A perspective from the Executive Committee of the UM Chapter of AAUP

It is a familiar story now.  Three professors (Davis, Markert and Nickerson) were driven from the University of Michigan by fellow faculty and administration during the 1950s witch hunt known as McCarthyism.  Their experience is commemorated annually by the U-M Academic Freedom Lecture, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year.  In the face of unfavorable publicity, the Regents adopted Bylaw 5.09 , which provides guarantees of due process and conforms with Constitutional expectations when citizens are being deprived of property and livelihood.  Requirements for fairness of process under 5.09 are so strong that the Bylaw has rarely since been invoked by the administration.

For about 85 years a local chapter of the AAUP has served faculty of the Ann Arbor campus.  It promotes standards promulgated by the national organization: preserving academic freedom, maintaining proper procedures for tenure and promotion, supporting faculty governance, and encouraging ethical behavior and fairness within the university. The body of standards, Policy Statements & Reports, was last issued by AAUP in 1995 and principal statements are available on the national AAUP web page:  http://www.aaup.org/ .

It is tempting to conclude that in the absence of published statements, the lives of U-M faculty are free of the experiences of the three faculty members of the 1950s.  Members of the Executive Committee of the U-M chapter of AAUP, however, regularly face aggrieved faculty whose plight is no less challenging than that of Professors Davis, Markert, and Nickerson. 

Faculty Governance

That’s why we need the AAUP today.  It opposes the erosion of faculty governance.  Current U-M organizational structure concentrates authority among relatively few individuals who by and large select their administrative subordinates.  In spite of the belief in decentralization, administrative reporting lines, financial incentives, and budget distribution lines establish control from the top down. 

The Regents’ Bylaws are well designed in their current form.  They provide for advisory roles of faculty members chosen by election at all levels within the university.  Historically, the Regents made strong faculty governance a bedrock foundation of the institution.  However, the provisions of the Bylaws are often circumvented by committees and commissions appointed by executive officers or unit deans.  These committees create an illusion of faculty governance, but their creation is along the lines of the traditional corporate model.  Proliferation of non-faculty staff contributes to further erosion of Regent-established principles because hired employees provide a more comforting advisory climate than that afforded by elected faculty committees.

Top down management is a good way to accumulate resources for the goals set by CEOs, but it is not the model that fosters community building and collegiality among a collection of self-thinkers.  It stands in opposition to what many believe is the core mission of the American university:  that free inquiry and unfettered teaching best promotes the existence of an educated citizenry who can think and act for themselves and thereby preserve democracy.

Through forums, public programs, publications, and methods of suasion, the AAUP is a proponent of the faculty voice in university affairs.  The AAUP speaks to faculty and for faculty, and all faculty are welcome to bring their perspectives to the table in respectful debate.

Counsel and Advice

The AAUP also provides an outlet for faculty concerns on matters related to academic freedom or unfair practices.  The perspective of faculty is different from that of a provost, deans, department heads, or even the general counsel, whose duties are to protect the Regents and administrators.  AAUP policy is to advise fellow academics, regardless of whether or not they are active members of the Association.  Moreover, advice can be kept confidential to avoid retaliation.

Individuals who approach the AAUP often do so only after they have tried to seek redress independently and failed.  Delegation of power to chairs and deans is accompanied by implicit promises of support, together with lack of will to inspect their actions too closely.  The explanation offered for this situation is that it would be impossible to hire chairs and deans if their bosses didn’t back them up.  Under these realities, complainants face retaliation in salary or perquisites simply because they complained.  The formal grievance procedure (now called the Faculty Appeal Procedure) should allow correction to this imbalance, but it has proved inadequate; it is time-consuming and leads only to non-binding recommendations to administrative officials.

Some faculty have turned to the courts.  In a few cases, lawsuits have been successful.  For example, both Professors Emily Cloyd and Dr. Carolyn Phinney recouped some of the damages they suffered.  However, this route is slow and expensive.

