God and Man at the AAUP
InsideHigherEd.com reports on the terrible story of a professor at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois who is banned from teaching general biology and having his book taught simply because he believes in the fact of evolution. Fortunately, the AAUP is getting involved in this case, because the university was foolish enough to promise academic freedom to its faculty. However, there is a bigger issue of principle where AAUP employees are failing to follow the policies of the organization.
Jonathan Knight of the AAUP is misrepresenting the clearly stated official position of the AAUP when he claims that religious colleges “are entitled to set out the rules of the game” of academic freedom. This is utterly false, but it is routinely repeated by several AAUP officials. The AAUP’s 1940 statement declared that “Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.” However, the 1970 Interpretive Comments, which supersede the 1940 Statement, declare: “Most church-related institutions no longer need or desire the departure from the principle of academic freedom implied in the 1940 Statement, and we do not now endorse such a departure.” This is an explicit declaration that the AAUP will treat religious colleges exactly the same as other colleges with regard to academic freedom. Who gave Knight the authority to contradict and misrepresent the AAUP’s position? Knight’s stance only encourages religious colleges to explicitly remove academic freedom from faculty, since it makes them immune to criticism from the current AAUP employees.
Of course, there is a rational reason behind this misrepresentation of AAUP policy. If the AAUP equally enforced its academic freedom rules, then hundreds of religious colleges across the country would be guilty of violating these rules. It’s much more politically convenient for the AAUP to select the (still numerous) cases where a religious college violates academic freedom without giving fair notice of censorship to the faculty. Considering how conservatives routinely denounce the AAUP today, imagine how they would react if the AAUP actually dared to enforce its rules equally against the worst censors in academia, the religious colleges. However, political expediency is no excuse for falsely describing the AAUP’s policies. The AAUP members have never repudiated the 1970 Interpretation, and it is wrong for an AAUP employee to change the AAUP’s fundamental policies without any consultation or justification.