“[A]cademic freedom – the free search for truth and its free exposition – is the bulwark of American higher education, and [it] is threatened whenever tenure is threatened.”
– Lawrence White, Associate Secretary, The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), “Retrenchment by the Book,” 1983, http://www.aaup.org/NR/rdonlyres/9A6F2BC5-1C6A-4BC5-837C-9787F379BF33/0/White.pdf
We need all be alarmed whenever a PASSHE institution threatens our colleagues’ employment. And, we ought to be equally concerned for our profession whenever tenure is threatened absent dismissal for just cause.
The current threat of retrenchment and the ad hoc processes used by Office of the Chancellor (OOC) and the Universities are deeply disturbing. The process has not been uniform, in-depth information has not been uniformly shared, and there are apparently no set guidelines to neutrally regulate how and why a retrenchment needs to take place. Simply put, the Universities’ and the OOC’s actions have flown in the face of the longstanding AAUP principles that, (1) given the seriousness of the removal of tenure, neutral processes ought to be developed and in place BEFORE a financial crisis and (2) that “faculty representatives must be consulted at every stage and must play a meaningful role in the decision that are made.” (White, “Retrenchment by the Book”)
In fact, the Universities and the OOC have blurred an important distinction that has been traditionally used to safeguard tenure and to insure fair practices in the preservation of the academic enterprise. Specifically, the OOC and the Universities have, by simultaneously claiming programmatic concerns and financial necessity, proceeded toward retrenchment while, thus far, avoiding the longstanding understood requirements that ought to accompany these two different concerns.
According to the AAUP, the termination of tenured faculty should only take place under conditions of “financial exigency.” This is a term that the OOC and the Universities have NOT invoked. Why? First, claims of financial exigency will undoubtedly bring skeptical inquiry to the working of PASSHE and negative publicity that may drive away students and donors. Second, we are told, a claim of financial exigency invokes scrutiny from our accrediting institutions.
To both of these concerns, APSCUF’s response has been “too bad.” Stripping faculty of tenure is a serious matter. It ought not done based on dire predictions of what might happen; it should only occur, as the AAUP says, “under extraordinary circumstances because of a demonstrably bona fide financial exigency, i.e., an imminent financial crisis that threatens the survival of the institution as a whole and that cannot be alleviated by less drastic means.” (AAUP, “Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom & Tenure")
Neither the OOC nor ANY of the Universities have come close to meeting this difficult standard. The underlying motivation for threatened retrenchment seems only to be dire predictions about what might happen should PASSHE fall victim to a number of doomsday scenarios. What if funding gets cut? What happens if there is a pension crisis? What happens if the federal stimulus money disappears? As serious as these threats may be (and they are rightfully worthy of at least some skepticism), it simply does not rise to the level of financial exigency. Where are the exhaustive examinations and the accompanying prioritization of all our Universities do? Again, where is the evidence that there is no “less dramatic” means?
To make matters worse, the OOC has simultaneously engaged in program review that threatens tenured positions. The lines between what is driven by possible financial exigency and what is driven by program review are not entirely clear. However these possible threats to tenure are significantly different enough for the AAUP to have separated them out; programmatic necessity merits a separate category in the AAUP recommendations, i.e., “Discontinuance of Program or Department Not Mandated by Financial Exigency (emphasis added).”
With regard to discontinuation of programs or departments, the AAUP emphasizes that faculty must play a role in this determination, “The decision to discontinue formally a program or department of instruction will be based essentially upon educational considerations, as determined primarily by the faculty as a whole or an appropriate committee thereof.” The OOC has not even come close to satisfying this requirement. At best, the OOC has allowed programs and departments to plead their case for their own existence (with a word limit) as the Board of Governors washes its hands of its role in safeguarding higher education.
The OOC and the PASSHE Universities must stop in their tracks. They need to think about the harm they are doing to their institutions and to the academic enterprise. Public higher education is not a business.
Now is the time for us to stand together to protect our colleagues’ jobs and to safeguard higher education. We simply cannot stand mute in the face of PASSHE’s threat to our colleagues and to our profession. Ask the tough questions. Demand answers. Push for alternatives. Attend your local APSCUF meetings.