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The AAUP Action Plan for Protecting an Independent Faculty Voice

Speak Up, Speak Out

It is essential that faculty members have the freedom to speak on topics important to both the academic community and the public as a whole. At public colleges and universities across the country, however, faculty are facing a very real and serious threat to their academic freedom and speech rights. 

In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that when public employees speak “pursuant to their official duties” their speech is not protected by the First Amendment.  (Garcetti v. Ceballos)  Although the Court expressly left open whether its ruling should apply to “speech related to scholarship and teaching,” subsequent lower court decisions have ruled against faculty free speech at public institutions.

While these court decisions are troubling, much can still be done to protect faculty members’ speech rights and academic freedom.  The American Association of University Professors has launched a nationwide action and awareness campaign calling on faculty members and all supporters of free speech to tear off the suppressive muzzle created by these cases. The time to act is now!

How Does Faculty Involvement Help Campuses and Communities?

It encourages “best-interest” decision-making: 

  • Faculty are on the frontline of a variety of academic and community issues and are therefore critical players in making decisions that are in the best interests of the institution and the community.  Faculty’s ability to engage in this work is imperative to creating a safe and open learning environment.

It enables campus-wide “buy-in”:

  • Faculty involvement in institutional decision-making and implementation is essential to ensuring the success of institutional initiatives. Decisions reached without faculty input may be insufficiently attentive to core academic values, may not reflect the realities on campus, or may simply be difficult to execute. The explicit protection of academic freedom, including freedom of involvement in institutional governance, is critical to assuring the success of such initiatives.

It promotes shared responsibility and reduces institutional liability:

  • Any university insisting that it has the “unfettered discretion” to control faculty speech might also be responsible for that speech.  Both faculty and the administration will be served best if faculty are free to express themselves on institutional and other matters without institutional control or intrusion.

What Can You Do?

Faculty Senates and Other Campus-Based Faculty Groups Can

  • Carefully assess the adequacy and coverage of existing institutional policies that affect faculty speech or expressive activity. These can be found in faculty handbooks, university policies or regulations, collective bargaining agreements, and occasionally state laws or regulations.  Where the policies are insufficient, advocate for change!
  • Gather support from as broad a range of faculty and faculty groups as possible, on campus or across multi-campus systems, to work with administrations and governing boards in enacting policy changes.
  • For those faculties represented by a collective bargaining agent, incorporate language protecting academic freedom in the next negotiated agreement between faculty and governing boards.
  • Where existing institutional policy meets recognized needs, or could be so adapted with minor revisions, continue to raise awareness and make protections standard practice.
  • Publicize the issue in campus-based media and to local news outlets to raise awareness within the community. To highlight faculty’s contribution to the public good, supply examples of faculty speaking on issues of importance to the community.
  • Notify AAUP and other national faculty and free speech groups about the activity on your campus. Report all litigation involving issues of academic freedom and faculty speech rights so that the AAUP and others can consider offering support at an early stage. Sharing your experiences as broadly as possible can bring support to your efforts and help others in theirs.

National, State, and Regional Higher Education and Free Speech Organizations Can:

  • Widely disseminate examples of policy statements that explicitly protect faculty speech, including speech on institutional matters (see suggested language below), and urge their adoption at the institutional level.
  • Rigorously monitor cases involving faculty members who have spoken up about misconduct or problems on their campuses and been disciplined for such actions. Report these cases as they emerge to AAUP and other faculty organizations.
  • Educate the governing boards, senior administrators and attorneys at public universities about the potential risks of using this new speech doctrine against faculty members. Help them recognize that pre-Garcetti public-employee speech concepts have been effective in protecting their institution’s vital interests while also safeguarding academic freedom and free expression.

What Language Can be Used to Protect Faculty Speech?

Any policy considered should: expressly protect faculty participation in institutional governance as a dimension of academic freedom, and clarify that faculty speech including but not limited to classroom teaching and research and extramural utterances merits both constitutional and institutional protection.

The following are examples of policy language you can use:

  • Academic freedom is the freedom to discuss all relevant matters in the classroom, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research, and creative expression, and to speak or write without institutional discipline or restraint on matters of public concern as well as on matters related to professional duties and the functioning of the University.

    Academic responsibility implies the faithful performance of professional duties and obligations, the recognition of the demands of the scholarly enterprise, and the candor to make it clear that when one is speaking on matters of public interest, one is not speaking for the institution.

    [Policy amendments adopted by University of Minnesota Board of Regents in June 2009]

  • Academic freedom is the freedom to teach, both in and outside the classroom, to conduct research and to publish the results of those investigations, to address any matter of institutional policy or action whether or not as a member of an agency of institutional governance.  Professors should also have the freedom to speak to any matter of social, political, economic, or other interest to the larger community, without institutional discipline or restraint, save in response to fundamental violations of professional ethics or statements that suggest disciplinary incompetence.
  • Academic freedom is the freedom to teach, both in and outside the classroom, to research and to publish the results of those investigations, to address any matter of institutional policy or action whether or not as a member of an agency of institutional governance.  Professors should also have the freedom to speak to any matter of social, political, economic, or other interest to the larger community, subject to the academic standard of conduct applicable to each.