Academic Freedom Violations at Cancer Center

MD Anderson Cancer Center Violated Standards of Academic Freedom and Tenure, Report Finds

For release: April 8, 2015
For more information, please contact: Debra Nails, Investigating Committee Chair,  
or Gregory F. Scholtz, Director, AAUP Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance, 

The American Association of University Professors released Academic Freedom and Tenure: University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The report finds that the cancer center administration violated commonly accepted academic standards when it terminated the appointments of two professors. One professor had twelve years of service and the other had thirty. Both had been recommended for “renewal of tenure” by the faculty personnel committee.

MD Anderson is one of the country’s foremost cancer centers, and among them unique in lacking a system of indefinite tenure. Instead, MD Anderson employs a system of so-called “term tenure” in which “tenured” faculty members serve on renewable seven-year appointments.

"For generations the tenure system has protected the freedom of faculty members to engage in research that challenges hallowed verities and opens up innovative possibilities," says Henry Reichman, chair of the AAUP's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure.  "Nowhere is such freedom more critical than in medicine.  Were medical school researchers not protected by tenure, we might have waited far too long for pioneering discoveries that produce genuine benefits for everyone's health." 

The joint 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, issued by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities and endorsed by 240 other academic organizations, provides that when they are faced with a termination of appointment, full-time faculty members with more than seven years of service should receive an opportunity for a faculty hearing, in which the burden of demonstrating adequate cause for dismissal rests with the administration.

Neither of the two professors at MD Anderson received such a hearing. Instead, after being notified that their appointments would not be renewed, they were limited to appealing the decision to the same administrative officers who made it.

The report also finds that the MD Anderson administration disregarded normative standards of academic governance, as set forth in the AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, by refusing to provide “compelling reasons stated in detail” when it rejected the faculty personnel committee’s recommendations. Members of the academic senate at MD Anderson, experienced and qualified medical researchers, have for some time been resisting inappropriate administrative interference. 

AAUP investigating committees, which are authorized in a few selected cases when significant violations of academic freedom, tenure, or governance have been alleged and persist despite AAUP staff efforts to resolve them, are generally composed of AAUP members from other institutions with no previous involvement in the matter.

The mission of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is to advance academic freedom and shared governance, to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education, and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good. Founded in 1915, the AAUP has helped to shape American higher education by developing the standards and procedures that maintain quality in education and academic freedom in this country’s colleges and universities. The AAUP is a nonprofit professional association headquartered in Washington, DC.

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, April 8, 2015