Developments Relating to Association Censure and Sanction

The following are brief accounts by the Association’s staff of significant developments over the past year involving administrations censured by the AAUP (for not observing principles of academic freedom and tenure) and institutions sanctioned by the AAUP (for infringement of governance standards). The accounts are in chronological order, according to the date of imposition of the censure or sanction. Information about the current status of other censures or sanctions (listed respectively on pages 48 and 47 elsewhere in this issue) can be obtained by sending an e-mail to academicfreedom@aaup.org or calling 202-737-5900, ext. 127.

 
—Gregory F. Scholtz
Director, Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance

Censure

St. Bonaventure University (New York), 1996

The published report concluded that the administration, in terminating the appointments of eighteen tenured professors on grounds of financial exigency, acted in contravention of the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure and derivative Association-supported standards by failing to provide adjudicative hearings and refusing to allow the presence of counsel in the appeals process. The president, in subsequently denying reappointment to an assistant professor, made an unsupported aspersion about the professor’s character that Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure found reprehensible.

Settlements were reached several years ago in all cases that were contested. Still to be achieved, however, is the adoption of acceptable policies for terminating appointments because of financial exigency. During the last two years, the current university president and AAUP chapter leaders have been seeking staff assistance in their efforts to gain agreement upon provisions on financial exigency that comport with AAUP-recommended standards. In February, at the administration’s request, the staff provided written comments on proposed revisions, expressing hope for prompt concurrence in them.

Lawrence Technological University (Michigan), 1998

An investigating committee’s report found that not even minimal safeguards of academic due process were afforded a professor whose appointment was terminated when his program was eliminated. The case was settled after he initiated litigation, and two additional cases the following year, one involving dismissal and the other suspension, also were resolved with out-of-court settlements.

In December 2007, the current university president informed the staff of pending changes in the university’s policies. The AAUP’s staff acknowledged several positive developments and went on to propose additional revisions that would help gain a Committee A recommendation for the censure to be lifted. No further developments occurred until September 2009, when the professor whose case was the subject of the investigation, now retired from a successful business career, contacted the staff to offer his assistance in effecting censure removal, his interest newly stirred by the possibility of a granddaughter’s attending the university. After the staff briefed him on the issues requiring resolution, he wrote to the president in October to ask for his support of handbook changes that address the AAUP’s remaining concerns. In January, the president expressed particular objection to one of the changes. However, it appeared that the objection arose from a misunderstanding of the AAUP-recommended policy. The staff wrote to the president in February to clarify the Association’s position. In the meantime, representatives of the Michigan AAUP conference who had been in contact with Lawrence Tech faculty members notified the staff of efforts to form an AAUP chapter on campus and of faculty interest in removing the censure. The AAUP staff has informed the faculty leaders of the handbook revisions necessary for removal, and it has offered to review any revisions that the faculty and administration agree to put forward for adoption by the governing board.

Virginia State University, 2005

The 2005 annual meeting placed Virginia State University on the Association’s list of censured administrations following an investigating committee’s report on the dismissal of two tenured professors, after each of them had been required to undergo post-tenure review. The committee found that the review made no provision for faculty-peer involvement in the performance evaluations that triggered the process, permitted an unsatisfactory evaluation to stand as grounds for dismissal, and placed the burden of proof for retention on the affected professors. The investigating committee also found that the two cases exemplified the deficiencies of a system of post-tenure review when used as a means for dismissing unwanted tenured members of the faculty.

The investigating committee concluded that the VSU administration acted in violation of the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure in dismissing the two professors without having demonstrated cause, and that it suspended one of the professors from teaching without evidence that her continuance represented a threat of immediate harm, as required under the 1958 Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings. Additional findings included the virtual absence of notice or severance salary given to the affected faculty members and failure to meet the standards for faculty participation in institutional governance as enunciated in the Association’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities.

Settlements in the two cases were reached several years ago. Over the past year the Association’s staff has been in frequent communication with officers of the VSU administration and the faculty regarding revisions in university policies and procedures that would bring them into essential conformity with Association-recommended standards, particularly applicable to dismissals for cause. The president of the local AAUP chapter informed the staff in late winter that the administration and faculty have agreed to most of the proposed changes, but the university’s board of visitors has yet to adopt them.

Sanction

Lindenwood University (Missouri), 1994

The 1994 report of the investigating committee dealt with conditions of academic government at Lindenwood College (now Lindenwood University). Based on the findings and conclusions of that report, the Association’s Eightieth Annual Meeting placed Lindenwood on the list of institutions sanctioned for substantial noncompliance with generally accepted standards of academic government.

Prior to the investigation that led to the imposition of sanction, the college’s governing documents had been premised on a commitment to shared authority and cooperative action. The faculty was significantly involved in institutional government and had an effective voice in determining the basic policies of the college. A new administration, however, effected drastic changes in academic government, replacing the existing governance structure with a system in which authority was concentrated in the office of the president. Faculty meetings were conducted with rigidly controlled agendas, with little purpose other than to hear reports and announcements of decisions previously made, or actions already taken, by the president. Governance practices at the college, the investigating committee found, did not provide for a meaningful faculty role in such fundamental areas as educational policy, faculty status, and related matters where the Association’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities accords the faculty primary responsibility. Although Lindenwood College’s official policies had previously provided for a system of tenure and academic due process modeled on the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the administration in office at the time of the investigation had issued a new edition of the faculty handbook, and the faculty was informed that “the College does not grant tenure.”

Three years ago, a new president took office. Since his appointment, according to senior faculty sources at the university, conditions of academic government have changed dramatically for the better. These sources report that new structures of shared governance have been established, and the faculty plays a meaningful role in institutional decision-making processes. They report that the climate for academic freedom is quite warm, even though the institution has not reinstated a system of tenure and the handbook still lacks the protections of academic due processes called for under AAUP-recommended standards. The Association’s staff is currently in discussion of these matters with faculty leaders and the president. 

 

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