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Statement of Purpose

Defense of academic freedom is the central purpose of UVU-AAUP. Academic freedom is public trust granted to professors as professionals. Claims to academic freedom are legitimate if the inquiry furthers understanding of the human condition and/or natural process. Autonomy of inquiry, unfettered by political pressure, is the élan vital of the academic enterprise.

Administrative Values in the UVU Workload Debate

Doug Downs

As a scholar and teacher of rhetorical theory and persuasive communication, I have occasion in almost every class I teach to help students understand that in everyday human relations and argument, our most foundational assumptions—our worldview—shapes our positions far more powerfully than any logic or evidence. That is because these underlying values are the lens through which we interpret the claims and data we encounter, and evidence in conflict with our first principles will nearly always be discounted or explained away.

We could look to no better example than the past two years’ debate at UVU about Faculty Workload Policy. The policy was brought to Faculty Senate in Spring 2006 as an accounting measure, a way of fairly accounting for all the work UVU faculty accomplish, not just portions of their teaching. On this basis, the majority of faculty encouraged their Senators to vote for the policy. What we faculty did not account for was how administrators’ values would influence implementation of the policy.

Choices, Choices, Choices

During implementation, it became clear that the policy had been shaped less by the external exigence of Regents mandate—though that continued to be the primary administrative justification for the new policy—than by administrative worldviews about the nature of UVU, higher education, and the roles of UVU faculty. Choices that might have led to an accounting measure which could give faculty credit for all their work instead of part of it, in actuality led to an instrument of oversight, control, and limitation.

Administrative choices regarding workload accounting included these:

  • An overall workload number would be invented, chosen to be (defined as being) equal to the maximum teaching load in the USHE system (30 hours, SLCC). Alone among USHE institutions and beyond requirements of any Regents policy, UVU chose to invent an overall workload number and then to equate it with a maximum teaching load.
  • Then, in the opposite direction, UVU’s maximum teaching load would be understood as equal to the overall workload number. Per the proposed overload policy, faculty would not be paid for overload until they taught more than 15 hours per semester, because only at that point would their teaching be greater than the overall workload number. Yet an equally obvious choice would have been to accept any teaching over the Regents mandated institutional average of 12 hours as “overload.”
  • The institutional teaching average (for UVU, 24 hours/year) established by Regents policy would be read literally and to the letter, and Workload reports would then be used to determine with equal literalness whether UVU was following the policy or not. In contrast, other USHE schools choose to read the spirit of the Regents policy, rather than its exact wording, as setting targets or even maximums, not required averages.
  • The concept of “reassigned” time—where academic or governance obligations “overwrite” equivalent teaching obligations—would disappear for all but the heaviest governance (chairing depts. or programs, administrative posts). Time spent on research, mentoring, and “low”-level service (committees, Faculty Senate, special projects) would no longer overwrite teaching but instead shift the teaching obligation to other faculty.
  • Reduced teaching loads would be understood as cheating the system rather than as a mark of professional accomplishment or balanced workload. Champions of the workload policy—both administrators and faculty—have long valorized a “transparency” that has essentially meant surveillance. Faculty were blatantly promised that workload reports would provide leverage for leveling labor across departments—if by labor we understood only teaching. Never was it an option to bring departments with unreasonably high teaching loads down to the level of departments with lower loads.
  • Regents policy would not be questioned, challenged, or resisted. Despite the fact that by national norms and peer standards, USHE institutions carry high teaching loads (which are then contractually ignored by institutions such as the U of U), UVU administrators chose to accept rather than gently resist or even question these policies. Only after tremendous faculty outcry months into the implementation process did administrators choose to pursue informal discussions with individual sympathetic regents about Regents policy itself.
  • Reports on workload from other USHE institutions would be taken at face value—as uninterpretable, inerrant indicators of reality, to the exclusion of any contrasting or undermining evidence. For example, the U of U’s workload report showing the institution meeting its 18-hour average teaching load was taken at face value, while our administrators shut their eyes to the reality that U of U faculty habitually teach a maximum of six hours per semester, and TAs (who do most of the teaching) are limited to the same load. (Not to mention habitual sabbaticals, fellowships, and other releases that mean few faculty actually teach 6 hours/semester for more than two years in a row.) UVU would choose to ignore this other evidence of workload realities.
  • The most restrictive possible definitions and interpretations would be chosen regarding what counts as teaching and what elements of work count as academic and governance credit-hour equivalents. Regents policy leaves considerable room for interpretation; other schools choose to use that room to generate favorable workload reports. UVU administrators chose not to.

The Values Behind the Choices

While the Workload policy was consistently presented to faculty as the only available path given the overarching and unbending Regents policies involved, the analysis above suggests that a variety of other paths were in fact available. Choices are usually an excellent indicator of worldview and foundational assumptions; these visible choices on workload reveal some values and worldviews of higher education that seem to shape administration’s reasoning. So what values are suggested by the paths that UVU has taken? Further, to what extent are those values in the best interest of UVU faculty as professional scholars in academic fields—as members of the higher-education enterprise more broadly?

