Organized Against Labor

Conservative group has been filing information requests and complaints against university centers that work with unions; AAUP charges violation of academic freedom.
October 12, 2009

In the last few years, a conservative legal organization has filed complaints and extensive information requests to at least 11 colleges and universities with regard to labor centers that conduct research about and offer programs for unions.

The American Association of University Professors, which has tracked the complaints, issued a statement about them Friday, charging that they are an attempt to violate the academic freedom of the academics who work in these programs.

The requests have come from the Landmark Legal Foundation, which is a critic of organized labor. Landmark’s complaints have sought detailed information about the activities of the labor centers, and suggested that they should be eliminated for not advancing a “public purpose,” charging that these centers are simply about promoting a “particular political ideology.”

The complaints and information requests have been filed at Evergreen State College; Florida International and Indiana Universities; and the Universities of California at Berkeley, California at Los Angeles, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts at Amherst, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The AAUP statement questioned the basis for the Landmark actions and said that the association was trying to undercut the labor centers by waging an ideological attack on them. Further, the statement noted that colleges and universities have a range of offerings for different organizations in society, and that labor unions are far from being the only type of organization to get attention.

"The claims of Landmark in regard to labor education are a fundamental threat to academic freedom, to the autonomy of higher education institutions and professionals in them, and to the responsibilities of each to serve society," the statement says. "They also run counter to common sense thinking about the role of educators and researchers, and of colleges and universities in society.

"Landmark focuses on labor education without addressing far more common centers and programs that serve private economic concerns and interests. Imagine a higher education institution which could not have a business school or economics department with centers or programs that educate future entrepreneurs or business leaders or provide in-service opportunities to current businesspersons.... Educating potential union leaders is not unlike educating potential CEOs and managers. Both are legitimate academic endeavors."

Mark R. Levin, president of Landmark, issued his own statement in response.

"We don't need any talking point lectures from an organization whose members have their snouts deep in the public trough," Levin said. "We're not surprised that the American Association of University Professors has taken a stand against the rule of law, transparency and real academic freedom. It's too much to ask that a partisan special interest group like AAUP would speak out against the proven misconduct brought to light by our complaints."


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