Wednesday, August 5, 2015

AAUP Reports on Four Cases of Investigations on Academic Freedom and Tenure: Mass Terminations, Tenure, and Social Media

The Association of American University Professors (AAUP) has recently announced publication of four (4) of its Academic Freedom and Tenure Investigative Reports:
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Felician College (New Jersey)
University of Southern Maine

One of the cases, that of Professor Salaita is quite well know.  (See here and here). 

Another (Southern Maine) deserves substantially more attention than it has gotten--the increasing use of mass layoffs through program closures as an effective means of short circuiting the traditional protections designed into the "financial exigency" standards that had served as a common basis of action for several generations.  What had started after Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana Universities (see, e.g., here) now looks to have evolved into a mechanism for relatively easy faculty terminations.  Effectively, the movement seems to be to a standard in which the financial deficiencies of a single program now appear enough to trigger university financial exigency sufficient to support the termination of faculty in the targeted program. For universities, this is a way around the protections of tenure at a time when universities are moving to a very different model for delivering education "product", one in which faculty protected by tenure are increasingly painted as "in the way."  

The other two follow--in a world in which faculty are increasingly viewed, like copy paper, as consumables in the manufacture of education products, tenure is increasingly viewed as an impediment to efficient production.  Its only value, increasingly limited, is as a means of revenue raising (by grant funded faculty) and in the competition within prestige markets that, it is believed, increases the quality of students harvested for income production and consumption of education. For universities this presents a problem, and the two cases suggest current experimentation: is there a way of retaining the revenue raising and prestige enhancing benefits of tenure without actually providing the security that makes such objectives attainable?   

Links to the reports and summaries follow:

The centennial issue of the Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors (, the Association’s journal of record, fittingly contains four case reports of investigations on academic freedom and tenure, as many as were published in the AAUP’s first year of existence. Based on these reports, the AAUP’s 101st Annual Meeting voted to censure the subject administrations.

Academic Freedom and Tenure: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center concerns the cases of two nonreappointed full-time faculty members who had served well beyond the seven-year maximum period of probation specified in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Under the center’s system of so-called “term tenure”—renewable seven-year term appointments—they were nevertheless not eligible for indefinite tenure, as widely understood in American higher education. In deciding not to renew their appointments, the MD Anderson administration disregarded the unanimous recommendations of the center’s faculty personnel committee. Contravening AAUP-supported standards, the administration also failed to give the two faculty members a timely written statement of the reasons for the decision and to afford them the opportunity of a hearing before an elected faculty body, in which administration would need to demonstrate adequate cause for dismissal.

The subject of Academic Freedom and Tenure: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the widely publicized case of a professor who in fall 2013 accepted a tenured appointment in UIUC’s Department of American Indian Studies. In August 2014, after the appointment officially began and shortly before classes commenced, the UIUC chancellor notified the professor that the system’s board of trustees would be rejecting his tenured appointment (in the past, board approval had generally been considered a mere formality) because of Twitter posts in which he had passionately and harshly condemned Israel’s actions in the then-occurring Israel-Gaza conflict. Under AAUP-supported principles, these were extramural utterances that should have been protected by academic freedom. In justifying the decision, the chancellor and trustees stated that the professor’s tweets, by failing to meet a minimum standard of “civility” in academic discourse, demonstrated his unfitness for a teaching position. His incivility, they asserted, would threaten the comfort and security of students. The AAUP took the position that allowing the appointment to begin without the board’s having rejected it entitled the professor to the procedural safeguards of tenure. The UIUC authorities, however, declined to afford him those safeguards, which would have required the administration to demonstrate his unfitness in a hearing before a body of peers. 

Academic Freedom and Tenure: Felician College (New Jersey) discusses the cases of seven full-time faculty members, six of them having served well beyond the maximum probationary period stipulated in the 1940 Statement. In late January 2014, they were informed (along with nine colleagues who did not seek the AAUP’s assistance) that their appointments would end in June. The reason initially given for the action was financial exigency, even though the college never formally declared its existence and presented no evidence to the faculty supporting the claim. In making the decision to terminate the sixteen appointments, the administration did not consult the institution’s faculty, nor did it explain why these particular appointments were selected for termination. Although this small Roman Catholic institution has almost nothing in common with one of the world’s foremost cancer centers, it resembles MD Anderson in not offering appointments with indefinite tenure. Felician College differs from MD Anderson and the other investigated institutions, however, by offering nothing other than insecurity. All full-time faculty members serve on term appointments renewable at the administration’s discretion. In disregard of normative academic standards, the administration did not afford the seven faculty members any opportunity to contest the terminations. The investigating committee reported finding a sense of fear among surviving faculty members that was palpable.

Academic Freedom and Tenure: University of Southern Maine joins the ever-increasing list of AAUP reports on mass layoffs of faculty members because of alleged budget shortfalls and resulting program closures. Sixty tenured and nontenured faculty members (24 percent of the full-time faculty) found themselves facing unemployment when four academic programs were closed to address a projected budget deficit. Despite its claim that the closures were also designed to create a community-serving “metropolitan” university, the administration shuttered the program in applied medical sciences, which elicited protests not only from faculty members but also from a wide variety of local business and industry leaders. The administration discontinued the programs without adequately involving the faculty and effected the terminations absent either bona fide financial exigency or bona fide program discontinuance—under AAUP-supported standards the only bases beyond cause for terminating full-time faculty appointments.

If the links do not work in your browser, the Bulletin can be accessed here: The Bulletin is mailed to AAUP members as the July–August issue of Academe.

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