An Evolution of Principled Futility: The AAUP and Original Sin

By Don Eron


The AAUP’s founding document, the 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, theorizes academic tenure as the safeguard of academic freedom and codifies multiple levels of due process as the foundation of tenure. The success of the AAUP concept, reiterated and refined in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, peaked in 1975. In the forty years since, the tenure system has “all but collapsed”—a decline rooted in the 1915 and 1940 statements, both of which, to justify a unique protection for academics, sanctify the academic profession as two distinct tiers, divisible by rights and privileges. The result is that the conflicted 1915 and 1940 statements have incentivized institutions to hire part-time rather than full-time faculty. They have also stymied a succession of AAUP reports on contingency that, with increasing degrees of alarm, seek to provide part-time faculty with academic freedom protections that are substandard and self-defeating. If academic freedom is to endure, all proven faculty must have access to the same fundamental rights.

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As I read through Prof. Eron's detailed essay on the history of AAUP statements on contingent faculty, my academic life as "career contingent" flashed before my eyes. (I am now on year 40, having entered the academic profession as an idealistic 28-yr-old with new doctorate). I have tried to understand for many, many years how this has happened to our honorable profession, and the details regarding AAUP's contributions (or mistakes) are all here, thanks to this brilliantly researched essay. Thank you so very much for this effort!

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