Sunday, August 28, 2011

On Tenure: The AAUP Standards

This is the first of what I expect will be two postings on tenure. In this one I give a distilled version of the AAUP position on tenure, a position that originates with the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure agreed upon by the AAUP (American Association of University Presidents) and the Association of American Colleges (AAC, an association representing college presidents, which is now the AACU--The Association of American Colleges and Universities). These principles have subsequently endorsed by over 200 academic organizations and associations. Some of the procedures I outline come from subsequent AAUP documents, which haven't been as universally endorsed. I'll try to make clear which is which. For some readers this stuff will be old hat. But it wasn't for me (as I discovered when engaged in a rather spirited dispute with a persnickety anonymous commentator).  And the details matter.

For the purposes of these posts I am simply going to assume that the AAUP principles, which have long been the norm at respectable American universities and colleges, are the standard we should aim to uphold, though no doubt some will question this--and other institutions have undermined these principles in recent years, so SIUC would have some company, if not particularly good company, were it to go that route. A second post will discuss the current status of these principles at SIUC.

The 1940 AAUP statement defines tenure as follows.  
Tenure is a means to certain ends; specifically: (1) freedom of teaching and research and of extramural activities, and (2) a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability. Freedom and economic security, hence, tenure, are indispensable to the success of an institution in fulfilling its obligations to its students and to society.
Especially given the heated debate I had with anonymous, it is worth stressing that, from its very outset in the US, tenure was intended to provide economic security. It cannot be divorced from this function. When administrators say that they are not attacking tenure when they contemplate laying off tenured faculty they are talking nonsense. A professor terminated by a university is no longer tenured by that university. And as she or he was attracted to the profession in some part due to the economic security tenured promised to provide, abandonment of that promise is rather clearly unjust. Another point worth making, it seems to me, is that tenure is akin to the other sorts of job security unions in other fields fight for, though their purposes and justifications may differ to some extent.  

Correlative with the rights tenure gives are certain duties: faculty "should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject".  And even when they speak as citizens (their "extramural activities"), while they should be free from censorship, 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". A subsequent clarification (agreed to by the AAUP and AAC in 1970) notes that an extramural statement can only be made grounds for dismissal when it "clearly demonstrates the faculty member's unfitness for his or her position".  Failure to abide by these obligations can result in termination, following due process.  

The 1940 principles appear to recognize only two criteria for termination of tenured faculty. 
  • Firing for cause.  This is not defined very clearly in the 1940 document, but would seem to include: "moral turpitude", demonstrable incompetence (including that shown by reckless and irresponsible extramural statements), consistent efforts to introduce unrelated controversial matters into the classroom, and the like. I am going to assume (perhaps naively) that this rather rare sort of removal isn't what we need to worry about just now.  
  • Bona fide financial exigency.  
A subsequent AAUP document, Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom & Tenure, clarifies matters.  It makes numerous suggestions for the principles that ought to safeguard tenure.  But it also adds two further justifications for dismissal of tenured faculty:  
  • Program termination (when this is based on educational rather than financial considerations).
  • Physical or mental disability (subsequent to the tenure decision).
The basic principles to be followed for the financial exigency and program termination grounds are worth briefly spelling out. 

Financial exigency
  1. Financial exigency is "an imminent financial crisis that threatens the survival of the institution as a whole and that cannot be alleviated by less drastic means".  
  2. A "faculty body" should participate in determining whether a financial exigency is at hand, and whether all possible alternatives have been pursued.
  3. Faculty should have the "primary responsibility" for determining which programs are to be effected by terminations of tenured faculty, as this involves questions of educational policy, and should also have the "primary responsibility" for setting criteria for which individuals should be terminated, which may include seniority.
  4. The institution should make "every effort" to place the affected faculty member in another suitable position within the institution. (I take it that this means that if the faculty decide that program x must be cut, given the financial exigency, but that some or all of the faculty members involved could fill needed positions in program y, they should be placed in program y--at least instead of hiring others to fill those positions). 
Program discontinuance
  1. This criterion is to be clearly distinguished from that above, and cannot be a matter of short term variations in enrollment: it must be based on the educational mission of the institution, reflecting "long range judgments that the educational mission of the institution as a whole will be enhanced by the discontinuance".  (I take it that this means that program discontinuance could be used to shift resources from one program to another, not to reduce the number of faculty overall.) 
  2. This decision must be determined "primarily by the faculty as a whole".
  3. The institutions must make "every effort" to place affected faculty members in another program.
With these matters spelled out, it will be easy, I submit, to demonstrate that the terms imposed on the faculty last spring constitute a grave attack on tenure at SIUC.  But doing so will require a post on the recent history of tenure at SIUC. Stay tuned.

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