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Professionalization as the Basis for Academic Freedom and Faculty Governance

By Larry G. Gerber

In 1994, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) adopted a policy statement, On the Relationship of Faculty Governance to Academic Freedom. The statement asserted that these two principles—faculty governance and academic freedom—are “inextricably linked,” so that neither is “likely to thrive” except “when they are understood to reinforce one another.” The statement further noted that the close connection between academic freedom and faculty governance was reflected in the earliest work of the AAUP. In 1915, the first year of its existence, the AAUP established “Committee A on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure.” At its annual meeting the following year, the members of the association voted to create “Committee T on the Place and Function of Faculties in University Government and Administration” (now called the Committee on College and University Governance).

A brief examination of the conditions in American higher education in the early twentieth century reveals how the same forces brought about the development of academic freedom and faculty governance—principles that the AAUP has done so much to advance. At bottom, the development and subsequent legitimization of both principles was the product of the increasing professionalization of faculty in the United States. Thus, it is no coincidence that the AAUP itself became a crucial cross-disciplinary vehicle for the development of a professional identity for faculty at the same time that it came to define academic freedom and faculty governance as necessary means for the fulfillment of the faculty’s professional responsibilities. By the mid twentieth century, the professionalization of higher education faculty resulted in the institutionalization of tenure as a protection of academic freedom and a broad recognition of the faculty’s primary responsibility for academic decision making. More recently, however, an alarming trend toward the deprofessionalization of faculty at American colleges and universities, most clearly reflected in the rapid expansion of contingent appointments, has seriously eroded the institutions of tenure and faculty governance, and thereby undermined the basic protections of academic freedom and the quality of American higher education.

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Larry G. Gerber, Professor Emeritus of History, Auburn University, is now serving for a second time as chair of the AAUP Committee on College and University Governance. He also previously served three terms as First Vice President of the AAUP. He is the author of two books, The Limits of Liberalism and The Irony of State Intervention and numerous articles on twentieth century United States policy history and college and university governance. Gerber obtained his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and taught for the University of Maryland, University of Arizona, and Brown University before going to Auburn. He has also been a visiting professor at Lakehead University in Canada and the Universities of Helsinki and Joensuu in Finland.

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