Committee A Report to the 2015 AAUP Annual Meeting

The following is the text of the report of Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure as read by Committee Chair Henry Reichman to the 2015 AAUP Annual Meeting held on June 13 in Washington, D.C.  The formal annual written report of the Committee will be published in full as part of the annual AAUP Bulletin, in the July-August issue of Academe.

My principal task today is to present for your approval four recommendations to add institutions to the censure list and to remove another institution from that list. It is perhaps fitting that in this centennial year we conducted the same number of investigations as the infant AAUP conducted in its tumultuous and historic inaugural year. That we bring before you such a large number of cases — and, I might add, cases of major and significant national import — demonstrates that the past year has once again been a busy one for Committee A and for our Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance. Indeed, these cases are sadly but the tip of a larger iceberg threatening our most fundamental values. We clearly live in challenging times for higher education and the professoriate, so I want to begin by thanking you all for your hard work and dedication in support of the AAUP and its principles and to urge faculty members everywhere to join us in standing up for academic freedom, shared governance, quality higher education, and the common good.

Before turning to our most important items of business let me summarize the committee’s other activities during the past year.

A year ago I reported that, at its June 2014 meeting, the Committee appointed a subcommittee to draft a statement on so-called “trigger warnings” in colleges and universities, including in syllabi and other course materials. The statement was approved and published last August and attracted considerable attention throughout higher education. The statement, available on the AAUP website, declared:

A current threat to academic freedom in the classroom comes from a demand that teachers provide warnings in advance if assigned material contains anything that might trigger difficult emotional responses for students. This follows from earlier calls not to offend students’ sensibilities by introducing material that challenges their values and beliefs. . . . The presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual. It makes comfort a higher priority than intellectual engagement . . . . Trigger warnings suggest that classrooms should offer protection and comfort rather than an intellectually challenging education. They reduce students to vulnerable victims rather than full participants in the intellectual process of education. . . . The effect is to stifle thought on the part of both teachers and students who fear to raise questions that might make others “uncomfortable.”

Also last year I reported that a new administration at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge had taken important steps forward in response to the concerns that led to that institution’s placement on our censure list. However, at that time both the LSU administration and Committee A agreed that we were not yet at the point where censure should be lifted. Hence this meeting voted to delegate to Committee A authority to remove the censure providing certain remaining criteria were met. Unfortunately, I am obliged to report that when the Committee next met in November there had been no further progress. Then, in January, LSU President King Alexander informed the staff that “at this time, LSU does not plan to pursue any further action regarding removal of censure.” The staff responded by expressing hope that the president would soon change his mind and inviting him to “get back to us once you see fit to resume discussion.”

At its November 2014 meeting Committee A discussed at length the issue of “civility,” which was raised most directly by the then-developing case of Professor Steven Salaita at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but was highlighted as well by controversies at other universities. The Committee agreed that there was at this time no need for a new policy statement on the subject, instead instructing the staff to construct a page on the AAUP’s website containing Association documents that address the topic of civility and academic freedom. That page is currently available and I hope you will find it useful.

The issue of civility will also be a focus of the upcoming 2015 issue of AAUP’s online Journal of Academic Freedom, scheduled to appear in September. This issue has been put together by interim editor Michael Berube, a member of Committee A, and includes fifteen (!) meaty articles that will no doubt be of great interest to all of us. I want to take this opportunity to thank Michael for his work on this issue and also to urge you to read Michael’s recent book, coauthored with Jennifer Ruth, The Humanities, Higher Education, and Academic Freedom: Three Necessary Arguments; it’s concise, necessary, and terrific. On the issue of “civility,” I must also refer you to an excellent article on the topic that appeared this spring in the Nation magazine, written by Joan W. Scott, a member (and former chair) of Committee A. This article, which you can find online, derived from an address delivered at a major celebration of AAUP’s centennial held at my own campus, California State University, East Bay, in March and is well worth reading.

At its Spring meeting two weeks ago, in addition to formulating and approving the motions for censure and censure removal that you will shortly consider, Committee A discussed at length reports concerning the increasing reliance by college and university administrations on policies and procedures that disregard AAUP-recommended principles and procedural standards in responding to Title IX harassment complaints. The Committee agreed to invite the Committee on Women in the Profession to work with us on developing a report on this issue — similar, perhaps, to our 2009 report on the Garcetti decision. I am pleased to report that our invitation was accepted and that a joint subcommittee, to also include AAUP General Counsel Risa Lieberwitz, will begin work on this project soon.

The Committee also discussed developments involving New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus. As reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, the United Arab Emirates has denied an entry visa to NYU faculty member Andrew Ross, who is President of our chapter at that institution. Professor Ross was to conduct research on labor conditions in Abu Dhabi. In March, the AAUP issued a statement, drawing on our 2009 statement “On Conditions of Employment at Overseas Campuses,” formulated jointly with the Canadian Association of University Teachers. The statement emphasized that this “denial of entry has ominous implications for the state of academic freedom at NYU’s branch campus in Abu Dhabi” and called on “the administration of NYU to make every effort to get the ban on Professor Ross lifted and, should such efforts fail, to work with its faculty to reconsider its role in the emirate.” Seeing no movement toward a successful resolution, the Committee decided to ask the staff to write to the NYU president restating the AAUP’s concerns and inquiring what the NYU administration has done and intends to do to address the ban.

