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New Data on Academic Freedom and Financial Exigency Policies

July 20, 2020

The American Association of University Professors today released a new kind of diagnostic tool for assessing institutions’ academic freedom. The report is a based on an examination of 198 college and university faculty handbooks’ and collective bargaining agreements’ policies on academic freedom, dismissal for cause, financial exigency and program discontinuance. The investigation loosely tracks a similar study from 2000, revealing changes over time.

The good news, from the AAUP’s point of view, is that many of its recommended policies and standards are still prevalent, or more prevalent, within these documents, than they were in 2000. The bad news is that some AAUP-backed policies concerning financial exigency, in particular, are lacking, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Seventy-three percent of the four-year institutions with a tenure system studied based their academic freedom policy directly on AAUP standards, according to the report. Three percent of institutions have no academic freedom statement, and 24 percent have an academic freedom statement not based on AAUP language.

On financial exigency, 95 percent of institutions studied have financial exigency policies that allow for the termination of appointments. Some 55 percent do not explicitly define those conditions, down from 69 percent in 2000. That’s an improvement, but the AAUP urges that institutions align their definitions of true financial exigency with the AAUP’s in a new era of COVID-19-related financial challenges, with layoffs a looming threat.

Policies surrounding termination also need to be shored up, to include procedural safeguards such as timely notice or severance pay, according to the association. Procedural safeguards for termination were included in about 66 percent of the sample documents, compared to just 50 percent in 2000, and they were most common at institutions with collective bargaining agreements.

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Colleen Flaherty

Colleen Flaherty, Reporter, covers faculty issues for Inside Higher Ed. Prior to joining the publication in 2012, Colleen was military editor at the Killeen Daily Herald, outside Fort Hood, Texas. Before that, she covered government and land use issues for the Greenwich Time and Hersam Acorn Newspapers in her home state of Connecticut. After graduating from McGill University in Montreal in 2005 with a degree in English literature, Colleen taught English and English as a second language in public schools in the Bronx, N.Y. She earned her M.S.Ed. from City University of New York Lehman College in 2008 as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. 

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