AAUP Removes Censure at University of Nebraska, Places Sanction on Illinois Wesleyan University

On Saturday, the governing Council of the AAUP voted to remove the University of Nebraska–Lincoln from the Association’s list of censured administrations, and to add Illinois Wesleyan University to the Association's list of institutions sanctioned for substantial noncompliance with standards of academic governance.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

The AAUP imposed censure on the administration of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 2018 after the university suspended a part-time faculty member through the end of her teaching appointment without affording her a hearing before an elected faculty committee. This terminal suspension followed the wide online circulation of a video recording of a confrontation between the faculty member and an undergraduate student recruiting on campus for the right-wing organization Turning Point USA.

In April of this year, following a lengthy process involving the UNL faculty and administration, the Nebraska system’s board of regents amended its bylaws to require an adjudicative hearing prior to imposing a terminal suspension as AAUP standards require. Last summer, the removal process was temporarily derailed when a regent, who was also a gubernatorial candidate, announced his intention to ask the governing board to adopt a resolution opposing “critical race theory.” When the AAUP learned of the impending vote, its staff suspended a virtual site visit by an AAUP representative already underway—the last step in the process—informing the administration that if the resolution passed, censure-removal was off the table. The UNL president and all four chancellors, however, issued a statement opposing the resolution, and the motion failed. The representative resumed his visit, the purpose of which was to assess current conditions for academic freedom and tenure at UNL, and submitted a favorable report to the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Considering that the regents had brought the relevant system policies into conformance with AAUP standards and that the AAUP representative had reported that conditions for academic freedom at UNL had improved, Committee A recommended UNL’s removal to the Council. 

Illinois Wesleyan University

In July 2020, Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU) discontinued programs in anthropology, French, Italian, and religious studies and issued notice of appointment terminations to nine tenured faculty members in those programs. An AAUP investigating committee found numerous violations of principles and standards of academic governance at the university. Specifically, the administration and governing board failed to engage in adequate communication regarding the possibility that the program review might result in appointment terminations; failed to honor existing provisions in the faculty handbook designed to preserve the faculty’s “primary responsibility” for curricular decision-making; imposed their own program-review process; and declined to provide “compelling reasons stated in detail” for rejecting the final curricular recommendations of the committee they had created. Earlier this month, the AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance had recommended to the AAUP’s governing Council that it add IWU to the Association’s list of institutions sanctioned for substantial non-compliance with standards of academic government.

About Censure and Sanctions

The AAUP’s goal in conducting investigative case work in academic freedom, tenure, and governance is to promote sound academic principles and standards in the service, not only of the academic profession, but of excellence in education and research, and, ultimately, the common good. The Association adds institutions to its censure or sanction lists to register its disapproval of egregious failures to observe sound academic principles and standards. These actions are not occasions for celebration. Removals of sanction or censure, on the other hand, certainly are—because they indicate that faculty, administration, and governing board, in cooperation with the AAUP, have addressed the problems that led to the AAUP’s initial sanction or censure and are again taking seriously AAUP-recommended principles and standards on academic freedom, tenure, or governance. 

The purpose of censure is to let members of the AAUP and the public know that the administration of an institution is not observing the generally recognized principles of academic freedom and tenure approved by this Association, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and more than two hundred and fifty other professional and educational organizations which have endorsed the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Sanction similarly results when Association investigations reveal serious departures by the administration and/or governing board from generally accepted standards of college and university government endorsed by this Association, as set forth in the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities and derivative governance documents.

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, November 23, 2021