One hundred years ago today, the AAUP was founded at an organizational meeting at the Chemists’ Club in New York. A committee of 33 professors, chaired by John Dewey, organized the meeting. Among the members of the committee were Harvard law professor Roscoe Pound and Stanford engineering professor Guido Marx. Arthur Lovejoy served as secretary of the committee.
Much of the organizational meeting was taken up by the adoption of the constitution. One question that was debated at length was the eligibility of presidents for membership in the AAUP. At the time, presidents still largely came from the faculty ranks and in many cases still taught. However, the times were changing, and the “captains of erudition,” as Thorstein Veblen called the university presidents who were at the helm of many of the rising research universities, were increasingly seen as belonging to a separate category of “administration.” The meeting was not without humorous moments: upon the motion that presidents be admitted to membership with the right to speak but not vote, Columbia University psychology professor James McKeen Cattell moved to amend: they should be allowed to vote–but not speak. In the end, the meeting declared presidents ineligible for membership.
The question of whether academic freedom should be taken up as an issue during the first year was strongly contested among members of the organizational committee, and the committee did not include it among the topics it proposed to the meeting. However, Columbia University economics professor E. R. A. Seligman moved from the floor to address academic freedom during the first year, which was approved by the meeting. Seligman would serve as the chair of the AAUP’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure in 1915. The two most important accomplishments of the association during its first year were the investigation of dismissals at the University of Utah and the presentation of the AAUP’s founding document, the 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, at the second annual meeting.
Responding to a critic who complained that the AAUP had overemphasized academic freedom during its first year, Seligman wrote: “The reason why so little attention was paid to other things was because in the judgment of Dewey, Lovejoy, and myself, this question of academic freedom had to be gotten out of the way first, and the officers therefore devoted all their time to this. Another year the situation will be very different.” One has to marvel at Seligman’s optimism. While the AAUP has been extraordinarily successful in seeing its policies adopted by institutions throughout the United States over the course of the last 100 years, academic freedom violations still occur to this day. The question has not been gotten “out of the way,” and the AAUP is still needed to defend academic freedom one hundred years later.