Punishing Alleged Violations of Tenure, Academic Freedom and Governance

AAUP votes to censure or sanction three institutions at its annual meeting. Idaho State removed from sanction list.

June 17, 2019
 

The American Association of University Professors voted to censure two institutions for alleged violations of academic freedom and tenure at its annual meeting Saturday in Washington. It sanctioned a third administration for deviating from AAUP-supported norms of shared governance.

The AAUP's censure list now includes 58 colleges and universities. The AAUP’s sanction list is much shorter, at just six administrations -- now including freestanding Vermont Law School. Idaho State University was removed from that list at the meeting.

Investigative reports based on site visits and, where possible, interviews with affected faculty members and administrators precede censure and sanction votes. And an AAUP report from May on Vermont Law School found that the institution violated shared governance when it moved 14 of 19 total tenured professors to contingent appointments without faculty involvement or approval. The law school said it had to act fast to close a $2 million budget deficit and that faculty members were encouraged to participate in the process. But the AAUP found that faculty involvement was never designed to be meaningful, as the involuntary restructuring was about transferring most of the teaching workload to lower-paid adjunct professors.

Thomas McHenry, president and dean, said via email Saturday that the school is “disappointed by the AAUP’s action and the process by which the AAUP reached its conclusions.”

It’s “important to remember that the AAUP is an advocacy organization and is not involved in the accreditation of Vermont Law School. VLS nevertheless continues to abide by the AAUP’s stated principles of shared faculty governance and academic freedom,” he added.

An AAUP report from October, based on site visit to St. Edward’s University in Texas, concluded that the institution had quickly disposed of three outspoken faculty members, two of whom had tenure. The AAUP’s investigating committee found credible two faculty members’ claims that their criticism of administrative decisions led to their dismissal. The committee also found that a tenure-track faculty member hadn’t been afforded adequate notice of nonrenewal or a chance to appeal before a faculty body -- possibly as a consequence of reporting an administrator for alleged sexual harassment. That allegation went unrefuted, “absent an appropriate faculty review procedure,” according to the AAUP.

St. Edward’s also has a generally “abysmal” climate for academic freedom and shared governance, leading to “widespread fear and demoralization among the faculty,” the investigating committee found.

The university did not respond to a request for comment about the AAUP’s censure vote. It said in an earlier statement about the inquiry that it has “a robust commitment to tenure and academic freedom” and values “our strong faculty leaders who form an essential part of shared governance at the university.” George Martin, St. Edward’s president, declined to meet with AAUP investigators when they visited campus in August, they said.

Nunez Community College in Louisiana found its way onto AAUP’s censure list for terminating an associate professor of English who had served the institution for 22 years -- over the phone. Nunez doesn’t have tenure, but AAUP maintains that professors are entitled to tenure-like due process protections based on length of service.

Nunez previously declined to comment on the specific circumstances of the case and did not respond to a request for comment about the vote. The professor says he was terminated because he refused to fabricate data on student learning outcomes for accreditation purposes. Nunez said previously that it ensures all faculty members' academic freedom.

While censure and sanction are symbolic actions, institutions often work hard to get off the AAUP’s blacklists, typically after a change in leadership. Such is the case of Idaho State University, which was sanctioned in 2011 after the Idaho State Board of Education suspended the Faculty Senate on the recommendation of the university’s president. That followed a period of tension between the university faculty and administration.

With a new president now in place, Idaho State recently approved a faculty-backed Faculty Senate constitution. Following its adoption by the Idaho State Board of Education, the faculty this spring elected a new senate under the revised constitution.

Kevin Satterlee, Idaho State’s president, said in a statement that administrators and faculty members “are working hard to build a positive and productive relationship based on the tenets of shared governance. It is my hope that we continue to work together to build a relationship built upon trust and mutual accountability. I am continually impressed by our faculty and their dedication to our students and the mission of the university. I believe that the university and our students benefit when we can work together collaboratively, inclusively and transparently.”

Seyed H. Mousavinezhad, professor of electrical engineering and co-chair of the new Faculty Senate, said that 90 percent of the faulty had approved the new senate constitution and that the on-campus environment is now “very positive.”

Maricopa Community Colleges in Arizona could have been cited by the AAUP this year. Previously, an AAUP investigating committee looked into the actions of the governing board of the Maricopa County Community College District, which terminated a “meet-and-confer” process of shared governance. The board also did away with the entire faculty manual.

But since the AAUP’s first look, the situation for Maricopa’s faculty members has “taken a welcome turn,” the association reported Saturday. The board has new members and a new president, who reversed the actions of their predecessors, for example.

Also at its meeting Saturday, the AAUP honored Jennifer K. Kerns, assistant professor of history at Portland State University, and Christine Blasey Ford, professor of psychology at Palo Alto University, with its Georgina M. Smith Award. The award goes to those who have provided “exceptional leadership in a given year in improving the status of academic women or in academic collective bargaining and through that work has improved the profession in general,” according to the AAUP. Ford, who accused U.S. Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault last year during his confirmation process, was not in attendance but accepted the honor.

Ford “demonstrated remarkable courage, grace and generosity in sharing her own story of sexual assault in the highly public and publicized U.S. Senate hearing,” according to the AAUP.

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