A Century of the AAUP: An Interview with Hans-Joerg Tiede

Hans-Joerg Tiede, a professor of computer science at Illinois Wesleyan University who will be joining the AAUP staff next year, has written a new book about the early history of the AAUP, University Reform: The Founding of the American Association of University Professors (Johns Hopkins University Press). John K. Wilson interviewed Tiede via email about his new book for Illinois Academe.

Illinois Academe: You found a fascinating quote from Arthur Lovejoy, arguably the most important founder of the AAUP, stating in the earliest exchange about the group in 1912 that he wanted the AAUP to be a “trade union” using a “big stick” militantly, but that goal needed to be secondary to prevent “excellent men” from avoiding the group. Was the early focus of the AAUP on academic freedom really an accident or just a secret scheme by Lovejoy? Or is it a mistake to try to understand the purpose of the AAUP from the sometimes contradictory and changing ideas of Lovejoy?

Hans-Joerg Tiede: There is no doubt that Lovejoy had a strong interest in the defense of academic freedom and in having the AAUP serve in that function. But I think it’s important to recognize that even Lovejoy had other goals for the establishment of the AAUP, most notably to have it serve as an organized voice against coordinated efforts to standardize higher education that did not include the professoriate. However, when you look at the activities of the AAUP in its first year, you can get the impression that the founders of the AAUP had come together specifically to create an organization with the sole or primary purpose of defending academic freedom. That is not what happened. Although the first call for the founding of the AAUP mentioned academic freedom, by the time of the founding meeting, the organizing committee decided not to propose academic freedom as one of the issues to take up. It was Seligman who proposed from the floor of the meeting for the issue to be taken up, and it was the case at the University of Utah a few months later that created the impetus to put that proposal into action. And so, to that extent, it was accidental.

I do think that it matters what goals Lovejoy had for the AAUP, because it was primarily through his efforts that the association was founded. I don’t think that his views were so much contradictory as that the goals that Lovejoy had for the AAUP were at times in competition with one another. And so, rather than a “secret scheme,” I think Lovejoy was trying to advance different goals at different times. For example, when Lovejoy served as AAUP president in 1919, a large portion of his efforts was directed toward negotiations with the Carnegie Foundation over the establishment of TIAA. It mattered a great deal to Lovejoy that the AAUP was being recognized as the voice of the professoriate, and he considered this an important achievement. And so, I read that quote you cite as an indication that Lovejoy was cognizant of the competition between different goals from the start.

Illinois Academe: The irony is that Lovejoy was writing about a “trade union” to James McKeen Cattell, a leftist professor later fired by Columbia for his criticism of World War I, and Cattell’s case helped spark the AAUP’s statement on academic freedom during wartime, largely written by Lovejoy. That report is attacked today for abandoning academic freedom, and because its ideas led the AAUP to largely ignore the Red Scare that followed. If the US had never joined in World War I, how might the AAUP’s history and its approach to academic freedom have been different?

Tiede: I would argue that of primary importance here is the impact that World War I and the first Red Scare had on the AAUP’s views on governance. While both Lovejoy and Cattell had proposed fairly radical changes to the prevailing mode of governance, the AAUP’s committee on governance prepared its first report at the height of the 1919 Red Scare. The kinds of views that Lovejoy and Cattell had expressed, which advocated a much more significant reduction in the powers of governing boards than the AAUP would ever subsequently endorse, were now being labeled as “bolshevik.” And so the 1920 report of the governance committee explicitly recognized the authority of governing boards, in my estimation so as to avoid being red baited. To get back to your question, had the AAUP been able to advance Lovejoy and Cattell’s original ideas for reforming governance, the AAUP’s approach to academic freedom arguably would have unfolded differently. A “self governing republic of scholars,” for which Lovejoy had advocated in 1914, would have provided a firmer foundation for academic freedom than the governance structure of today’s corporate university.

Illinois Academe: It’s remarkable how often you write about how the early AAUP was anxious to appease conservatives, from making sure that a conservative was typically included in investigative committees to being careful not to seem too radical in its statements and reports. You quote an exasperated Lovejoy responding to complaints that the AAUP was ultra-conservative. How important was this attention to conservatives, and did it enhance the credibility of the AAUP, or did it lead to compromises that made it easier for universities to justify violations of academic freedom?

Tiede: Deference to conservative views certainly a factor in many of the activities of the AAUP, although perhaps the biggest defeat of conservatives was the adoption of the 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, the founding document of the AAUP, at the second annual meeting, which almost did not happen because of the significant conservative opposition it faced. Immediately thereafter, the AAUP compromised its owns views with the 1917 report on Academic Freedom in Wartime, which not only reflected conservative views among the members but also the jingoism that prevailed throughout the entire country. It is important to note, however, how widespread those views were: Academic Freedom in Wartime was adopted by the 1917 annual meeting with a single dissenting vote. Moreover, even though the AAUP did not defend academic freedom during the war or the Red Scare, membership increased throughout the 1920s. And so, it appears that the AAUP’s credibility was enhanced by these compromises, at least among the professoriate, even though it justified violations of academic freedom. While it may seem remarkable, I see this as further evidence that the defense of academic freedom was just one among many competing goals.

Illinois Academe: What was the most surprising thing you found in your research, that contradicted the conventional views about the founding of the AAUP?

Tiede: On the one hand, the most surprising finding to me was that what I called “the founding myth” of the AAUP is really a myth: there is little evidence that the AAUP was founded in response to the Ross case at Stanford with the main purpose of defending academic freedom. But more importantly, I was surprised by the programmatic statements of the founders–Lovejoy, Cattell, and Dewey, in particular–on how to reform the system of governance. Dewey’s speech at the founding meeting (which was reprinted in Sciencehttp://www.jstor.org/stable/1640600) called that system “a heritage from colonial days and provincial habits.” Just as other reform movements of the Progressive Era advocated changes to a political system that they viewed as outdated, Lovejoy, Cattell, and Dewey were advocating changes to a system of governance that they did not see as adequate for the modern university. As we currently see advances to shared governance made over the course of the last 100 years be eroded, I think it’s centrally important to remember the program that marked the beginning of the AAUP.

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