Affordability. When existing faculty do less teaching, but the total teaching needing to be done does not decline, more faculty must be hired. Faculty are expensive. The more teaching they do, the more cost effective they are. Thus, administration has a tremendous disincentive to account for all the work faculty do; as long as faculty appear to do less work, higher teaching loads must be embraced. Thus, workload definitions have been developed and carefully calibrated to account only for as much work as administration feels it can afford, rather than all the work faculty might deserve to have counted as work.

Vocational Teaching. What can we conclude about the values of an administration that actively avoids opportunities to balance classroom teaching with other professional pursuits (particularly mentoring and research)? Whether intended or not, the effect is quite simply to atrophy faculty’s connections to their profession, stunting their careers and reducing their mobility. The administration clearly values the notion that faculty’s primary role is to “get in the classroom and teach,” regardless of the fact that this is the narrowest, most limited, least professional understanding of teaching possible.

I serve, for example, on the editorial board of a national journal of undergraduate research on writing (Young Scholars in Writing). Along with steering the journal, in the last year I reviewed seven submissions, of which three were accepted for publication, leading to an editorial and mentoring relationship with their writers during several months of additional drafting and revision. (And I write detailed reviews of rejected manuscripts, recommending potential revisions.) I also mentored three of my own students in turning course papers into submissions, all of which were accepted. My hours devoted to this journal last year topped 100—over two solid weeks worth of work, stretched across 6 months. It is among the most professional teaching I have ever done. Yet my administration has chosen a workload accounting system in which this teaching effort goes unremarked and uncounted. How can I not believe it is most interested in a more restricted and narrower, vocational sense of teaching based only in the lecture-classroom?

Trust and Obey. In my church we sing this hymn—“Trust and Obey.” Religious venues are the place for faith and trust in one’s divine leaders, for a spirit of meek submission to divine authority and will. Such values, though, should not characterize the relationship between an institution and its governing body. The evidence of what we care about is in our willingness to defend it, to enter conflict over it (no matter how distasteful or even hopeless conflict might be), to struggle on behalf of what we say we care about. When our administration will not even attempt to reason with our Regents over workload—much less resist policies that are detrimental to a professional faculty—it says something about what our administrators believe is worth fighting for. Based on faculty’s own struggles with administration on workload, what our administration seems to believe is worth fighting for is an affordable, vocational, and obedient faculty whose classroom time is counted and valued and whose other work is, largely, not.

Where Things Stand

As co-author of a Faculty Senate resolution against workload implementation last spring—based on many of the concerns the analysis above must raise—I was unsure what effect we would have. (Senate votes are not binding on the administration.) But the resolution voiced concerns that were being discounted as the mutterings of a few extreme malcontents. It demonstrated the breadth of faculty concern, leading the President to establish a faculty/administration committee to review workload implementation.

The committee hosted an open meeting in the Fall to hear faculty concerns, which were eloquently expressed by several leading faculty on campus. While workload reporting continues unabated, administration has agreed to work with the Regents on interpreting policy on teaching load. And the Workload Implementation Taskforce seems interested in broadening definitions and adding to the lists of “what counts” in teaching, academic, and governance labor.

We have not, though, seen any indication of changed values, and values shape both policies and the questions asked of those policies. Until we see changes in those underlying values, faculty would do well to save a trust-and-obey approach for more divine venues than the UVU campus.

 

 

 

Freedom of inquiry, unfettered by political pressure, is the élan vital of the academic enterprise. Professors are professionals, and part of the essence of being a “professional” is possessing public trust. The trust granted to us, the professoriate, is academic freedom. Claims to academic freedom are legitimate if the inquiry furthers understanding of the condition of humanity and/or the processes of nature.

Defense of academic freedom is the central focus of our campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors (UVU-AAUP).

As an issue which transcends the partisan politics of town hall, academic freedom is neither “liberal" nor “conservative." Inaccurately identified with the left by the right, the brute reality is that no professor is immune from interference, meddling, subversion, and suppression of academic work for non-academic pretexts. Violation of the academic freedom of “conservative" professors is as much as a possibility as violation of the academic freedom of “liberal” professors; that Condoleezza Rice has not been glowingly welcomed to return to Stanford on account of some of her neoconservative positions in the Bush Administration should catch the attention of the former group. The professoriate, regardless of political orientation, must join together in defending the integrity of the academic enterprise by defending the fundamental right to freedom of inquiry. To this end, the UVU-AAUP is categorically non-partisan.

What are some current threats to academic freedom confronting the faculty on our campus? Three immediately come to mind.

(1) The “balance" criterion. Prima facie, calls for “balance" appear to be reasonable. It seems sensible that the academic programming of any institution of higher education should be “balanced"—that is, juxtaposing alternate viewpoints for the sake political neutrality—until one realizes that the notion of balance is itself overtly political.

