Developments Relating to Association Censure and Sanction

The Association’s staff has prepared the following brief accounts of significant developments during the past year at institutions whose administrations have incurred AAUP censure (for departures from principles of academic freedom and tenure) or at institutions that are under AAUP sanction (for infringement of academic governance standards). For information about the current status of other institutions on our censure and sanction lists (printed respectively on pages 45 and 44 of this issue), please contact the Association’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance.


 

Censure

Lawrence Technological University (Michigan), 1998

An investigating committee’s report found that not even minimal safeguards of academic due process were afforded a tenured 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 fall 2011, another tenured Lawrence Technological University professor sought help from the Association after having been directed to comply with a “performance-improvement plan” that required him to bring the grade distributions in his courses into accord with the departmental norm, reduce the rate at which students withdraw from his classes, and seek counseling through the university’s employee-assistance program. The professor informed the AAUP’s staff that he declined to submit to the plan because he believed that the administration had imposed it in retaliation for his having filed a grievance against several administrative officers, and he further believed that its imposition violated his academic freedom. In September the professor received his first unsatisfactory performance evaluation in eleven years of service at the institution based on having declined to submit to the improvement plan. Under the university’s regulations, an unsatisfactory performance review can be grounds for dismissal. The professor has advised the Association’s staff that no duly constituted faculty body had a role in the decision to impose the plan and that at no point was he afforded the opportunity to contest its imposition before an elected body of peers.

The Association’s staff wrote to the administration in December to register concerns about apparent infringements of the professor’s academic freedom. It also urged, if the administration persisted in imposing the performance-improvement plan, that the professor be afforded an appropriate hearing. In a detailed response, the president, who will be retiring as of the end of June, described the series of events that led to the imposition of the plan, the reasons for its imposition, and the possibility that the professor’s continued refusal would lead to his being dismissed for cause. The president did not acknowledge that the case appears to present academic freedom issues, nor did he respond to the staff’s recommendation that the administration afford the professor a hearing. The professor just recently reported that a faculty body has been convened to advise the administration on the implications of his refusal to comply with the performance-improvement plan. The staff has questioned the soundness of this action with respect to the professor’s tenure rights as set forth in the joint 1958 Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings.

Our Lady of Holy Cross College (Louisiana), 2007

The investigating committee’s report that led to the 2007 censure deals with the actions of a new college president to dismiss the elected president of the faculty senate in the middle of the spring semester and banish him immediately from the campus while paying him for the remaining weeks of his annual contract. The president had decided not to continue to implement a revised salary schedule that the senate president had authored and the previous college president and the governing board’s finance committee had adopted, and the senate president had objected and continued to object to the college president’s position on the salary schedule. The president provided no response, written or oral, to the professor’s request that he be given the reasons for the summary actions against him. Pressed by the investigating committee to explain, the president replied that he could say only that he acted “for the good of the college.”

Last August, without advance warning or explanation, the religious order that owns Our Lady of Holy Cross College notified the president and the nineteen members of the governing board that they were dismissed and named a member of the college’s administrative staff as interim president. The local leader of the order declined to provide reasons for the actions beyond saying that the order wanted a new president and board. In December a spokesperson for the college stated that the order had dismissed the board because its members “were deeply, and irreconcilably, divided” over the performance of the ousted president, who stated that he himself had been given no reasons for his dismissal.

The AAUP chapter president at the college has commented positively about the interim president and a new interim provost as supporters of adopting AAUP-recommended principles and procedural standards. The AAUP staff has been in communication with the interim president, who six years ago took the initiative in arranging for the investigating committee to visit the college and meet with numerous faculty members and with the president and his senior staff. A search for a new president is currently in process, and further developments are awaited.

Sanction

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (New York), 2011

The report of the investigating committee concerns the action taken in summer 2007 by the governing board and administration to suspend the faculty senate after its leaders declined to obey a board directive that they amend the senate constitution to exclude nontenure- track faculty from the senate’s constituency and membership. The investigating committee found that in suspending the faculty senate and replacing it with a transitional form of academic government the administration contravened basic principles of academic governance as set forth in the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities. In reaching this conclusion, the committee noted that the “unilateral suspension of a duly constituted faculty senate” is “a prima facie violation” of normative governance standards and that the transitional governance structure failed “in multiple ways to meet AAUP-recommended governance standards.” After considering these findings, the Association’s Ninety-seventh Annual Meeting voted to sanction the institution for substantial noncompliance with generally accepted standards of academic government.

In December 2011, the faculty, administration, and governing board agreed to adopt, with few changes, a new faculty senate constitution that had been developed by a faculty committee. The senate was formally reconstituted at the beginning of 2012, and its first organizational meeting was scheduled for March 21. While some faculty members have noted that the new constitution does not afford the faculty as much authority as it enjoyed under the previous constitution, others point out that the constitution is more consistent with constitutions at RPI’s peer institutions, that it has strengthened the senate’s committee structures, and that it does include non-tenure-track faculty as senators (though without voting privileges). The AAUP staff, anticipating further positive developments at RPI, will continue to convey to faculty leaders, the AAUP chapter, and the administration the interest of the Committee on College and University Governance in being able to recommend the lifting of the sanction by confirming that sound conditions for academic governance have been restored.

Idaho State University, 2011

The staff report concerns the action by the Idaho State Board of Education in February 2011 to suspend the faculty senate, as recommended by the university’s president, and to “implement an interim faculty advisory structure,” pending agreement on a new senate constitution and bylaws. The report concluded that the administration acted in direct violation of widely accepted standards of academic governance by severely restricting the faculty’s decision-making role, by suppressing faculty dissent, and by advocating the abolition of the faculty senate.

In April 2011, the faculty elected representatives to a provisional faculty senate to begin drafting a constitution, in accordance with the state board’s directive. But almost immediately the interim provost and the newly elected senators (most of whom had played leading roles in the suspended senate) began to clash over the scope of the provisional senate’s authority. In November, the provisional senate submitted its draft constitution to the faculty for approval, over the administration’s objections. When the faculty voted its approval, the provisional senate sent the document to the president and the state board, asking the president to indicate by December 6 whether he would approve it. The president informed the provisional senate that the draft constitution was not acceptable in its current form. In January 2012, the interim provost sent the administration’s revisions of the draft constitution to the faculty with a request for comment. After receiving mainly negative responses, the administration sent its version of the draft constitution to the state board in February, the provisional senate having already sent its draft. In anticipation of the board’s acting to adopt one of the proposed constitutions in the coming months, both the administration and the provisional senate have each also sent the board their conflicting accounts of what has transpired over the past year.

In a separate development, in February 2012 members of the provisional faculty senate filed a complaint in federal district court alleging a violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights as a result of the administration’s having denied the provisional senate the use of the university’s e-mail system to communicate with the senate’s constituents regarding the draft constitution and other matters. The Committee on College and University Governance notes these unfavorable developments as it continues to monitor governance conditions at Idaho State University

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