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New Haven Censured; 2 Colleges Have Sanction Lifted

June 16, 2008

The American Association of University Professors voted Saturday to censure the University of New Haven for the way it took away the job of a long-time, full-time, non-tenure track faculty member. At the same meeting, the AAUP removed from its censure list Philander Smith College and Southern University of New Orleans, and voted on a number of resolutions on various policy matters.

The censure vote is typically a highlight of the AAUP's annual meeting, which took place this weekend in Washington. Colleges are placed on the censure list -- which currently stands at 46 -- for violations of academic freedom, tenure protections, and the due process of faculty members. Detailed investigations precede a censure vote. While some colleges stay on the list for decades, others work to get off the list -- a process that typically involves redress for the injured parties whose complaints set off the inquiry, and changes in policy.

In the New Haven case, the AAUP investigation found that the university ignored key standards of fairness in terminating the employment of Marianna M. Vieira last year, after she had worked in the English department at New Haven for 14 years, six as a part-time instructor and eight on full-time, non-tenure-track appointments. Vieira was dismissed by a dean -- without full rights of a hearing or to contest evidence -- on the basis of a series of student complaints. An AAUP investigating committee found that only one complaint went to an issue of professional conduct, and that that complaint was not something that had been demonstrated as factual. The others were typical of the sort of complaints many instructors receive -- in this case about her grading, policing of plagiarism and so forth.

Vieira was dismissed under standards for those with minimal job security, not tenure or even the assurances that come with multi-year contracts. Under these standards, the AAUP found, her department’s backing meant nothing and a dean could — and did -- make a decision to get rid of her. AAUP officials noted that the case demonstrates the vulnerability of adjuncts to such treatment.

New Haven's provost, David P. Dauwalder, responded to a draft of the report, and defended the university’s conduct as reasonable. Dauwalder wrote that he viewed the student complaints as serious enough to merit attention.

In addition, Dauwalder charged that the AAUP was holding the university to higher standards than New Haven had ever agreed to uphold for those who are not tenured. The provost’s response said that for tenured faculty members, the university’s procedures for dismissal are consistent with AAUP guidelines. However, the university considers that there are “two distinct categories of faculty” -- and that those who are not on the tenure track do not have the same procedural rights. At the AAUP meeting Saturday, several members noted that with more academics working off the tenure track, it was important for the AAUP to focus on their rights.

The case of Philander Smith, in Arkansas, followed a pattern for many removals from the censure list: A new president takes office and decides to undo policies of previous administrations that resulted in censure. At Philander Smith, censure followed the dismissal of a faculty member for telling a reporter about a campus policy stating that any communication with reporters without approval by the administration would be considered insubordination, and grounds for dismissal.

When Walter M. Kimbrough became president, the AAUP said he lifted the policy and affirmed the right of professors to communicate with others. All the fired professor wanted was that policy change, the removal of insubordination references from her personnel file, and the right to return to campus -- when she was fired, she was also banned from campus. Kimbrough had the personnel file changed and sent her a letter lifting the ban and inviting her to campus. The AAUP report said these changes warranted removal from the list.

Southern University in New Orleans was among four colleges -- the others are Loyola University New Orleans, Tulane University and the University of New Orleans -- that were censured by the AAUP last year for actions taken to eliminate faculty positions in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. While AAUP officials did not deny the seriousness of the financial crisis many colleges in New Orleans faced after Katrina, the association faulted the colleges for largely ignoring any faculty role in planning to deal with the problems. Southern University was censured for adopting a plan that placed some professors on furloughs and eliminated others’ jobs and that made sweeping changes in academic offerings, without any faculty consultation.

The university came off the list because it offered jobs to all the tenured professors who lost employment and also agreed to revise policies so that professors would be involved and due process would be followed in responding to any future crisis.

Yes, No and Maybe

The AAUP annual meeting also provides members with the opportunity to take stands on various issues of public policy. This year, the members voted overwhelmingly to oppose state legislation to make it easier to have guns on campus, to oppose state proposals to equate intelligent design or creation science with legitimate science that is based on evolution, and to oppose state laws -- still on the books -- that require loyalty oaths as a condition of employment at public colleges.

The latter issue has been in the news this year as two instructors at the California State University System lost jobs for refusing to sign the oath. While a subsequent compromise has allowed the instructors to be hired, AAUP members said that they were concerned that the oaths remained the law and could cost people their jobs.

When the AAUP ventured into foreign policy, its votes could prove surprising for association critic David Horowitz, as Cary Nelson, the AAUP president noted. Horowitz likes to claim liberal academics ignore human rights issues in Iran and love to single out Israel for criticism.

On Iran, the members voted to condemn policies that deny higher education to those who are Baha'i.

On Israel, the members considered a resolution that would have criticized Israeli policies that have prevented students in Gaza from leaving to enroll at college and universities elsewhere. The AAUP members asked for further study of the issue and declined to vote on it. In debate on the measure, proponents and critics of the resolution agreed that Israel should let the students leave -- as Israeli officials have lately said they would do. (Israel defended a largely uniform blockade of Gaza previously as necessary because of attacks on Israel from the region.)

But while supporters of the resolution stressed the hardships faced by students in Gaza, critics questioned why Israel was being singled out when there are many countries in the world that do not have open borders, and that there are many countries where higher education is denied, for example, to women, but which the AAUP has not condemned. Amid talk of amending the resolution to be more general, removing all references to Israel and Gaza, a motion passed referring the entire matter back to the AAUP committee for review.

 

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