To the Editor:
As widely reported in the academic press, Collin College is the subject of a report by an investigative committee of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) documenting egregious violations of academic freedom in the termination of three professors for speaking freely and criticizing institutional policies.
In response to the report, a spokeswoman for Collin College quoted in Inside Higher Ed made a number of statements that indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of the AAUP and the vitally important role it has played, since its founding in 1915, in shaping higher education in America, resulting in a system that is globally preeminent.
Over the past 107 years, the AAUP has made major contributions to the establishment and protection of academic freedom, due process, and shared governance. The AAUP’s most important policy document, the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, has been endorsed by over 250 and scholarly and educational associations. The Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities was jointly formulated with the American Council on Education and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, each of which commended the statement to its member organizations. In other words, AAUP policies aren’t simply AAUP policies; they are the gold standard of the profession, the policies that underlie academic excellence in our colleges and universities.
The AAUP encourages institutions to incorporate our policies into faculty handbooks, collective bargaining agreements, and other institutional governance documents. Some of our policy documents, like the Statement on Government, provide general principles to be crafted into institutional policy. Others, like the Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure, provide language best copied verbatim into an institution’s governing documents.
Collin College’s spokeswoman asserts that “the college has never adopted AAUP’s standards, nor has tenure ever been offered at Collin College. Instead, we are guided by the standards set out in our own board policies.” Of course, all institutions are guided by their own policies. Although Collin uses our 1940 Statement to define academic freedom in its institutional policies, it fails to include the key elements that protect academic freedom– tenure and academic due process. Without robust procedural protections for faculty, academic freedom is utterly meaningless.
Our investigative report vividly depicts the consequence of that failure: faculty members losing their jobs for expressing opinions, for speaking to the press in their areas of expertise without administrative approval, for drawing the ire of politicians, for questioning the wisdom of institutional policies, for affiliating with groups disfavored by the administration, for teaching challenging ideas that make students uncomfortable. Faculty members who work under these conditions, and the students who learn from them, are hampered in their ability to search for the truth and fulfill the purpose of higher education.
Collin’s spokeswoman accuses the AAUP of refusing to acknowledge that “tenure and academic freedom are not unqualified privileges that can be extorted by external groups for their own purposes.” It is made abundantly clear in the 1940 Statement that academic freedom and tenure are not privileges or perquisites but rather means to an end. Colleges and universities serve the common good by fostering the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge. Academic freedom provides faculty members the security they need to carry out those tasks, and tenure provides the most important protection of that freedom.
We can’t investigate every single violation of our principles and standards but, in cases like Collin College, where the violations were egregious and have implications for the wider academic community, the AAUP will hold administrations accountable as it has done for more than 100 years.
The Collin administration should work with the board of trustees and the faculty to revise the college's policies to align them with the AAUP's recommended standards. Legislators and regents in Texas should see in the investigative report what higher education looks like at an institution where tenure and academic freedom do not exist.
American Association of University Professors