A Century of Change

In the January–February 2015 Academe issue, Ann H. Franke provides an overview of the AAUP’s century-long role in upholding and protecting the principles of academic freedom and tenure.

In her article, “A Century of Change,” Franke offers her thoughts about “how things have been going and where they may be headed with that critical task.” Along the way, she also poses the question of how the AAUP’s founders would look upon the work of the Association, as well as whether or not they would recognize the current state of higher education and the defense of academic freedom.

Franke breaks down her examination of the AAUP’s work into several overarching themes, including advances for academic freedom, changes in tenure, shared governance and ethics, and academic freedom and the law. Through her study of the AAUP’s work over the past century, Franke finds a number of readily accessible examples of the AAUP’s longstanding efforts to defend academic freedom, often in conjunction with societal changes that radically influenced how academic freedom was treated in higher education.

Franke notes a large number of the AAUP’s policy documents that defend academic freedom by establishing well-respected guidelines honored by a wide range of partner organizations and associations, none more important than the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure:

The pinnacle achievement of the century in protecting academic freedom is indisputably adoption of the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. The AAUP and the Association of American Colleges, then the leading organization of academic institutions, jointly drafted the statement. It has been endorsed by more than 240 learned societies and educational organizations and incorporated, in whole or in part, into countless faculty handbooks and institutional regulations. It serves as the bedrock for American principles of academic freedom and tenure. Basic concepts of the 1940 statement include academic freedom for faculty members in their teaching and research and freedom in making extramural utterances. These rights are not absolute, as each carries limitations. Other key elements include a time-limited probationary period followed by the award of tenure or the individual’s departure and dismissal for cause only after the institution has afforded a proper hearing and carried the burden of proof. The 1940 statement draws legitimacy on these and other points from its joint parentage. It would behoove the Association going forward to seek occasional opportunities for similar collaboration with administrative groups.

Franke points to the AAUP’s continued work across the United States, as well as its efforts to work with and collaborate with faculty in other countries, as examples of the Association’s continued dedication to taking on issues of academic freedom. Franke concludes that growing attacks on higher education faculty, a decrease in tenure coupled with a sharp uptick in contingency, and a perceived increase in the number of injustices directed at faculty in academia combine to provide faculty with a diminished sense of freedom to express controversial opinions in an open fashion.

As she notes near the end of her article, “A centennial is an occasion for celebration. Yet the willingness of individual faculty members to express controversial opinions may be declining, to the detriment of free inquiry and, ultimately, to the detriment of society.”

Note: A fuller discussion of this topic may be found in the January-February issue of Academe in “A Century of Change”, an essay by Ann H. Franke.

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