Investigative Procedures in Academic Freedom and Tenure Cases

In her January–February 2015 Academe article, “Investigative Procedures in Academic Freedom and Tenure Cases,” Debra Nails describes the AAUP’s procedures for academic freedom and tenure investigations, in which dedicated member-volunteers work closely with staff to produce widely respected reports that treat serious violations of the AAUP’s principles and standards.

Using her own experiences from serving on the AAUP’s investigative committee, Nails recounts some of the methods, procedures, and techniques employed by the association as it conducts investigations into potential violations of academic freedom and tenure by institutions. Nails looks at the steps taken before an investigation is authorized, the authorization and preparation required to conduct an investigation, the institution visit and report, and then other investigative procedures which are employed to augment the validity and thoroughness of the association’s investigation. She says:

What can hardly be emphasized adequately is that each major step in the process, communicated to the head of the institution, provides an opportunity for the administration to avoid the castigation of censure: the staff’s mediative efforts, the executive director’s authorization of the investigation, the naming of the ad hoc investigating committee, the setting of dates for the campus visit, the visit itself, Committee A’s decision to release the report, the draft report inviting corrections and comments, publication, and the approach of the annual meeting—the only body that can impose or lift censure. At each preliminary step, administrative turnarounds are recorded in the hundred-year archive of the AAUP, and decisions to make reparations and revise policies on the eve, or even on the floor, of the annual meeting are not unknown. More important, if censure must be imposed, the staff continues to encourage the adoption of Association-supported policies and amelioration of harms already inflicted. It is disappointing that the success of such efforts often requires a change of senior administrators at the institution.

Nails stresses that it is imperative for the AAUP “to stand as a bulwark against the erosion of academic freedom.”

Note: A fuller discussion of this topic may be found in the January-February issue of Academe in “Investigative Procedures in Academic Freedom and Tenure Cases,” an essay by Debra Nails.

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