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University System of Georgia Eviscerates Tenure

In an unprecedented action, the board of regents of the University System of Georgia (USG) in October voted to adopt changes to its post-tenure review policy that make it possible to fire tenured faculty without a dismissal hearing. In a statement issued prior to the board’s vote, AAUP president Irene Mulvey characterized the board’s prospective action as “an attack on tenure and academic freedom” and warned that an investigation potentially resulting in Association censure would follow.

The AAUP's report on the case released today, Academic Freedom and Tenure: University System of Georgia, outlines the USG administration and board of regents’ flagrant violation of principles on academic freedom and tenure jointly formulated by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities and endorsed by more than 250 scholarly societies and higher-education organizations (1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure). The new USG policy effectively abolishes tenure in Georgia’s public colleges and universities by allowing a system institution to dismiss a tenured professor for failing to remediate deficiencies identified through post-tenure evaluation without affording a hearing before a faculty body in which the administration demonstrates cause for dismissal. Without this academic due process, tenure does not exist. 

The report also finds flagrant violations of AAUP standards of academic governance. Under those standards, the USG faculty should have played a primary role in developing any changes to the system’s post-tenure review policy. Instead, the USG administration and governing board initiated, pushed through, and imposed a new faculty evaluation policy without meaningfully involving the faculty and over the strong objections voiced by the system’s critical faculty governance bodies.

In a series of letters between Acting Chancellor Teresa MacCartney and the AAUP, MacCartney, presumably speaking for the regents, takes the position that tenure in the University System of Georgia has survived the regents’ revisions to the post-tenure review policy. But she does so by disregarding the generally accepted understanding of academic tenure, which cannot be separated from academic due process. Absent academic due process, the report states, tenure in the USG survives in name only.

At its next meeting, the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure will formulate a recommendation on censure based on the findings in this report. This recommendation will go to the AAUP’s governing Council, which will vote on whether to add the USG to the Association’s list of censured administrations. Censure, however, is not inevitable. As always, the AAUP would welcome a resolution that honors its recommended principles and standards. In this case, such a resolution would entail the restoration of the due-process protections of tenure to the USG post-tenure review policy. For more about AAUP censure, see https://www.aaup.org/issues/academic-freedom/whatiscensure.

Read the full report.

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, December 8, 2021