News from the 2012 AAUP Annual Meeting

The 2012 AAUP Annual Meeting and conference on higher education occurred this past week, and it was another interesting event. The AAUP censured 3 Louisiana Universities: Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, Northwestern State University and Southeastern Louisiana University.

The AAUP also passed a resolution critical of the University of Virginia board for a secret coup to oust its well-regarded president Teresa Sullivan (apparently because she resisted eliminating the German and classics departments).

Outgoing president Cary Nelson announced the 100,000-word draft report on Recommended Principles & Practices to Guide Academic-Industry Relationships, for which the AAUP is currently soliciting comments.

I should also note that this report on issues of corporatization and academia was dedicated to the late Victor Stone of the University of Illinois, who was national AAUP president (1982-84), and the production of the report was funded by a bequest from his estate. Victor’s name also came up for his efforts to protect academic freedom, in the session I organized on the 1960 case of Leo Koch, which featured Marjorie Heins (author of the forthcoming book, Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge), and Harry Hilton, a retired (but still active) University of Illinois professor who was president of the AAUP chapter back in 1960 when Koch was fired. (We were also fortunate to have Jordan Kurland of the AAUP in the audience, who reminded us of the important role that Koch’s moss collection played in the resolution of the case.)

During the conference, I also spoke on a panel with Mal Kline of conservative group Accuracy in Academia (where I argued for the AAUP to evaluate and grade the policies and protections for academic freedom at leading colleges around the country), and then debated Kline at the Heritage Foundation before a very thoughtful audience of 75 conservative interns in DC for the summer.

But the panel I was on that attracted the most media attention was one organized by the AAUP’s Colorado conference that addressed whether state conferences should do lengthy investigations of academic freedom cases.

I’ll return to this issue soon on Academe Blog, but I must disagree with Peter Schmidt’s claim that when victims of violations of academic freedom go to the AAUP, “many find it unwilling to take up their cause.” The AAUP does an enormous amount of work assisting faculty behind the scenes and often resolves cases quietly.

The problem is that the national AAUP is reluctant to publicly criticize colleges that violate academic freedom because it wants to maintain the appearance of being unbiased if it launches an investigation. But because the AAUP only ends up investigating a handful of cases every year, this excessive devotion to objectivity means that the vast majority of violations of academic freedom are never publicly condemned by the AAUP. This often leads to the false impression that the AAUP is inactive or ineffective or biased. Finding a way for the AAUP to improve its rapid-response advocacy while preserving the integrity of the Committee A investigations is one of the key issues that the organization needs to address.

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