Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Administrator Academic Freedom

Peter Wood of the NAS argues that the AAUP and others fail to defend the academic freedom of administrators, citing a Chronicle of Higher Education essay that makes this assertion.

Wood is wrong on several accounts.

First, the AAUP has never said that only faculty have academic freedom. In 2000, the AAUP created a committee on academic professionals to address their academic freedom. As Ernie Benjamin points out, "The AAUP adopted a policy statement endorsing academic freedom for non-instructional academic staff entitled 'College and University Academic and Professional Appointments' in 2002. It may be found on pages 93-97 of AAUP Policy Documents and Reports, 10th Ed. It applies to those academic administrators who are not 'senior administrators.' It provides that 'those with significant academic responsibilities should have academic freedom in the discharge of those responsibilities and in their civic lives.' It further provides that 'colleges and universities should recognize the free expression rights of all their employees.' And, it recommends appropriate procedural protections and safeguards."

Second, Lernfreiheit was never a concept about student free speech. It promoted the belief that students were adults who should be able to decide on their course of study (actually, conservative groups such as the NAS and ACTA tend to violate this principle by arguing for more universal requirements on college students).

Third, the AAUP defended the rights of students in its 1967 Joint Statement on the Rights of Students.

Fourth, Summers resigned from Harvard, albeit under pressure. Anyone who voluntarily resigns has a weak claim on academic freedom. However, the key event that led to a faculty vote against him was Summers' removal of a dean. What about that dean's academic freedom? Moreover, Summers was a notoriously bad administrator, which raises the question of whether incompetent administrators should keep their jobs. It is noteworthy that no one ever challenged Summers' tenured position as a professor of economics, which he retained. And plenty of "liberal" adminstrators get fired or pushed out, such as the Republican president of the University of Colorado who got forced out of office for not immediately firing Ward Churchill.

Finally, Wood is right when he writes that academic freedom "is a constitutive principle of higher education itself." It's unfortunate that he wants to limit it only to those whom he deems "dispassionate" rather than embracing the idea of academic freedom for everyone, passionate or otherwise. The AAUP, the NAS, and many others need to broaden their notions of academic freedom to see it as a foundation of higher education that must be intertwined with every activity on campus.

No comments: