AAUP Leaders Urge Provost to Give Up Nike Board Seat

The national AAUP congratulates its University of Washington chapter on its thoughtful and well reasoned January 4 statement urging UW provost Phyllis Wise to resign from her position on the board of the Nike Corporation. The AAUP finds it wholly unacceptable that the normal procedures for the review of outside activities by faculty members should have been circumvented and the provost characterized as acting purely “as a private individual.”

We agree that recusing herself from board discussion of Nike’s contractual relations with the university does not provide a sufficient firewall between the provost and the ethical and political implications of Nike’s international financial and labor practices. And we agree that a chilling effect on faculty research into Nike’s practices is entirely possible if the university’s chief academic officer is identified with Nike’s board. Indeed a campus’s senior administrators are far less able than ordinary faculty members to separate their public activities from their university responsibilities.

The University of Washington's policies distinguish between considerations and processes that apply to membership on non-profit and for-profit organizations' boards, and call for a careful disclosure and approval process in the case of the latter. Membership on a given corporate board may not present a substantial conflict of interest for a member of the university community. However, only a careful evaluation of each case can determine whether it does. And the university benefits from an independent faculty voice being part of that process, as is evident in this situation, with the University of Washington AAUP chapter.

The arguments presented by the University of Washington faculty are persuasive and troubling. We concur that the Provost would be well advised to resign from her position on the Nike board.

Cary Nelson
AAUP President

Gary Rhoades
AAUP General Secretary

Publication Date: 
Monday, January 11, 2010