Cases brought to the AAUP are treated with confidentiality.  Confidentiality is important since faculty run a risk by reporting misconduct; this is especially true of junior faculty or untenured researchers.  Retaliation for criticism of administrative actions violates AAUP policy, but it occurs nonetheless.

The AAUP is neither a law enforcement agency nor a legal authority; it does its work through moral persuasion.  Most faculty problems and their disposition remain unseen in the greater university environment.  Simple expressions of thanks are received from some; in other cases the aggrieved reach us at such a late stage that there are limited avenues available.

In one recent past case, the chapter, with the aid of the national office, helped two junior faculty extract themselves from a situation in which they claimed their research programs were being hijacked by their administrative superior.  After unit and central administration harassment, the faculty relocated to another university with enough of their program intact that one recently was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. 

In another case, the aggrieved was a full professor who brought allegations and documentation of administrative misconduct for more than a year before voluntarily renouncing confidentiality in order to educate his colleagues.  The professor originally complained to university officials that his proposal for a research center had been plagiarized by his appointed department head.  The complaint languished for about a year, but after repeated urging and actions by both the local chapter and the State Conference of AAUP, the U-M Provost appointed a non-faculty administrator with responsibility for research integrity to look into the matter.  The administrator filed a report clearing the administratively appointed department head.  The AAUP chapter followed the case closely and made its own analysis, finding the administration seriously deficient in procedures of fact-finding and truth-seeking.  The analysis was first shared with the university president and the provost, and then was made public with permission of the aggrieved faculty member.  The analysis can be found on the chapter's web site.

Cases involving grant-sponsored research programs provoke strong defensive postures because of the large amounts of money, particularly overhead, that are involved.  But many faculty face threats to their academic freedom through pressure from department heads to insert selected content into their courses.  AAUP principles maintain that professors control their own course content, and they must not be forced or intimidated into revisions that they believe are pedagogically unjustified. 

Inescapable Conclusions

Why is the AAUP needed?  Because challenges to academic freedom and due process are a continuing feature of our academic landscape.  In recent years, complaints have reached the U-M AAUP on a dazzling range of issues:  plagiarism, discrimination, course evaluation tampering, administrative overriding of course grades, theft and destruction of research materials, sabotage of research and experiments, coercion of false statements and false evidence, coercion of financial misconduct, retaliation for reporting administrative misconduct, and more.  The commonality in these cases is that most people are thrust into feelings of isolation and singularity.  The AAUP can erase the perception of isolation, and help the aggrieved individual through accumulated experience from other faculty.

Recent past experience has led the chapter Executive Committee to urge adherence to the highest ethical standards by administrators and faculty members.  We favor a “Covenant of Fair Dealing,” prepared and endorsed by faculty and administration.  Many professional organizations have espoused standards of conduct.  Development and publicity of such a statement would encourage persistence in honorable beliefs and actions.  And like the Regents’ Bylaws, with enough attention the principles may achieve wider adherence.

Frustration with indifference to AAUP principles has led chapters at other universities to turn to collective bargaining, and to adopt potential confrontation as status quo.  In the State of Michigan this has happened at Wayne State University, Eastern Michigan University, Oakland University, Western Michigan University and Northern Michigan University.  Faculty at UM-Flint were poised to organize collectively until their movement was blocked in the courts, on the grounds that Flint was too closely tied to the University as a whole to permit a separate bargaining unit.  AAUP Chapter leaders here have previously felt that if the administration adheres to the written laws of the university, such a drastic change in faculty-administration roles would be unnecessary.

Membership and activism within the AAUP offers both tangible and intangible benefits.  Group rates are available for many services, including legal insurance.  Participation is open to all, with opportunity to assist in public programs and other good works.  The Executive Committee welcomes visitors and prospective members to its biweekly meetings, announced on the chapter website.  The U-M chapter holds 501c(3) status, so in addition to your membership and participation, tax-deductible contributions are gratefully appreciated.