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February 08, 2005

The AAUP on Tenure

Both tenure and the exclusion of extramural statements appear to have gone through mission creep of a sort, with the AAUP becoming both progressively more strident in defense of professors' privileges. Such a development isn't unique: trial lawyers give hundreds of millions of dollars ever elections cycle in order to preserve the Right to Sue as We Know It.

Kudos to the Greeley Tribune ("Challenge the Value of Tenure") for looking into the sources and roots of tenure as we know it. While professors may look nervously at that cup of hemlock every time the tenure system is questioned, in fact the current system has its basis in a 1940 American Association of University Professors Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, itself a restatement of a 1925 Statement:

College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution

Which leads to this interpretation in the same document:

If the administration of a college or university feels that a teacher has not observed the admonitions of paragraph (c) of the section on Academic Freedom and believes that the extramural utterances of the teacher have been such as to raise grave doubts concerning the teacherís fitness for his or her position, it may proceed to file charges under paragraph 4 of the section on Academic Tenure.

Clearly, extramural

By 1964, Committee A (on Academic Freedom) had this to say about extramural utterances:

The controlling principle is that a faculty memberís expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty memberís unfitness for his or her position. Extramural utterances rarely bear upon the faculty memberís fitness for the position. Moreover, a final decision should take into account the faculty memberís entire record as a teacher and scholar."

So, in 24 years, "grave doubts about" has become "clearly demonstrates." Now, the AAUP has issued its own statement about Mr. Churchill:

Should serious questions arise about Professor Churchillís fitness to continue at the University of Coloradoóthe only acceptable basis for terminating a continuing or tenured faculty appointmentóthose questions should be judged by a faculty committee that affords the essential safeguards of due process, as required by the universityís and the Board of Regentsí official policies.

Far enough, except that the context and wording appear to suggest that external statements can't themselves be the source of such concern - clear contrary to the plain meaning of academic freedom in the above-cited docs.

Clearly, both the 1940 Statement and the 1970 Interpretations clearly contemplate the notion that a professor's extramural statements can be used as evidence of unfitness to teach. If such statements were always exempt from scrutiny, neither section (c), nor Paragraph 3, nor the subsequent statement from 1970 would have been included. Instead, they would have been silent on the matter, or they would have included a statement specifically excluding extramural statements from consideration.

I'm sure there's a tremendous amount of case law, or the academic procedural equivalent thereof, that I just don't have time to troll through right now. My uninformed guess is that most of it comes down on the side of leniency. But it's also clear that the AAUP, like any organization, has defended and extended its privileges, and a re-examination is long past due.

Posted by joshuasharf at February 8, 2005 06:46 AM | TrackBack
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