Developments Relating to Association Censure and Sanction

The Association’s staff has prepared the following brief accounts of significant developments during the past year at colleges and universities on the Association’s list of administrations censured for departures from principles of academic freedom and tenure and on the Association’s list of institutions sanctioned for infringement of academic governance standards. For information about the current status of other institutions on our censure and sanction lists (printed elsewhere in this issue), please contact the Association’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance at academicfreedom@aaup.org.


Censure

Lawrence Technological University (Michigan), 1998

The investigating committee found that the administration did not afford even minimal safeguards of academic due process to a tenured professor whose appointment was terminated when his program was eliminated. The case was settled after he initiated litigation, and two additional cases the following year were resolved through out-of-court settlements. Two more cases that elicited AAUP intervention arose in fall 2011 and summer 2013. Both were resolved in 2013 under a new administration. As result, the only remaining obstacles to censure removal are deficiencies in the university’s regulations on academic freedom and tenure.

In July, apparently prompted by the staff’s annual letter offering assistance with censure removal, the president telephoned the national office. After the staff explained to him that, in order to recommend removal to the annual meeting, Committee A would wish to confirm that the institution had adequately addressed its academic freedom and tenure policies, the president sent the faculty handbook to the staff for review. Before sending its recommended changes to the president, the staff learned that the university’s faculty handbook committee was independently proposing one of the key changes in the staff’s letter—a policy affording a dismissal procedure to tenure-track faculty members whose dismissal was sought before their appointments expired. The letter to the president, with copies to the provost, the faculty handbook committee, and the faculty senate, was sent on August 24.

The staff’s two subsequent requests to the president for updates, however, have gone unanswered. In addition, the faculty handbook committee’s proposed amendment did not receive faculty senate approval after the provost conditioned her support for it on the senate’s agreeing to “streamline” LTU’s dismissal policies.

Virginia State University, 2005

The report of the investigating committee concerned the dismissal of two tenured faculty members, after each of them had been required to undergo post-tenure review. The committee found that the administration’s implementation of the university’s system of post-tenure review made no provision for peer involvement, permitted one unsatisfactory evaluation to stand alone as grounds for dismissal, and placed the burden of demonstrating fitness on the faculty member. In so doing, the committee found, the administration acted in violation of the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure and the companion 1958 Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings.

Staff conversations with successive VSU administrations about effecting removal began in 2006. By spring 2007, removal seemed imminent, with settlements reached in both cases, AAUP-recommended revisions adopted by the governing board, and a visit to campus by an AAUP representative scheduled. The AAUP visitor, however, identified additional concerns regarding policies in the School of Business that precluded Committee A from recommending removal.

Efforts by the local AAUP chapter brought further discussions, including a staff member’s trip to campus in February 2013 for a meeting with chapter and administrative officers. In a follow-up letter to the administration, the staff member identified at least four policy issues that still needed addressing, but no action was taken.

Four years and several administrations later, the university’s new provost called in mid-July to talk about removal, presumably moved by the staff’s annual letter.  After reviewing with him the process by which censure is removed, the staff offered, as a first step, to review the current edition of the faculty handbook, an offer the provost eagerly accepted. In further correspondence, the provost confirmed that he would welcome specific suggestions for language to be added to the faculty handbook, which staff provided him by letter of August 8.

Staff attempts to consult with the AAUP chapter resulted, first, in the discovery that it had become inactive following the retirement of its president and, second, in another faculty member’s taking on the presidency and helping to resuscitate the chapter. The new chapter president also met with the provost, and she reported to the AAUP’s staff that he was willing to work with the faculty in making the necessary handbook changes. In early April, she telephoned the staff to report that the provost and she, in her capacity as chair of the university’s handbook committee, had met again, this time to review the faculty handbook and the staff’s proposed changes to it. After they concluded that the handbook required wholesale, not piecemeal, revision, the provost agreed to compensate the faculty handbook committee for meeting over the summer to begin work on revising the handbook. The committee will consult with the AAUP’s staff about incorporating the specific changes necessary for censure removal.

Stillman College (Alabama), 2009

The report of the investigating committee dealt with the dismissal of a tenured assistant professor toward the end of his twenty-eighth year of service on grounds of his having violated faculty handbook proscriptions against “malicious gossip.” The investigating committee concluded that the administration’s dismissal of the professor on the stated grounds violated the academic freedom to which he was entitled under the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure and that the administration, in suspending and then dismissing the professor, disregarded basic requisites of academic due process as set forth in the 1940 Statement of Principles and the 1958 Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings. The investigating committee further concluded that the policies and practices of the college administration had “created a climate that is inimical to the exercise of academic freedom.”

With the installation of a new president in 2017, the Stillman College administration responded to the staff’s annual inquiry by indicating an interest in resolving the censure. The case of the dismissed faculty member having been settled some years ago, the main outstanding issues concerned institutional regulations, including the proscriptions against “malicious gossip.” The staff recommended changes to the college’s regulations, some of which required approval by the governing board; all of these changes have been incorporated into the faculty handbook. A representative of the Association will visit the college in May to assess the institutional climate for academic freedom and tenure. After reviewing the report at its June 1–2 meeting, Committee A will be in a position to formulate a recommendation on censure removal to present to the 2018 annual meeting.


Sanction

University of Iowa, 2016

The report of the investigating committee describes departures from AAUP-recommended standards of academic governance in the hiring of the University of Iowa president, appointed by the Iowa Board of Regents in 2015 despite overwhelming faculty objections. The investigation found that, in contrast to historical practice at the university, which had been to involve the faculty fully in presidential searches, the board designed this search process specifically to prevent any meaningful faculty role in the selection of the final candidate.

Immediately following the imposition of the sanction, the faculty senate voted to create an ad hoc committee “to work toward a way to lift the sanction” and also charged “the Faculty Senate leadership and the Faculty Council to work with the University President and the Board of Regents to work toward removal of the sanction.” A member of the Iowa Board of Regents and a member of the regents’ staff worked closely with the committee, which authored a best practices document on presidential searches that addressed key concerns noted in the report of the investigating committee. The board of regents subsequently indicated that document “will help guide the planning of future presidential transitions as the Board of Regents forms search committees and conducts searches.” An Association representative visited the University of Iowa in April to assess the institutional climate for academic governance. Following receipt of the report, the Committee on College and University Governance voted to recommend to the Association’s 104th Annual Meeting that the University of Iowa be removed from the list of sanctioned institutions.

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