“Balance" is political because “balance" is relative—relative to some political norm. Calls for “balance" at UVU would seem to be a call for rough equality of traditionalist and progressivist viewpoints in the academic program. But this is certainly not what calls for “balance" really mean: locally the term implies something like 80% traditionalist/20% progressivist, or 90/10, or—best—100/0. Therefore, what might pass for “balance” in Orem might make UVU look like the leaning tower of Pisa by national standards, in immediate danger of toppling over. Therefore, since normative equipoise is subjective and culturally relative, calls for “balance" are not constructive.

(2) The “community values" criterion. Since the campus circus springing up around Michael Moore and Sean Hannity in a curious effort at striking “balance” from the spectacle of two extremists, there has been a noticeable, growing sense of entitlement by some local taxpayers and politicians (vide The College Times, November 21, 2005, A3) to intrude in campus matters in open disrespect for professional educators.

Their argument has been, generally, that campus operations, including curriculum development and even the hiring of faculty (vide The Salt Lake Tribune, December 9, 2004, and The Deseret News, December 11, 2004), should reflect the common morality of the “community”—that is, “community values.” References to “THE values of THIS community” slide easily off the tongue and sound sweet to many ears. But if one is interested in the semantic precision most professors prize, the concept is flawed beyond any hope of repair.

Whether a “community” is defined in terms of geography, religion, language, vocation, or race, the definition is always subject to exception and stipulation. Even cohesive religious communities do not enjoy consensus on primary values. The criterion of identifying a community based on simple similarity is not self-sufficient: a community can only be identified by contrasting it to something else which it is not. Since the sum of individuals living together in a particular location at a particular time will never universally share the same “values,” the notion of a community based on “shared values” is an artifice based on exclusion. The “community” is not a self-sufficient entity, but a precipitate from a plane of multiplicity. Utah County, perhaps disturbingly to some, is no exception.

“Community values” exist nowhere except in the eyes of their political beholders. Around here, the pariahs of “community values” are simply those who by the definition of those doing the defining do not happen to conform to the hegemonic agenda du jour. Worse, to privilege one set of “values” at the exclusion of others directly contradicts the ideal of American pluralism.

Thus, like the abuse of “balance,” the use of “community values” as some kind of normative benchmark for determining the soundness of academic content must be dismissed out-of-hand. The tangible outcome of using “community values” as a standard for curriculum development—such as inserting supernaturalism into the natural science curricula or purging Marx from political science courses—would be the certain loss of accreditation. That would do Utah Valley no good.

I have heard numerous faculty express worry that the rhetoric of “regional university” and “communities of engaged learners” is really a ruse to foist the “community values” criterion onto Academic Affairs and bring syllabi in line with the political and religious agendas of powerful community leaders. Thankfully, no evidence exists—yet—to substantiate these worries. Were evidence to appear, however, such external political interference into the internal operations of Academic Affairs could not be tolerated.

(3) Increasing Ratios of Part-Time Faculty to Full-Time Faculty. Campuses across the nation have seen sharp increases in the numbers of part-time (adjunct) instructors hired instead of full-time tenure-track faculty (vide Alan Finder, “Decline of the Tenure Track Raises Concerns at Colleges,” The New York Times, November 20, 2007, A1 passim). Administrators justify the trend by citing tight budgets: part-time faculty often carry full-time teaching loads but are paid only a fraction of what full-time professors earn and are not eligible for benefits.

Aside from the problem of such obvious exploitation, another deleterious consequence lurks: part-time faculty who run afoul of the politics of administrators and powerful community members can be fired easily, the termination explained in terms of financial exigency. The result is that part-time instructors understandably tend to be reticent in expressing themselves on controversial topics or engage in the governance of the institution for fears of retribution.

Willingness to express one’s scholarly findings is a function of shared respect within the institutional setting. When a large portion of teachers on a campus do not feel comfortable about expressing their opinions, the vitality of the institution is weakened. The number of part-time faculty at UVU threatens the cultivation of a vibrant academic atmosphere.

These three threats to academic freedom will manifest themselves in different ways in different combinations as we collectively learn what it means to have a public university in the neighborhood. I intuit that this learning process will cause growing pains, like an adolescent entering adulthood, but that we will all be better off for it in the long run.

As your colleague and President of UVU-AAUP, I defend your right—including those of you with whom I respectfully but adamantly disagree—to discuss the findings of your scholarship and research publicly inside and outside of the classroom. I even vow to listen.

The UVU-AAUP has been formed to protect the essential right of academic freedom. Hopefully the chapter will end up being no more than a peer network providing mutual support and organizing an occasional symposium on the necessity of academic freedom for higher education and civil society. But one thing is for sure: without academic freedom, the Academy is gutted and rendered useless. External political pressures continuously eat away at this freedom. These incursions must be repulsed and autonomy of inquiry vigilantly protected.

It’s up to us to stick up for the integrity of our chosen profession.

Doug is an Assistant Professor of English & Literature at UVU