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Civility

The AAUP has defended the right of faculty members to speak as citizens—that is, “to address the larger community with regard to any matter of social, political, economic or other interest without institutional discipline or restraint"—since its inception. Freedom of extramural utterance is a constitutive part of the American conception of academic freedom, and the AAUP has investigated and censured many institutions for dismissing faculty members over their extramural utterances. Recent calls by university administrators for civility have raised concerns over their potential to restrict extramural speech of faculty members. Some of these calls have claimed a relationship between civility in extramural utterances and in the classroom. Over the years, the Association has repeatedly addressed related concerns in policy statements, for which we provide central quotes and links to full statements below.

The Committee A Statement on Extramural Utterances  observes that

[t]he controlling principle is that a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness to serve.

While recent calls for civility have claimed to support the free expression of opinion, so long as they are civil, the statement On Freedom of Expression and Campus Speech Codes  notes that

[s]ome may seek to defend a distinction between the regulation of the content of speech and the regulation of the manner (or style) of speech. We find this distinction untenable in practice because offensive style or opprobrious phrases may in fact have been chosen precisely for their expressive power.

Civility is at times invoked alongside or instead of the concept of collegiality. As the Association observed in its On Collegiality as a Criterion for Faculty Evaluation, such invocations may be at odds with principles of academic freedom:

[C]ollegiality may be confused with the expectation that a faculty member display 'enthusiasm' or 'dedication,' evince 'a constructive attitude' that will 'foster harmony,' or display an excessive deference to administrative or faculty decisions where these may require reasoned discussion. Such expectations are flatly contrary to elementary principles of academic freedom, which protect a faculty member’s right to dissent from the judgments of colleagues and administrators.

Noting more generally that “all academic personnel decisions, including new appointments and renewal of existing appointments, should rest on considerations that demonstrably pertain to the effective performance of the academic’s professional responsibilities,” the statement on Ensuring Academic Freedom in Politically Controversial Personnel Decisions addresses the dangers with invoking civility in the context of such decisions, noting that

[p]olitically controversial academics are frequently found to be abrasive individuals who are difficult to work with. Consequently, lack of collegiality or incivility may easily become a pretext for the adverse evaluation of politically controversial academics.

In the context of the classroom, the AAUP in its Freedom in the Classroom  addressed concerns over the invocation of “hostile learning environments,” which “presupposes much more than blatant disrespect or harassment”:

It assumes that students have a right not to have their most cherished beliefs challenged. This assumption contradicts the central purpose of higher education, which is to challenge students to think hard about their own perspectives, whatever those might be. It is neither harassment nor discriminatory treatment of a student to hold up to close criticism an idea or viewpoint the student has posited or advanced. Ideas that are germane to a subject under discussion in a classroom cannot be censored because a student with particular religious or political beliefs might be offended. Instruction cannot proceed in the atmosphere of fear that would be produced were a teacher to become subject to administrative sanction based upon the idiosyncratic reaction of one or more students.

While the AAUP has noted that “civility and tolerance are hallmarks of educated men and women” and that “serious breaches of civility” should be “condemn[ed],” it maintains that “adequate cause for a dismissal will be related, directly and substantially, to the fitness of faculty members in their professional capacities as teachers or researchers” and, further, that “consideration of the manner of expression is rarely appropriate to an assessment of academic fitness.”

Other key Association policy statements relating to civility and the rights of professors include On Trigger Warnings and Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications

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