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Report of the Illinois AAUP's Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure

By Peter Kirstein, VP, IL AAUP, Chair IL Committee A

Illinois Committee A has had a very active season and has been receiving considerable support from the Washington, D.C. national AAUP office. Our heavy case load is inversely proportional to the degree of justice and equity that is evident across the academy in Illinois. Faculty members are being suspended, denied tenure and threatened with dismissal in alarming numbers. What is particularly notable is the lack of pre-sanction review procedures on many campuses; or, if present, they are being cavalierly ignored by arbitrary administrators and supine faculty members who are more concerned with conformist calm than stirring the pot for justice and critical thinking. It seems progressivism is more evident in the classroom than the ruling class that governs. Hence, shared governance is difficult due to the frequently competing ideological positions of the corporate ruling elites and a faculty that still holds onto the values of education and expanding knowledge through it! It needs to be stated that faculty need to know their rights in the bylaws, faculty handbook, and AAUP-articulated principles.

The four documents in the so-called Redbook that are most relevant in identifying procedural and substantive rights of at-risk faculty are 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the 1958 Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings, the revised, 2013 Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure, and the 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities. Before an administration can dismiss or suspend a tenured faculty member , it must adhere to certain due process safeguards.

In the case of dismissal, for example, as elucidated in Regulation 5 from the 2013 Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure. "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. Dismissal will not be used to restrain faculty members in their exercise of academic freedom or other rights of American citizens." Dismissal of a tenured faculty member, supposedly the most protected with job security, must be preceded by a statement of charges, and the faculty member must have the right to take his or her case before an adversarial hearing with an ad hoc or elected standing faculty-hear­ing committee.

If an administration, in its zeal to purge a faculty member, decides that a paid suspension should precede the final determination of dismissal, it is in violation of the faculty member's rights. Suspension can only be imposed "if immediate harm to the faculty member or others is threat­ened by continuance." Rarely are suspended faculty given this consideration in the United States and even more rarely does AAUP investigate a suspension case that is imposed without this clear standard. Post-secondary institutions just assume that a suspension is appropriate as long as one is being compensated. They are wrong, and should be held accountable for such a grievous violation of suggested AAUP principles. The hearing committee that must precede a major sanction such as dismissal or a suspension can gather facts, interview parties from the administration and the faculty member. The faculty member can submit documents, state her or his case, and have counsel and a faculty advisor present. Again, this is to precede any administration dismissal or suspension against a faculty member. Without such an adversarial hearing, we have a shredding of shared governance and an evisceration of academic freedom in which whim and bias can replace process and rights. Faculty must resist such arbitrary treatment by any means necessary within institutional grievance and legal remedies that are available. It should be emphasized that unlike an application for promotion or tenure, a move to dismiss a faculty member must achieve a higher standard of proof. According to AAUP Recommended Institutional Recommendations, "The burden of proof that adequate cause exists rests with the institution and will be satisfied only by clear and convincing evi­dence in the record considered as a whole." While the administration need not adhere to a faculty-hearing committee's recommendation against dismissal or other major sanction, it is required to state its reasons in refusing to accept the hearing committee's recommendation.

While governing boards make the ultimate decision, they rarely make hard choices on behalf of the professoriate. They are usually too remote from the institution, or hostile to the professor who makes waves and exudes an independence challenging the current order. Many are either appointed by a state governor and are political hacks or major donors. Others are appointed by the institution's president and are beholden to that individual. They are frequently reluctant to exercise independence of thought and action in order to defend academic freedom and the rights of faculty. I am unaware of a governing board reversing a president's recommendation for dismissal over the objections of a hearing committee. If it happens, you can bet it is quite rare.

If colleges and universities knew they could anticipate legal and other forms of challenges when they persecute faculty outside of normally accepted standards of due process protocol, they might be more diffident in steamrolling recalcitrant faculty. Yet the corporate university is determined to snuff out freedom, turn students into robots, insure that free-thinking faculty do not think too freely, and consider the business model of top-down strategic decision making as the preferred model in attaining institutional stability. Stability at the expense of free thinking and critical thinking. Yet not all will surrender quietly and passively accept illegitimate authority. The Illinois Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure is an example of that!