3 Colleges Censured

Meharry Medical College, U. of the Cumberlands, and Virginia State join AAUP's bad list. Southern Nazarene and Wingate get off it.
June 13, 2005

The American Association of University Professors on Saturday added three colleges to its list of censured institutions, and took two institutions off the list. The net change leaves 47 colleges on the list of colleges "not observing the generally recognized principles of academic freedom and tenure."

The association voted at its annual meeting to censure Meharry Medical College, the University of the Cumberlands, and Virginia State University. Southern Nazarene and Wingate Universities were voted off the list. In addition, the association condemned recent actions at Benedict College and at the City University of New York.

Institutions are placed on the list following investigations by an AAUP investigating committee and a review by the association's Committee A on Academic Freedom. Typically institutions are only removed from the list after negotiations with the association and changes in policies.

Joan W. Scott, chair of the academic freedom committee, said that the cases of censure this year illustrated a continuing problem with "autocratic presidents" who ignore faculty rights.

Two of the colleges censured Saturday (Meharry and Virginia State) along with one of the colleges criticized (Benedict) and the only college added to the censure list last year (Philander Smith) are historically black. Scott, a professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, N.J., said that she thought there was "a culture of autocracy" at some historically black colleges. A similar problem exists at small religious colleges, she said, a group that is also disproportionately represented on the AAUP's censure list.

"Too many presidents at these institutions have a sense of being outside the general rules of shared governance," she said.

Scott stressed that the actions against historically black colleges were all taken at the request of faculty members -- most of them black -- and that problems at the colleges were hurting black students and professors.

The stars of Saturday's session were in fact professors from Benedict, who received three standing ovations and an award from the AAUP.

Benedict is only the fourth college in the AAUP's history that has been deemed worthy of special condemnation after already being on the censure list, where the college has been since 1994 because of its policies on faculty appointments. The more recent controversy involves Benedict's policy of grading freshmen and sophomores as much on their effort as on their actual accomplishments. Professors complained that the policy forced them to pass students whose achievement did not come close to demonstrating basic concepts of their courses.

The AAUP found that Benedict's president dismissed professors and demoted department chairs who disagreed with the grading policy, which was adopted without faculty input. Benedict officials could not be reached for comment on the AAUP's vote this weekend. But David H. Swinton, the college's president, wrote to AAUP investigators that "we are confident that our policies are appropriate and do not seek your support to deal with our internal personnel matters." Swinton also published a defense of his grading policy on the college's Web site.

On the List

The colleges censured this year all dismissed faculty members in ways that violate AAUP principles about tenure and due process.

Meharry Medical College was criticized for its dismissal of 11 professors. The AAUP's investigative report found that although they had served at the college well beyond the probationary period, they were never given the protections of tenure and that in fact the college had downgraded the concept of tenure so that it provided only minimal protections. The AAUP also found that two of the professors at the Tennessee institution who had lost their jobs were being punished for their disagreements with administrators. "Beyond its treatment of the issues of academic freedom at Meharry Medical College, the investigating committee found that the administration had virtually abrogated any system of faculty governance," the report said.

Officials at Meharry could not be reached for comment. John E. Maupin, Jr., Meharry's president, did write to the AAUP, however, that "your investigation placed too much credence upon the statements of a few disgruntled former faculty members" and that "our system of faculty governance does in fact share authority."

The University of the Cumberlands was placed on the censure list over a dispute that started because of a Web site (currently viewable only on an archive of defunct sites) created by a professor who criticized some of the financial decisions being made at the college and who questioned whether the Kentucky Baptist institution needed to do more to invigorate religious life on the campus. The AAUP found that the university forced the professor out of his job and then forced out of a job the department chair who had not wanted to get rid of the professor.

"The institution's policies and practices, the committee concluded, precluded any effective faculty role in academic governance and contribute to an atmosphere that stifles the freedom of faculty to question and criticize administrative decisions and actions," the AAUP report said.

University officials told the AAUP that there were errors in its report, but declined to elaborate on what they were.

Virginia State University, which has seen repeated faculty-administration strife in recent years, was cited by the AAUP for how two faculty members were dismissed following post-tenure reviews. The association found that officials judged the professors unfairly, denied them fair reviews, and then denied them due process after the reviews. More broadly, the AAUP found serious flaws in the system of faculty governance at Virginia State -- flaws that severely limited professors' rights.

Officials of Virginia State were not available this weekend. Previously, they have said that there were unspecified mistakes in the AAUP's investigation.

Concerns Over CUNY

The association's decision regarding the City University of New York relates to a report that is months old -- and to events in the last few weeks. The main issue in the report was the dismissal of Mohamed Yousry from his position as an adjunct at York College of CUNY. Yousry lost his position after he was indicted on charges of assisting terrorist organizations through his work translating Arabic for a lawyer who was the main target of the indictment.

The AAUP investigating team found that Yousry's rights were violated because he did not receive due process before losing his position. Yousry has since been convicted, although he is appealing, and CUNY officials have said that they would reinstate him if he is ultimately cleared.

Beyond the Yousry case, association members said that they feared a general erosion of academic freedom in the CUNY system. Several cited the way the central administration and the leaders of Brooklyn College did not defend Timothy Shortell, a professor who was elected to chair the sociology department, but withdrew amid press criticism of his previous writings that harshly criticized religious people.

The AAUP adopted a resolution expressing "grave concern" about the state of academic freedom at CUNY and ordering a broad investigation of the state of faculty rights there.

Scott, the chair of the AAUP's academic freedom committee, said that she was concerned about CUNY leaders "readily capitulating to outside pressures," and she said that whenever university leaders do that, "others are emboldened" to attack faculty members.

Jay Hershenson, CUNY's vice chancellor for university relations, said in an e-mail message Saturday that administrators would review the AAUP resolution when they receive it. "We are confident that CUNY has acted consistently with the important principles of academic freedom," he said.

Off the List

At the two institutions at which the AAUP lifted censure, administrators have both changed policies that led to censure and offered compensation to faculty members who were hurt by the old policies.

Southern Nazarene University was placed on the censure list in 1987, after eight professors lost their positions. The university originally cited financial problems to explain the dismissals, but then said that the professors had lost their jobs for issues related to performance. The AAUP said that the university's actions violated the due process rights of the professors since they did not have the chance to appeal the decisions to terminate them. And the association found more broadly that there was not a tenure system in place.

In the last year, however, Southern Nazarene has instituted policies that grant tenure after five years of service and define circumstances under which finances could be used to justify dismissing a professor. The university also reached settlements with the four faculty members from the original eight who had not previously reached settlements with the university.

Wingate University was placed on the censure list in 1979, after it decided not to renew the contracts of six faculty members whose one-year contracts had expired. The AAUP found that three of the instructors had been on the faculty for more than  a decade, but -- in violation of association policy -- had not been granted tenure or the right to seek tenure. In the other three cases, the association found that Wingate had not provided the faculty members with basic rights about contract renewal, and that the university "lacked a meaningful system of tenure."

In the last year and a half, the association said, Wingate's faculty and board have adopted a series of policies to create a tenure system and to provide rights to those working on contracts. Of the six faculty members who were dismissed, three sought the AAUP's help. In the intervening years, one of them died, but the other two reached financial settlements with the college.


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