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Academic Freedom

Editor's Introduction - Volume 2

Whether by chance or by fate, the Spring 2011 issue of the AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom has turned out to be rather timely. At a moment when faculty unionization is paradoxically at once resurgent and under assault, Bill Lyne lays out rather clearly what its benefits can be for shared governance. John Champagne and John W. Powell mount philosophical, political, and pedagogical critiques of the relentlessly expanding assessment movement.

Teaching in the Corporate University: Assessment as a Labor Issue

When, in response to a call for papers for the 2008 conference of the Modern Language Association, I began to formulate an argument concerning the relationship between assessment and the corporate university, I assumed that writing such an analysis would be (and I hope I will be forgiven this admittedly masculinist simile) like “shooting fish in a barrel.” My intention was in fact to concentrate on something less obvious: assessment as a labor issue, and the ways the drive toward assessment is both explicitly and implicitly an attack on academic freedom. Imagine my surprise, then, when I read the spring 2008 President’s Column of the MLA Newsletter, with its defense of assessment (Graff 2008).

The Disemboweled University: Online Knowledge and Academic Freedom

Over the past several decades a number of scholars have examined academic freedom. By and large, and understandably, many of those examinations have been situated in social or political frameworks. Notable examples include Paul Lazarsfeld and Wagner Thielens, The Academic Mind, Ellen Schrecker’s No Ivory Tower, and two early examples, Jane Sanders, Cold War on the Campus, and George Stewart’s compelling first-person account, The Year of the Oath. Many of these works examine events at a single institution (as did Sanders), such as Lionel Lewis’s account of the Lattimore case at the Johns Hopkins University and Charles McCormick’s This Nest of Vipers.

John Ervin Kirkpatrick and the Rulers of American Colleges

At a special meeting on June 2, 1919, Washburn College president Parley Paul Womer assured his disgruntled faculty that he understood their concerns about his administrative style and his direction of the institution. In announcing forthcoming changes, Womer confirmed that the institution was embarking on a new era of faculty and administrative cooperation—and that faculty must be protected “against wilful and capricious action.”

A Tale of Two Conferences: On Power, Identity, and Academic Freedom

This article will examine the extent of the applicability of academic freedom in relation to scholarship on the Israeli-Arab conflict. This will be done by comparing two conferences that took place in the same city at almost the same time, both dealing with issues pertaining to Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East conflict. The article will argue that in reality, academic freedom is relative.

Invigorating the Classroom

In a lengthy two-part, online essay titled “Politicizing the Classroom,” Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, argues that the AAUP’s recent report Ensuring Academic Freedom in Politically Controversial Academic Personnel Decisions is an effort to politicize the university. He advocates, as if it were an alternative, that the university focus on improving the quality of student learning. I disagree with his critique, and particularly his contrived assumption that advocacy and learning are contradictory.

Fundamental Freedom or Fringe Benefit? Rice University and the Administrative History of Tenure, 1935–1963

Despite deep historical roots, tenure as we know it today has a relatively short history. Although the most prominent professors occasionally received special tenure privileges as early as the Middle Ages, tenure as a general practice is a twentieth-century invention.

In 1915, the recently established AAUP published a Declaration of Principles recognizing that the “dignity” of the professorial office required “security of tenure.” But the declaration provided little detail about what exactly “security of tenure” might mean or which policies should be adopted. The meaning of tenure remained unstable until at least 1940, when the AAUP codified its evolving position in a new Statement of Principles. This platform outlined the need for a “probationary period” in tenure-track positions and also specified two goals: (1) “freedom of teaching and research” and (2) “a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive.”

Butler University v. John Doe: A New Challenge to Academic Freedom and Shared Governance

What are the circumstances that would lead a university to act against its own self-interest, and negate its most basic values, including its commitment to academic freedom? This is perhaps the most urgent question posed by the libel lawsuit Butler University v. John Doe.

The trend for universities to rely more and more heavily on legal processes to regulate their affairs and conduct their business has been widely observed and well documented. In her book The Trials of Academe: The New Era of Campus Litigation (2009), Amy Gajda writes that “the growing recourse to the courts by academics, and the increasing willingness of judges to accept the invitation and resolve campus disputes, pose a substantial threat to [the] heart of academic self-governance.”1 Even in the context of this trend, however, the Butler case stands out, and raises the question of how far universities are willing to go in legalizing their campuses.

Biology, Theology, and Academic Freedom: The Challenges of Interdisciplinary Teaching at a Catholic University

Emerging genetic technologies resulting from the Human Genome Project continue to have ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI). This essay will address the challenges of teaching this topic in an interdisciplinary course at a religiously affiliated school, specifically a Catholic university. The article will examine the concept of academic freedom; explore the concept of Catholic identity in higher education; demonstrate how academic freedom and respect for a religious tradition can be achieved through specific pedagogical techniques; and finally, offer some general suggestions for teaching genetics in a religiously affiliated institution.

What Do Graduate Employee Unions Have to Do with Academic Freedom?

Only a minority of graduate employees in the United States have collective bargaining representation, and for that lucky minority, collective bargaining agreements rarely contain explicit protections for academic freedom. Existing contract language at strong and long-established unions such as my own provides due process protections and guarantees against arbitrary termination; these protections, however, fall very short of securing genuine academic freedom. Graduate employee unions have reasonably focused on economic priorities to ensure continued access to graduate education: improved stipends, health care, and childcare, and security for tuition waivers. However, as academic freedom and shared governance increasingly face renewed challenges from the corporate university, the need to secure academic freedom protections in a binding labor contract has never been more pressing.


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