September 23, 2003

Is the AAUP's Censure Policy Deserving of Censure?

Bennington? I pondered the question for days. I believe in solidarity, and I had some concern that the AAUP censure was essentially a picket line -- that to cross it, figuratively speaking, by sending in a job application might be tantamount to treason. However, the conflict at Bennington is long past, so the effect is not the same as it would be had I applied in 1995. Communication with some local AAUP leaders led me to conclude that AAUP censure is more a guild's warning about poor working conditions, a shaming exercise, than a union's inviolable picket line.

-- Max Clio, "Bennington or Tenure?"

The AAUP censure as a guildlike shaming exercise sounds about right. The censure does not in itself carry any direct institutional or legal weight, though as the AAUP notes in "What is Censure?" "courts have often referred to AAUP principles and standards in addressing what is customary in the academic world." In that document, the AAUP defines the practice as follows:

Censure results from the Association's findings that conditions for academic freedom and tenure are unsatisfactory at a college or university. The 1940 Statement of Principles asserts that institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good, and that the common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free expression. An institution that disregards the concepts of academic freedom and tenure will have difficulty in fulfilling its basic purpose.

Interestingly enough, the AAUP includes Eric Marshall's "Victims of Circumstance: Academic Freedom in a Contingent Academy" in its list of Resources on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Marshall's article, which I blogged about here, points out that "the usual and customary understanding of academic freedom has also long wedded it inseparably to tenure, thereby greatly diminishing its relevance for adjuncts and largely excluding them from the conversation." On the front page of its website, moreover, the AAUP also provides a link to its recent Draft Policy Statement on Contingent Appointments and the Academic Freedom. This statement, which I briefly considered a couple of weeks ago (more to follow when I get a chance), argues that "currently, neither peer review nor academic due process operates adequately to secure academic freedom for most contingent faculty members."

At the moment, there are about 50 schools on the AAUP's list of Censured Administations. Not bad, eh? Only 50 out of how many thousands of community colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities (I don't have the total figure, though this would be worth looking up; I do know that it's in the thousands). But wait. How many community colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities rely on contingent faculty who lack any sort of security or academic freedom? According to the above-linked policy statement on contingent appointments:

As of 1998, [non-tenure track] appointments still accounted for nearly three out of five faculty positions, in all types of institutions. In community colleges, more than three out of five positions are part-time non-tenure-track positions, and 35 percent of all full-time positions are off the tenure track. Non-tenure-track appointments make up an even larger proportion of new appointments. Through the 1990s, in all types of institutions, three out of four new faculty members were appointed to non-tenure-track positions.

Given this high proportion of contingent academic appointments, and given the AAUP's contention that such contingent appointments violate the principles of academic freedom as the association has itself defined it, it seems to me that the AAUP applies its censure very selectively indeed. Why does it not censure those institutions that rely too heavily on part-time contingent appointments? ("too heavily" is obviously open to interpretation: I'll throw out "more than 20 percent of undergraduate courses taught by contingent faculty members" as a rough guide). It looks as though the censure system focuses on isolated incidents involving egregious violations, while ignoring a systematic violation that is slowly but surely undermining the very bases of academic freedom.

I suppose that if the association took the larger threat to academic freedom more seriously, the list of censured institutions would be so lengthy that the practice might lose its rhetorical force? Still, for the AAUP to ignore the lack of academic freedom for nearly half of those it claims to represent does not strike me as very effective guildlike behavior.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at September 23, 2003 01:24 PM

The Invisible Adjunct (don't you just LOVE that name for this site?) asks, "Why does it [the AAUP] not censure those institutions that rely too heavily on part-time contingent appointments?"

Well, here's a darn-tootin' good question if I've ever seen one! The answer? The AAUP doesn't want to tick off all those big-fish profs that have the real power in academia. I mean, we don't want a revolution, now do we?

Check out my blog at

Keep on rockin', Invisible Adjunct.

Academy Girl

Posted by: Academy Girl at September 23, 2003 06:30 PM

You misunderstand. It is *very* effective guildlike behavior.

You're not in the guild, that's all.

AAUP really means in this context AAUTP, TENURED Professors. Not even "tenure-track", but "already tenured". The academic freedom of pre-tenure or not-to-be-tenured academics is an immaterial issue.

Now it's not all doom and gloom: other labor bargaining issues that affect adjuncts, like salaries or benefits, the AAUP will be glad to speak to. But not academic freedom or participation in institutional governance.

This should not be a surprise since in the end at large institutions tenured faculty and adjunct faculty have fundamentally contradictory interests; the continued existence of the extremely *good* deal that tenured faculty have is predicated on an extremely *bad* deal for adjuncts, and it is further predicated on keeping adjuncts out of governance so that they don't get any kind of foot in the door, and you don't want adjuncts to have the guarantees of academic freedom since the standard fable about tenure is that this is why we have it. If you can extend such freedoms to adjuncts without tenure...why have tenure? You cannot adequately represent the concerns of both groups: you have to choose. It's not terribly surprising that the AAUP chooses the powerful, entrenched constituency.

Posted by: Timothy Burke at September 24, 2003 08:31 AM

I do understand. And I agree that "it's not terribly surprising that the AAUP chooses the powerful, entrenched constituency." My point was precisely to call attention to the gap between the stated mission/constituency and the actual mission/constituency of the AAUP.

I agree with everything you say but this: "It is *very* effective guildlike behavior." In the short run, yes, it is obviously very effective. In the longer term, however, I believe it is ineffective. As you point out, "If you can extend such freedoms to adjuncts without tenure...why have tenure?" But similarly, if you can run academic programs with 40 to 50 percent of faculty part-time (instead of the roughly 20 percent that was the average 20 years ago), then why not 60 to 70 percent of faculty part-time (which is now the case at many community colleges)? This is one of the main fears that underlies the recent statement on the growing use of adjuncts -- which statement is perhaps less an expression of concern for the plight of the part-timer than a belated recognition that the ongoing conversion of full-time tenurable positions into part-time contingent positions is a threat to the professional status of faculty.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at September 25, 2003 12:36 PM

My "misunderstand" and "very effective" are entirely cynicism at the expense of the AAUP. We all understand; I think everyone understands. And I agree: it's not effective in the long-term. I'm not even clear it's effective in the short-term. It's just that it satisfies the needs of people who are only protecting a short-term position.

Posted by: Timothy Burke at September 25, 2003 08:20 PM

Okay, I get it now. I misunderstood your "you misunderstand." Which is to say, I missed your irony (which is to say, thought you had missed mine). Mea culpa.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at September 25, 2003 08:26 PM

"it's not effective in the long-term. I'm not even clear it's effective in the short-term"

Why should academics be immune from the same problems that plauge the Steelworkers?

They protected the pensions of the retirees and sacrificed the interests of the younger workers, until the companies went bankrupt and left them with neither.

As our Lord Keyens said: "In the long-run, we are all dead."

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 30, 2003 01:00 PM