Backseat Driving in the Clown Car

Backseat driving in the clown car: that’s what pundits are about, today.

In The New York Times, David Brooks tries to turn that around, making out that is those who disagree with him who have the red noses and squeeze horns. He mounts a defense of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) based on the idea that those he shills for are the wise and considerate and caring–and that everyone else is either raw material or the lunatic fringe (both left and right).

Education, to Brooks, “is to get students competitive with their international peers.” What the students need in their personal lives, or want, these don’t matter. What communities need, in terms of citizens and contributing members, doesn’t matter. And anyone who disagrees with Brooks and those he advocates for is a nut. A clown. Continue reading

James McKeen Cattell



One of the less-frequently mentioned founders of the AAUP is Columbia University psychologist James McKeen Cattell (1860-1944). Cattell was perhaps the most prominent academic gadfly of his time. He publicly called for the creation of the Association in 1912 and helped organize its founding, but never played a role in its leadership.

As editor of Science and several other academic journals, Cattell regularly commented on higher education in his publications and authored  a series of articles outlining his views on reforming academic governance, which he subsequently published as the book University Control in 1913. A fierce critic of Columbia president Nicholas Murray Butler and the office of the university president in American higher education in general, Cattell exclaimed “In the academic jungle the president is my black beast.” His detailed proposals on reforming the university included the election of the president by the faculty and of the governing board by the faculty, the other officers of the university, and the alumni. Continue reading

Strike Averted at University of Illinois at Chicago

News from the University of Illinois at Chicago faculty union (an AAUP/AFT joint union):

“STRIKE AVERTED- University of Illinois at Chicago United Faculty (Local 6456) has successfully negotiated a tentative agreement on labor contracts for tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty!”

We posted several articles during the earlier February 18 & 19 strike, including from Howard Bunsis and Jane Buck. Another strike was planned to begin on April 23.

Different Understandings of Academic Freedom

I’m going to disagree with the arguments in Aaron Barlow’s post earlier today about the meaning of academic freedom. When Patrick Deneen described academic freedom as permitting “the airing and defense of any and all views,” I think he was absolutely right (although Deneen did it in order to criticize academic freedom, arguing that “academic freedom is not a particularly conservative principle”).

Barlow tells us that academic freedom “was intended as a particular right of the faculty granted for quite specific purposes–and with clear limitations.”Indeed, that’s quite true, but only if you keep the past tense intact.

Continue reading

Please Stand with the Educators and Academic Professionals at Portland State University!

By a 94%-6% margin, the AAUP chapter at Portland State University has voted to strike on April 16 if substantive progress has not been made in their contract negotiations with their administration.

They ask that you show your support for that vote by signing this petition:

They were initially hoping to get at least 1,000 signatures on the petition. They have already surpassed that goal.

The chapter leadership feels very strongly that Portland State University is headed in the wrong direction. The faculty and academic professionals are fighting for a contract that will refocus the university on academic priorities and, in the process, contribute to the broader defense quality public higher education. Continue reading

Columbia College Chicago Restores Second Section of Controversial Class

Peter Kirstein notes on his blog about an important development in a recent case: “Columbia College in Chicago is offering two sections of the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict course in their fall 2014 semester offerings. Instructor Iymen Chehade has been in the middle of a major academic freedom case concerning a prior reduction of sections of this class. It is to the credit of Columbia College that they have shown the flexibility and the commitment to academic freedom to restore the offering of two and not merely one section of this heavily enrolled course.”

Read more about the case in the Chicago Reader, and a statement by Guy Davidi, the co-director of 5 Broken Cameras, the Oscar-nominated documentary that sparked one student complaint last fall about bias after Chehade showed it in his class about Israel and Palestine, which was shortly followed by one out of two sections of the class being cancelled for Spring 2014. The Illinois AAUP’s Committee A (of which I am a member) issued a report about the case, along with a response from Columbia College (which denied that the complaint had any role in cancellation of the section).


Three Years Ago, Senate Bill 5 Was Signed into Law in Ohio

This is a post by John McNay, President of the Ohio Conference of AAUP and the author of Collective Bargaining and The Battle of Ohio: The Defeat of Senate Bill 5 and the Struggle to Defend the Middle Class (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) [].

Three years ago, on March 31, 2011, the Republican-dominated Ohio legislature passed Senate Bill 5 in the face of overwhelming public protests. That evening Gov. John Kasich had a celebratory signing ceremony covered by statewide television. Senate Bill 5, derived mainly from the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, was designed to crush public unions across the state.

Championed by Gov. Kasich, SB 5 was the centerpiece of his legislative agenda­, and was defended as necessary to close a $6 billion budget gap. Proponents inaccurately blamed public workers for the deficit when, in fact, it was produced by years of irresponsible income tax cuts imposed on the state combined with the recessions. Since 2005, the income tax had been slashed by 31 percent. The crisis atmosphere was exploited by the Republican Party to try to impose extreme ideological positions on Ohio that in ordinary times Ohioans would not accept. Continue reading

Major Attack on Academic Freedom in Michigan

In the Michigan Senate, the Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee included in its budget proposal a penalty against any public college or university that teaches a labor-related course or offers a labor-studies program.

Michigan State University has been considering an agreement to adopt a portion of programming from the National Labor College. A spokesperson for the university said in testimony before the subcommittee: “’We do also provide training for other groups, business groups, others on the other side of the aisle for how to work with unions on the management side. We also teach de-certification of unions as well.’”

Apparently the state senators found that testimony insufficiently reassuring, Continue reading

Tenure, The Presidential Veto and Abuse of Power

Guest Blogger Douglas Boyd is a Professor in the Department of Cancer Biology at the University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston.

The 1966 “Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities” (adopted by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) (, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities (AGBU), the American Council on Education (ACE) and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU)) stipulates unequivocally that “faculty status and related matters are primarily a faculty responsibility; this area includes appointments, reappointments, decisions not to reappoint,…” Importantly, many universities including ours (University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center), as members of these organizations, should follow these espoused principles. That said, a growing concern is that administrations at US academic institutions, including ours, are increasingly rendering tenure decisions contrary to the recommendations made by the faculty body responsible for evaluation of applications.

A presidential reversal of a recommendation made by the aforementioned faculty body has recently been in the academic spotlight with the AAUP investigating the case of an Assistant Professor denied tenure by the President at Northeastern Illinois University despite a unanimous recommendation by their Promotions and Tenure committee (PTC). In their report (Academe Dec 2013) the AAUP sided with the Assistant Professor concluding that the “President’s stated reasons lack credibility as grounds of denying tenure.” The AAUP, following the 1966 Statement on Government, stated that the “final decision lodged in the governing board …should be exercised adversely only in exceptional circumstances and for reasons communicated to the faculty.” Continue reading

No Credit for the Accreditor: It’s Time to Revise These Revisions

Guest Blogger Beth Evans is an Associate Professor of Library Science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.

Whether you believe that a library on your campus supports learning and research through print and electronic collections, or that the information literacy skills learned through research are integral to a college education, your thinking is in line with that of many educators, but may not be heading in the same direction as that of the policy makers at one of the major accrediting organizations.

Academic librarians became alarmed earlier this year when they learned of the proposed revisions to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) “Characteristics of Excellence,” the standards document that is used to evaluate the worthiness of a college or university.  The new guidelines reduce a 75 page document down to a scant 20 pages and reduce the number of standards by half, from 14 to seven. Continue reading