BY HENRY REICHMAN
During his 50+ years on the AAUP staff Jordan E. Kurland, who died on Saturday at the age of 87, must have helped thousands of faculty members resist challenges to their academic freedom. Yet because he never sought the spotlight for himself, Jordan and his remarkable work remained largely unknown to most college and university teachers, including probably the majority of AAUP members. But Jordan was a titan, a near-legendary figure among those privileged to have worked with him. About 15 years ago he began working 80% time, but his mind and effort were always 100% and more dedicated to the AAUP, the scholarly profession, and the cause of academic freedom. In an email to Association leaders, AAUP Executive Director Julie Schmid called attention to “Jordan’s incredible intelligence, his acumen as a strategic thinker, and his commitment to his staff colleagues.” Greg Scholtz, Director of the AAUP Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance, who worked closely with Jordan in his last years said, “It’s a cliche, but he really was one of a kind. He had a genius for the work, and the work was his life.” Indeed, Jordan’s final day at work was January 8, less than three weeks before his passing, and to the end he was stubbornly promising a return to his desk.
Jordan joined the AAUP staff in 1965, having taken a leave of absence from his appointment at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, where he was active in the AAUP chapter. A native of Boston, Jordan attended Dartmouth College and earned BA and MA degrees in history at Boston University before commencing advanced study at the Russian Institute at Columbia University. He earned a Fulbright fellowship to conduct research in the Netherlands for his dissertation on Dutch-Russian relations in the 17th century; a second fellowship enabled a year of study in the Soviet Union. He remained interested in Russian affairs until his death. Jordan leaves behind his devoted wife of almost 69 years, Anita Siegel Kurland, four children, and eight grandchildren.
In June, as AAUP celebrated its centennial year, the annual meeting paused as well to honor Jordan with a resolution commemorating his 50 years of service as a staff member. That resolution reads:
Resolution Honoring Jordan E. Kurland on His Fifty Years of Service as a Member of the AAUP’s Professional Staff
Associate General Secretary Jordan E. Kurland joined the Association’s staff on June 16, 1965, having taken a leave of absence from his tenured appointment at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The year 2015 thus marks not only the AAUP’s centennial but also Jordan’s fiftieth anniversary as a member of the Association’s professional staff.
For most of that half century up to the present, he has presided over the Association’s major case work in academic freedom and tenure, despite having officially stepped down fifteen years ago as director of staff for Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure.
He has played a role in more than 90 percent of the case investigations conducted in the Association’s history, among them the 2007 investigation of five New Orleans universities after Hurricane Katrina, a major undertaking for which he was the responsible staff member. He has toiled incessantly to accomplish censure removal at scores of institutions, including all four of the universities censured as a result of the Katrina investigation and, at this annual meeting, the thirty-three-year-old censure at Yeshiva University.
He has been instrumental in maintaining the excellence that has characterized AAUP policy statements and reports on academic freedom, tenure, and governance, notably key sections of the Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which have been widely adopted in American higher education.
He has carried out these responsibilities with relentless dedication, zeal, and even joy, seeking no recognition for himself and putting to good use his powerful intellect, nearly photographic memory, remarkable creativity and flexibility, pointed eloquence, keen editorial skills, and encyclopedic knowledge of the AAUP’s history.
He has gained the affection, respect, and admiration of members of the AAUP’s staff and leadership with whom he has worked closely over the years—including many whom he mentored.
During the past fifty years, Jordan has contributed, quietly and behind the scenes, more than any other individual to the AAUP’s core endeavor of developing and implementing recommended standards on academic freedom, tenure, and governance.
The American Association of University Professors therefore takes great pleasure in honoring Jordan E. Kurland for his fifty years of service on the Association’s professional staff and, in particular, for his unrivalled contribution during the preceding half century to the Association’s historic mission of advancing the “standards, ideals, and welfare of the profession.”
Resolution Adopted by the One Hundred and First Annual Meeting
of the American Association of University Professors
June 13, 2015
On a more personal note, at last spring’s Committee A meeting Jordan was presented with a small book of tributes from Committee A members past and present who had worked with him. I was greatly honored to have been invited to contribute to this effort. Here is what I wrote:
When Rudy Fichtenbaum asked me if I would chair Committee A, I will confess to being more than a bit intimidated. I’d never served on the committee, was still relatively new to AAUP, and I feared that I might not win the respect of the staff. I was, to be honest, especially anxious about Jordan. It was not merely his nearly half century on the job that made me nervous; his reputation as a fighter was also a bit scary. How could I deal with him? What would happen if we disagreed?
Of course, there really was no basis for my concern. From the moment I began this work Jordan has been nothing if not encouraging, helpful and supportive. Yes, Jordan is a fighter — but he’s a fighter for us, for the AAUP, for its principles, and for beleaguered faculty members everywhere. And he’s also a teacher, and I’ve hopefully been one of his more attentive students.
Some might think that a man in his 80s, who’s been doing this job for fifty years, might be excused if he’s become a bit stodgy and old-fashioned. But other than his discomfort with new technologies — a discomfort that I, in my late 60s, am sadly starting to share — Jordan is as current and as innovative as anyone. Of course, over the past half-century the environment in higher education has changed dramatically, with the pace of change steadily accelerating. Grounded in the century-old principles for which he has fought his entire adult life, Jordan has faced this changing environment with equanimity and renewed energy. He hasn’t flinched from the need to defend our principles in new ways, but he is also living proof of the continued viability of our traditional defenses.
This year I taught a graduate course on the history of academic freedom, really a thinly-disguised method of teaching myself more about the AAUP’s past. In preparing for this course, I plowed through numerous investigative reports and other AAUP documents. And there, wherever I looked, I found Jordan. Counting his years as a member-activist in North Carolina, Jordan has been around for more than half our Association’s hundred-year history. If the AAUP remains a powerful force for the common good in higher education as it enters its second century, we have Jordan Kurland, as much or more than any other single individual, to thank. I am both grateful and honored that I’ve had the pleasure of working with him. As many have noted, Jordan is a living legend, but he is more than that — he’s a mensch.
With Jordan’s passing we will all be inclined to “end of an era” thoughts. But I’m convinced that Jordan wouldn’t be happy about that. He would be urging us to redouble our efforts and to recommit ourselves to the cause to which he dedicated most of his life. In that spirit, the spirit of Jordan Kurland, if you are reading this blog and you aren’t yet a member of the AAUP, please join. If you are a member, but aren’t yet active, get involved in your chapter or state conference. If you don’t have a chapter, why not organize one? The leadership and staff of the AAUP and the AAUP Foundation will be discussing an appropriate way to honor and continue Jordan’s legacy, but for now I urge you to donate to the AAUP Foundation Academic Freedom Fund, indicating with your donation that it is in memory of Jordan Kurland.