AAUP Issues Recommendations on Ensuring Academic Freedom

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) recently published a new report, entitled Ensuring Academic Freedom in Politically Controversial Academic Decisions [PDF file], that examines the history and character of politically controversial academic personnel decisions and offers specific recommendations on safeguarding academic freedom.

"The public reactions to the irrational murderous attacks in Tucson, and especially President Obama's speech, have highlighted the rancorous quality of current political debate and the corresponding need to strengthen the policies and procedures safeguarding academic inquiry and instruction from political intrusion--though, of course, the problem is not new," says Ernst Benjamin, a member of the AAUP's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure and the chair of the subcommittee that wrote the report.

"Faced with increasingly invasive e-mail, blog, and Twitter campaigns against politically controversial professors, the AAUP studied both recent cases and more than half a century of earlier examples to give fresh and careful guidance to campuses making personnel decisions amidst impassioned public debated," says AAUP president Cary Nelson. "The report offers very specific advice set against a background of nuanced historical reflection, taking note of the Association's own past successes and failures."

"To prevent inappropriate political intrusion, the report offers a series of principles," writes Inside Higher Ed's Scott Jaschik. "For example, when responding to charges that indoctrination is going on in the classroom, the AAUP states that '[o]nly the proven demonstration of the use of 'dishonest tactics' to 'deceive students'--not the political views, advocacy, or affiliations of the faculty member--may provide grounds for adverse action' and that '[n]either the expression nor the attempted avoidance of value judgments can or should in itself provide a reasonable ground for assessing the professional conduct and fitness of a faculty member.'"

"The AAUP is inviting comment on the report, drafted by a subcommittee established to look at politically controversial academic personnel decisions, and the document remains subject to revision and to formal approval by the association's governing council," writes The Chronicle of Higher Education's Peter Schmidt. "But Cary Nelson, president of the AAUP, said … that the final report is likely to closely resemble the current draft, and that his organization is urging colleges to begin following the report's recommendations now."