previous involvement in the matter.
Please direct any questions or comments to Jordan E. Kurland, AAUP Associate General Secretary firstname.lastname@example.org.
----------The Press Release follows:
Academic Freedom and Tenure: Northeastern Illinois University
An AAUP investigating committee’s report, published in December 2013 with Committee A’s approval, deals with a case of tenure denial at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. The candidate, an assistant professor of linguistics, had been recommended for tenure successively by his tenured linguistics colleagues, his department chair, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and, unanimously, the faculty’s elected University Personnel Committee. The NEIU president, however, declined to support his candidacy in forwarding it to the board of trustees. Of the sixteen candidacies for tenure to reach her desk that year, his was the only one she rejected.
The president cited only two reasons for denying tenure: the candidate’s failure to meet her deadline for filing a plan regarding student advising and the inadequacy of his “cooperation with colleagues and students.” The AAUP’s investigative report found that his missing the deadline was inadvertent and harmless and that the evidence showed him to have been fully cooperative. As to the president’s unstated reasons, she initially wrote that there was “significant information” that the candidate’s supporters did not have. She did not respond to the national AAUP staff’s request for the information. When the investigating committee met with her and asked what the information might be, she initially replied that there was no unrevealed additional information, later in the meaning she suggested that there was information but was not inclined to provide it, and finally she stated that she was comfortable with her decision and did not intend to discuss it further.
With the president having declined to come forth with a credible reason, the investigating committee focused on a broadly held opinion by NEIU faculty members about what had motivated her. The candidate upon first joining the faculty found himself involved in an ongoing dispute between tenured colleagues in linguistics and others in the department with credentials more appropriate to Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) instruction. The linguistics professors became increasingly hostile to the president and the provost, whom they accused of favoring TESL people in curricular decisions at their expense. In fall 2009, with a linguistic professor having become chair of the Faculty Senate for a two-year term, the senate commenced a study of academic governance at NEIU that culminated in 2010-11 in faculty votes of no confidence in the president and her provost. Four linguistics professors were widely seen as leaders in this anti-administration movement: three with tenure and the fourth the candidate for tenure. NEIU faculty members interviewed by the investigating committee saw the only nontenured member of the quartet as a convenient target for retaliation by the president for their active opposition to her administration.
The investigating committee, having found that the activity of the four professors was protected conduct under principles of academic freedom and that alleged retaliation for this activity had been allowed by the administration to stand unrebutted, concluded that the NEIU administration in denying tenure to the candidate violated principles of academic freedom as enunciated in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure and derivative AAUP documents. Additionally, the committee concluded that the administration in not providing a credible explanation for its action placed itself fundamentally at odds with the requirement in the AAUP- adopted Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, to which the administration claimed total adherence, that the reasons for rejecting an affirmative faculty recommendation be “compelling” and “stated in detail.”
The NEIU administration provided lengthy objections to a draft text of the investigative report that was sent to the principal concerned parties prior to publication, emphasizing its commitment to major AAUP-supported policy documents and its resentment about being faulted for declining to provide “confidential personnel information” to an external professional organization standing outside the NEIU governance system. “The basic problem for Committee A,” its chair stated in reply, “is not NEIU’s refusal to provide the information to AAUP. The AAUP’s concern is instead that [the candidate] was not afforded credible reasons, stated in detail, for the decision to deny him tenure and, as called for in the AAUP’s procedural standards, opportunity for him and his supports to contest what they alleged to be an unstated reason that violated principles of academic freedom.” Moreover, the Committee A chair wrote, “the administration’s not having stated credible reasons for acting against [the] stream of favorable recommendations was ‘in blatant disregard’ of the requirement in the Statement on Government…to which the administration’s response claimed full NEIU compliance.”