The committee also considered a brief statement of the Association’s official position on academic due process for full-time contingent faculty members with more than seven years of service. This statement should be complete and available by Fall, if not sooner.

While we were meeting two weeks ago, the Joint Finance Committee of the Wisconsin Legislature approved now infamous proposals to remove tenure from statute, weaken shared governance, and adopt layoff procedures for financial distress that are wholly inconsistent with AAUP standards and threaten to make a mockery of Wisconsin’s longstanding embrace of academic freedom. The measures not surprisingly prompted considerable informal discussion in Committee A. Later in this meeting you will be presented with a resolution on the Wisconsin situation that I urge you to approve.

On June 2, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, held a public hearing on “First Amendment Protections on Public College and University Campuses.” The subcommittee heard testimony from a Christian rights group, two individuals, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), but not the AAUP, an exclusion not all that surprising given the current Congressional leadership. While much of this testimony was actually consistent with AAUP principles, the only substantive consideration of faculty expression was limited to a discussion of the Garcetti decision by the witness from FIRE. I therefore this week submitted on behalf of the Association an extensive written public comment that responded to the written testimony but also raised additional issues impacting academic freedom and First Amendment rights, including censorship of social media, the use of specious financial justifications to limit faculty free expression, and the impact on academic freedom of the abuse of non-tenure-track faculty appointments. It is our hope that in future the Congress will include the AAUP in its deliberations on such matters from the start.

The three issues that I discussed in my comment to the subcommittee are central to the censure proposals that you will momentarily consider. But before presenting these items I want lastly to inform you of developments in our Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance. Donna Young, who joined our staff a year ago and quickly became a favorite of our activists, will, alas, be returning to her faculty position at the Albany Law School, although she will continue to contribute to the Committee’s work in other ways. Please join me in thanking her for her excellent work. I am pleased to report, however, that we have secured the services of an extraordinary replacement. Many of you know and have worked with Joerg Tiede, currently a member of Committee A and the Committee on Governance, as well as President of the Assembly of State Conferences and a member of Council. Joerg also edited the new 11th Edition of the Red Book, which appeared in January. I’m sure you’ll agree that he did a splendid job and that the new edition of the book is a much-needed and useful tool for faculty everywhere. If you haven’t yet done so, please buy a copy. Now Joerg has accepted our offer to join the staff of the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance effective January 1. I can’t express in words how excited this makes me. Other than Jordan Kurland, who we so deservedly honored earlier today, no one knows the history and policies of AAUP as thoroughly as Joerg. I hope you will agree that we couldn’t have found a better person. I also want to take this opportunity to welcome to the department our new Administrative Assistant, Donna Banks. In just a few short months Donna has proven to be an invaluable asset to our Association.

Now, let me turn to the business of the day. We first have the case of Felician College, whose administration we are recommending be placed on our censure list. The AAUP Council has concurred with this recommendation. I now move that the annual meeting approve the statement on Felician College that you have in your packets and which I will now read.

[The text of the statement may be found here; the investigative report on which it is based is here.]

Next, we have the case of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, whose administration we are recommending be placed on our censure list. The AAUP Council has concurred with this recommendation. I now move that the annual meeting approve the statement on the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center that you have in your packets and which I will now read.

[The text of the statement may be found here; the investigative report on which it is based is here.]

Next, we have the case of the University of Southern Maine, whose administration we are recommending be placed on our censure list. The AAUP Council has concurred with this recommendation. I now move that the annual meeting approve the statement on the University of Southern Maine that you have in your packets and which I will now read.

[The text of the statement may be found here; the investigative report on which it is based is here.]

Finally, we have the case of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, whose administration we are recommending be placed on our censure list. The AAUP Council has concurred with this recommendation. I now move that the annual meeting approve the statement on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that you have in your packets. Because I was a member of the investigating subcommittee in this case and therefore, in accordance with our practice, recused myself from the vote in Committee, I will also recuse myself from reading this statement and instead ask President Fichtenbaum to do so.

[The text of the statement may be found here; the investigative report on which it is based is here.]

Lastly, I am happy to recommend approval of a resolution to remove the administration of Yeshiva University from the censure list. The Council has concurred with this recommendation. I now move that the annual meeting approve the statement on Yeshiva University that you have in your packets and which I will now read.

[The text of the statement may be found here;the original investigative report is here.]

In conclusion I want to thank the members of Committee A for their tireless work on behalf of the principles of academic freedom, our profession, and the AAUP. I would also like to thank the members of the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance as well as other members of our devoted national staff for their support of the Committee and their hard work on behalf of academic freedom, shared governance, and the common good throughout higher education.

That concludes the report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

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