AAUP Censures Two Administrations and Sanctions One

June 14, 2010
Contacts: Robin Burns or Greg Scholtz

Washington, D.C. —  Delegates to the Ninety-sixth Annual Meeting of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) voted on June 12 to place Clark Atlanta University and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston on the AAUP’s list of censured administrations. Censure by the AAUP informs the academic community that the administration of an institution has not adhered to the generally recognized principles of academic freedom and tenure jointly formulated by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities and endorsed by more than 200 professional and educational organizations. With these actions, 50 institutions are now on the censure list.

In addition, the delegates voted to sanction Antioch University. Institutions are sanctioned for infringement of governance standards after AAUP investigations revealed serious departures from generally accepted standards of college and university government endorsed by the AAUP.

Clark Atlanta University -Censured

The report of the investigating committee deals with the declaration of an enrollment emergency by the administration of Clark Atlanta University and its subsequent action several days later to terminate the appointments of fifty-five full-time faculty members, approximately one-fourth of the total faculty, with no notice and no pretermination hearing. The investigating committee concluded that the administration, in subjecting these faculty members to immediate dismissal, acted in disregard of the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, of derivative Association-recommended standards, and in some instances of the university’s own stated policies.

The investigating committee based its conclusion on several findings.  It found that the administration selected the particular faculty members for release without any discernible prior consultation with appropriate faculty bodies. It found that the administration also paid no heed to the rights of tenured over nontenured faculty members with respect to retention. Indeed, new faculty members were appointed to the vacant positions.  The committee found that the administration, by not affording the dismissed faculty members opportunity for a hearing before a body of faculty peers, denied them the protections of academic due process to which they were entitled under stated university regulations as well as Association-supported standards. It found that the administration, in basing its selection of faculty members for release mainly on its assessment of their relative lack of merit, effectively dismissed them for cause but without any demonstration that dismissal was warranted.

Moreover, the committee found that the one month of severance salary the administration unconditionally provided to all dismissed faculty members was sorely deficient and found it deplorable that the administration employed the offer of a modest additional severance payment as a means of pressuring vulnerable faculty members to forfeit avenues of appeal otherwise open to them and to release the university from any further claims. Finally, the committee found that the declared enrollment emergency on which the administration based its summary actions was largely nonexistent, a pretext for avoiding affordance of the protections of academic due process required under university regulations in the event of dismissals for cause or terminations necessitated by financial exigency.

Acting upon the recommendation of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the Annual Meeting voted to place Clark Atlanta University on the Association's list of censured administrations.

University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston -Censured

The report of the investigating committee concerns the actions taken by the administration of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, after a declaration of financial exigency at that institution by the University of Texas Board of Regents, to terminate the appointments of more than 120 faculty members, approximately one-third of them tenured. The actions followed a suspension of operations at the medical branch and its affected hospital as a result of the devastation inflicted on September 13, 2008, by Hurricane Ike. Faculty members received between six and nine months of notice, depending on their tenure status and length of service.

 The administration proceeded under the regulations of the University of Texas system, set forth in the provisions of Regents’ Rule 31003, “Abandonment of Academic Positions and Programs,” which do not set forth any definition of financial exigency and which give primary decision-making authority regarding appointment terminations and appeals to department chairs and administratively appointed panels rather than to representative faculty bodies. Many affected faculty members did appeal their appointment terminations, with Rule 31003 placing on them the burden of demonstrating that the financial exigency was not bona fide or that the actions taken to terminate their appointments were arbitrary or unreasonable. The investigating committee found such procedures to be seriously deficient when measured against the standards set forth in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, Regulation 4c (“Financial Exigency”) of the Association’s derivative Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure, and the 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities. Moreover, the committee concluded that the faculty role in determining the existence of a financial exigency at the institution, and in assessing its impact on academic programs and faculty status, was essentially nonexistent. When measuring administrative actions against the Recommended Institutional Regulations, the committee also noted the inadequacy of notice or severance salary for many affected faculty members, the administration’s failure to assist actively with opportunities for relocation to available suitable positions, and the administration’s insufficient provisions for faculty recall. Finally, the committee found that the administration had begun recruiting new faculty members in spring 2009 without demonstrating that many of the appointment terminations could not have been rescinded.
 
Although an advisory committee is proposing revisions to the University of Texas System’s financial exigency policies for consideration by the board of regents, the texts of the proposals and information as to any final action have not yet been shared with the Association. Neither has word been received of rescissions of notice of termination or extensions of the effective date of notice since the online publication of the investigating committee’s report in April. Accordingly, following a recommendation from Committee A, the Annual Meeting voted to place the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston on the Association’s censure list.

Antioch University - Sanctioned

The investigating committee’s report found that for most of the decades-long period in which Antioch College expanded into a system of campus units that became Antioch University, faculty members shared actively in the governance of the college, especially with respect to budgetary matters. When Antioch University began to consolidate and centralize budgetary processes and financial oversight of its units, the university administration gradually took control of the college’s budget.  As a result, the college’s faculty ceased to play a meaningful role in the budgetary process.  In 2003, with the college’s financial difficulties mounting, the university’s governing board appointed a Commission for the Renewal of Antioch College, which recommended a radical transformation of the college’s curriculum.  The commission adopted a new curriculum without having provided the college’s faculty a significant role in its development, as called for by the AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities.  The investigating committee found that the system of faculty governance at Antioch College “had become limited to reacting to decisions made at the university level by the board and the chancellor.”

When the initiation of the new curriculum in fall 2005 led to a subsequent decline in enrollment, discussions regarding the college’s financial situation intensified at the university level. In June 2007, the Antioch University trustees voted to declare financial exigency and to suspend Antioch College operations after one final year.  College faculty members immediately protested that they had not been afforded the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. The investigating committee found a lack of consultation with the faculty about the college’s financial condition prior to the declaration of financial exigency and a lack of faculty involvement in the process by which university administrators had reached that decision.  The committee also found that the financial data it was able to examine did not support a conclusion that the entire university was in immediate financial crisis.  In addition, the committee found that alternatives to the exigency declaration had not been explored with the faculty.

In its statement to the Annual Meeting, the Committee on College and University Governance commended the dedication of the devoted faculty members, staff, students, and alumni of Antioch College who, determined not to let their college die, reached an agreement with the university’s board of governors to establish a new Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, legally separate from Antioch University and separately accredited, with its own governing board and administration.  (The official transfer took place on September 4, 2009, and the college plans to reopen with a very small student body in fall 2011 and to continue the process of seeking full accreditation for the college.)  At the same time, the committee condemned the actions of the Antioch University administration and board of governors that led to the suspension of operations at Antioch College. With respect to the Antioch University that no longer includes Antioch College, the committee concluded that principles of shared governance are currently neither secure nor close to becoming secure. 

In accordance with the committee’s recommendation, the Ninety-sixth Annual Meeting voted to place Antioch University on the Association's list of institutions sanctioned for infringement of governance standards.

For more information, please contact Robin Burns or Greg Scholtz.

The American Association of University Professors is a nonprofit charitable and educational organization that promotes academic freedom by supporting tenure, academic due process, shared governance and standards of quality in higher education. The AAUP has over 47,000 members at colleges and universities throughout the United States.

 

Media Contact: 
Robin Burns or Gregory Scholtz
Publication Date: 
Monday, June 14, 2010