Why We Protest and the Meaning of AAUP Censure

POSTED BY HANK REICHMAN

In June the AAUP’s annual membership meeting voted unanimously to place the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York, on the association’s list of administrations censured for violations of academic freedom.  The censure concerns the action taken on December 11, 2015, by the administration of the college to eliminate twenty-seven academic programs and terminate the appointments of fourteen tenured and nine tenure-track faculty members as the result of an “academic program prioritization” process, as documented in a report to AAUP’s Committee A by an investigating committee.  The following column by AAUP member Kathleen Crowley, Professor of Psychology at the College of St. Rose, was published yesterday in the St. Rose Chronicle.

Why We Protest and the Meaning of AAUP Censure

By KATHLEEN CROWLEY
Professor of Psychology

Some questions recently have been raised regarding the value of the ongoing protests that have occurred on campus over the past year.

There are many reasons for the protests but here is a critical one: The century-old American Association of University Professors (AAUP) which has set the nationally-accepted standards for tenure, shared governance and academic freedom (the foundations of American higher education) formally and unanimously censured President Stefanco’s administration and the Board of Trustees for terminating 23 tenured and tenure-track faculty members and unilaterally eliminating 27 programs at their annual national meeting held in Washington, DC.

I, and many others who protest, concur with the AAUP’s investigating committee’s conclusion that by terminating 14 tenured appointments, the President demonstrated a total “disregard for the institution of tenure, set a dangerous precedent, and dealt a withering blow to tenure and academic freedom.”
The censure makes it clear that we who protest are not alone in our opinion of the severity and inappropriateness of the President and Board of Trustees’ actions.

The bottom line is that Saint Rose’s executive administration was found as having behaved in an extraordinarily improper way in relation to nationally recognized standards and in violation of our faculty contracts and our faculty manual.

So our protests are not just because some important programs were cut, but because the academic mission and the integrity of shared governance (in which the faculty are supposed to have primary control of the curriculum and academic policies) have been wholly compromised by this executive administration.

For example, our faculty manual states that tenured professors cannot be fired for financial reasons unless the President formally declares a state of financial exigency and opens the books for all to see. She never did that.

As many may recall, these violations also led to a faculty vote of “no confidence” in the President by a margin of 125 to 35 last spring semester—a significant majority of the full-time faculty of the College.

These facts make it clear that it is not just a small group of protestors who are outraged by the actions taken by Stefanco, but a clear majority of the full-time faculty. This is another reason why some of us exercise our Constitutional rights to free speech and raise our voices in protests.
And because we believe these important issues must be fixed, we will continue to demand change and to protest ongoing violations of our contract, faculty manual, and agreements on shared governance.

We also will continue to demand a restoration of the principles upon which Saint Rose was founded—its social justice mission and ideals, and promises that were made to the faculty in writing.

So to be clear, we faculty members are not merely complaining about the loss of important programs or even the loss of our very dear colleagues, who in some cases have lost their very livelihoods. We are protesting past and ongoing abuses of tenure, shared governance, and academic freedom.

It also is important to note that the faculty did NOT protest when, in May 2015, health care costs doubled (or tripled in many cases), tuition remission for family members was reduced to 80 percent, professional development support was eliminated and the College’s contributions to our retirement funds were wiped out.

Many of us had our compensation reduced by 20 percent or more—a huge financial blow to faculty struggling to pay mortgages, raise children and save for retirement on salaries that were already very much below those of our peers at comparable institutions.

We did not protest because most faculty and staff believed these cuts were needed based on a purported financial crisis described by the President (but who did not declare formal financial exigency), and we were willing to do our part to save our beloved College.

Nor did we protest when, in clear violation of AAUP policies on freedom of speech and academic freedom, our access to group email for the full faculty was unilaterally eliminated by Board mandate.

We didn’t protest even when the undergraduate transfer credit academic policy was unilaterally changed above the vocal objections and votes of the faculty—the professionals who are presumed to have the expertise to determine academic policy in a shared governance model.

We ultimately protested only when the executive administration seized control of the curriculum from faculty by making unilateral cuts that threatened the very fabric of our academic mission, and destroyed what had been until 2014 a collegial working relationship for many years.

The majority of voting faculty also objected to the unbelievably short time frame under which the cuts were made (around six weeks), the lack of what most faculty thought was an opportunity for sincere and deliberative consultation.

Finally, we also protested the absolute absence of required faculty votes on these major cuts—some of which made no sense and still seem unjustified. It is difficult to fathom how Spanish, Environmental Science, Sociology or the money-making Masters of Fine Arts programs were “low growth” or costly and no hard data have been provided to faculty to justify those decisions.

So why don’t we just get over it and move on? The answer is because we continue to lack shared governance, tenure currently has no substantive meaning, our academic freedom is still compromised, many of the cuts still make no sense, and in some cases the cuts are proving difficult to implement.

In addition, it appears that large sums of money have been used by the senior administration on legal fees, severance settlements and new hires—belying the notion that saving money was the primary impetus for these changes. These expenditures make us skeptical about the real reasons for the cuts and fuel our protests further.

Therefore, it is clear that those of us who protest are not “whining” over the loss of a few liberal arts courses that “students don’t want to take any way” (but which they very well may need as they enter a globalized, competitive marketplace that requires ongoing adaptation and learning, often outside of one’s dated college major).

No, instead, we are protesting the ongoing loss of the rightful role of the faculty, the rejection of our acknowledged expertise regarding the curriculum, and the utter loss of our contractually guaranteed tenure rights, role in shared governance and academic freedom.

We also are protesting to fight against the sense of fear and hopelessness that now pervades many parts of our community. Indeed, many faculty (and even more staff) seem scared to speak out—they say they are keeping their heads down. Still others have decided to just teach their classes and just go home—withdrawing from many of the extra activities they used to engage in that enriched our students and our entire campus community.

Finally, here is the key reason we will continue to protest: We want our Saint Rose back—a true collegial community, committed to academic excellence through shared governance, academic freedom, free speech, and tenure that is respected by our leadership in both words and actions.

Our new “Home” does not feel like the place so many of us have loved and served for decades, so we are fighting for the Saint Rose mission and spirit—so that it survives and flourishes into the future for generations of students to come.

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