Developments Relating to Association Censure

Acting on behalf of Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, members of the Association’s staff communicate biannually with each administration under censure. The staff offers its assistance and that of Committee A in taking the steps necessary to enable the committee to recommend to the annual meeting that censure be removed. In deciding whether to recommend removal, Committee A customarily considers not only the soundness of official policies and affordance of some measure of redress to the affected faculty members but also the current climate for academic freedom and tenure at the institution. In the statements that follow, we note favorable developments at the listed institutions for the year through April 1, 2017. We will provide information regarding relevant actions of significance to Committee A, the Council, and the annual meeting when these bodies convene in June. The list of censured administrations, which appears in each issue of Academe, cites the published report that was the basis for the censure in each case. For information about the current status of other institutions on our censure and sanction lists, please contact the Association’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance at academicfreedom@aaup.org.

Phillips Community College of the University Of Arkansas (1978)

The Association imposed censure in response to the summary dismissal of a faculty member in violation of his academic freedom. Although the case of the dismissed faculty member was resolved over three decades ago, staff negotiations with the administration regarding the adoption of institutional regulations that provide for adequate due process after the expiration of a probationary period proved fruitless, even after the institution was absorbed by the University of Arkansas system in the mid-1990s. Since September 2015, a member of the system administration has been working with the staff to resolve the outstanding policy issues. A representative of the Association visited the institution at the end of March and has prepared a written report for Committee A on the climate for academic freedom and tenure at the institution. At its June meeting the committee will consider whether to recommend to this year’s annual meeting that the censure be lifted.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2015)

The annual meeting imposed censure because of actions taken by the administration to reject the appointment of a tenured professor in the American Indian Studies Program. The appointment had been offered in October 2013 and was to be effective in August with the start of the fall 2014 semester. The professor accepted the offer, received course assignments, and resigned from his tenured position at another institution. In midsummer 2014 the professor posted comments on Twitter using strong language expressing outrage about Israel’s role in the Gaza war. After these posts were brought to the attention of the UIUC administration, the chancellor, the institution’s chief administrative officer, informed the professor on August 1 that his appointment would not be submitted to the board for approval. His appointment, like all tenured appointments, had been defined in the administration’s offer as subject to final approval by the board of trustees, but the appointee and those who recruited him had reason to believe that board approval was a mere formality, based on past experience and the fact that the board was scheduled to meet more than two weeks after the fall term began. Subsequently, the chancellor did submit the appointment to the board, which voted to reject it.

The AAUP investigating committee concluded that the administration of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, in rejecting the professor’s appointment without demonstrating cause, and in doing so only after the appointment had been approved and courses had been assigned to him, acted in violation of the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.  In fall 2015 the faculty member, who had filed suit in federal district court following his dismissal, reached a financial settlement with the university.

With news in late November that a financial settlement satisfactory to the professor had been reached, AAUP staff and leaders made three recommendations to the interim chancellor for bringing the censure to closure. The first was that changes to official policies be made to ensure board approval of faculty appointments prior to their effective date, which, staff learned, had already been accomplished. The second was that the board approve a new rule applying to cases in which issues arise about a tenure-track or tenured faculty appointment that an administrative officer has tentatively forwarded to the board. The rule would require the board to send the recommendation back, by way of that administrator, to a faculty committee in order to give that body an opportunity to respond to or rebut the issues or problems raised by the board. The third recommendation was that the board explicitly endorse a statement on academic freedom and the role of the governing board.

At its May 19 meeting the board of trustees approved a statement that satisfactorily addressed the second recommendation. It did not, however, adopt a statement addressing the third recommendation until late May, too late to send an AAUP representative to the campus to evaluate the climate for academic freedom. Committee A thus recommended that the 2016 annual meeting delegate to Committee A authority for removing the censure once the committee could attest that board action had been taken to ensure the protections of academic freedom for all faculty members.

The annual meeting declined to approve Committee A’s recommendation at the urging of prominent UIUC faculty members who argued that removal should wait until the system trustees considered a request from the three University of Illinois faculty senates that the board delegate appointment authority to the campuses.

In late June the chair of Committee A wrote as follows to the interim chancellor regarding the annual meeting vote: “From the point of view of the AAUP staff and Committee A, while further progress in the direction suggested by the proposal now working its way through the UI shared governance process would be much desired, the conditions for censure removal remain essentially unchanged and what remains is the campus visit.” That visit is now scheduled to occur on April 28. Assuming a favorable report, Committee A will recommend removal to the 2017 annual meeting.

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