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 or 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 respectively on pages 43 and 42 of this issue), contact the Association’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance at academicfreedom@aaup.org.


Censure

Grove City College (Pennsylvania), 1963

Grove City College has long held the dubious distinction of being the most senior institution on the censure list, having been placed there in 1963 by the Association’s Forty-Ninth Annual Meeting. The report of the investigating committee found that an experienced professor had been dismissed for stated cause without “any recognizable form of due process, academic or general.”

For many years, successive Grove City College administrations had declined to respond to biannual invitations from the Association’s staff inviting discussion of the censure and its potential removal. Then, in 2013, a newly appointed provost did respond, and in 2014, with the accession of a new president, conversation began in earnest, with the staff’s urging, as a first step, that the administration extend a gesture of redress to the affected professor, now in his nineties.

In October 2015 the college’s president emeritus drove to the professor’s home in Wilmington, Ohio, to offer the administration’s apology, thus addressing one obstacle to lifting the censure. In March 2016 the administration agreed to adopt an official policy that would prevent a case such as the one that had occasioned the censure from occurring again. In April an AAUP representative visited the campus to assess conditions for academic freedom and prepare a report of his findings for Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure. At its June meeting the committee will consider whether to recommend to this year’s annual meeting that the censure be lifted.

Metropolitan Community College (Missouri), 1984

Censure was imposed by the Seventieth Annual Meeting, based on an investigating committee’s report on actions by the administration and the board of trustees that resulted in the termination of eight tenured faculty appointments. The actions were attributed to financial exigency and decreased enrollment, but the report found that enrollment had stabilized before the terminations went into effect and that a state of financial exigency neither existed nor was imminent. The report concluded that the administration implemented the terminations because it wished to reduce the size and percentage of the regular full-time faculty in favor of engaging part-time teachers and assigning overloads. The committee found that these actions were contrary to generally accepted principles of academic freedom and tenure.

This past year the chancellor’s chief of staff conveyed an interest in addressing the censure. One obstacle to removal was a single remaining case requiring redress, which the administration stated it was now willing to resolve. The Association’s staff also communicated with the administration about necessary revisions of the institution’s regulations on termination of appointments. The staff is currently waiting for confirmation that these changes have been adopted.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2015

The censure imposed by the 101st Annual Meeting was based on actions taken by the administration to reject the appointment of a tenured professor in the American Indian Studies Program, which 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 the social media site Twitter using strong language to express outrage regarding 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 of trustees for approval. His appointment, like all tenured appointments, had been defined in the administration’s offer as subject to final approval by the board, but the appointee and those who recruited him had reason to believe that board approval was a mere formality, and not just because 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 his appointment had been approved and his courses had been assigned, acted in violation of the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

The faculty member filed suit in federal district court following his dismissal. This fall he reached a financial settlement with the university. “The settlement,” the professor remarked to the press, “is a vindication for me, but more importantly, it is a victory for academic freedom and the First Amendment.”

In late summer 2015, the chancellor resigned from the administration and returned to her UIUC faculty appointment. The dean of the college of liberal arts was appointed interim chancellor pending the selection of a successor.

The chair of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure wrote to the interim chancellor in late September to extend his congratulations on her appointment, to express the hope that under her leadership the university would “successfully address the problems” that led to the imposition of censure, and to offer the Association’s assistance in this regard. The interim chancellor immediately expressed interest in working toward censure removal, and a conference call was arranged. The Committee A chair and AAUP staff talked to her about the dismissed professor, advising her that a satisfactory settlement with him would be a significant initial step in resolving the censure situation.

With news in late November that a financial settlement satisfactory to the professor had been reached, AAUP staff and leaders again wrote the interim chancellor to propose a telephone conference to discuss what remained to be done to bring the censure to closure. During the conference call, which took place on December 14, the staff made three recommendations. The first was that changes to official policies be made to ensure board approval of faculty appointments prior to their effective date. The second was that the board adopt a new rule applying to cases in which issues arise about a tenure-track or tenured faculty appointment that has been forwarded to the board by an administrative officer. The rule would require the board to send the recommendation back, through that administrator, to a faculty committee—which could be the original search committee, some other standing representative committee, or a special panel—in order to give that body an opportunity to respond to or rebut the issues or problems raised by the board. And the third recommendation was that the board address the matter of academic freedom and the role of the governing board satisfactorily. AAUP staff suggested this could be achieved by the board’s endorsing the Association’s statement On Freedom of Expression and Campus Speech Codes. The interim chancellor expressed the hope that a board consultation process could be put in place by April 2016 and that the board would be willing to endorse a statement regarding academic freedom and the role of the governing board.


Sanction

Lindenwood University (Missouri), 1994

The report of the investigating committee dealt with conditions of academic governance at Lindenwood College (now Lindenwood University). Based on the findings and conclusions of that report, the Association’s Eightieth Annual Meeting placed Lindenwood on the list of institutions sanctioned for substantial noncompliance with generally accepted standards of academic governance. Prior to the investigation that led to the imposition of the sanction, the college’s governing documents had been premised on a commitment to shared authority and cooperative action. The faculty was significantly involved in institutional governance and had an effective voice in determining the basic policies of the college. In 1991 a new administration effected drastic changes in academic governance, replacing the existing structure with a system that concentrated authority in the office of the president. Governance practices at the college, the investigating committee found, did not provide for a meaningful faculty role in such fundamental areas as educational policy, faculty status, and related matters where the Association’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities accords the faculty primary responsibility. Although the institution’s official policies had previously provided for a system of tenure, the administration issued a new edition of the faculty handbook without these provisions and informed the faculty that “the College does not grant tenure.”

Under the two administrations that followed, conditions of academic governance and the climate for academic freedom are reported to have improved dramatically. According to reports by faculty members, well-functioning structures of shared governance have been established, and the faculty plays a meaningful role in institutional decision making. A revised handbook, approved by the faculty and the administration, incorporates protections against involuntary termination of postprobationary faculty members consistent with the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. In March, representatives of the Association visited Lindenwood University to confirm these favorable developments and reported on them to the Association’s Committee on College and University Governance, which will discuss at its May meeting whether to recommend to the 102nd Annual Meeting that Lindenwood University be removed from the Association’s list of sanctioned institutions. 

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