Friday, April 08, 2011

2nd AAUP Letter to Northwestern on Protess Case

The AAUP has written a second letter to Northwestern University about the David Protess case, which I reprint in full below. This letter is a reply to Northwestern's letter by Thomas Cline, which was a response to the first AAUP letter. (Unfortunately, the AAUP doesn't release third-party letters without permission, and Cline is out of the office and hasn't responded yet to my request to post his letter.) Here is the AAUP letter:

April 4, 2011

Thomas G. Cline
Vice President and General Counsel
Northwestern University

Dear Mr. Cline:

Thank you for your letter of April 1, responding to mine of March 28, addressed to President Schapiro, concerning the case of Professor Protess. We appreciate that the issue of Professor Protess's reinstatement for the spring quarter has been rendered moot as a result of his taking a leave of absence for the quarter. Our concerns remain, however, about the issues of academic due process for a faculty member at Northwestern posed by Dean Lavine's decision to remove Professor Protess from teaching his previously assigned course.

You note that “the University's Faculty Handbook provides specifically that '[t]eaching responsibilities and specific course assignments are established by the school dean and/or department chair.” Such a policy and practice are, of course, common, but it is a long step from that to your assertion that “Therefore, it was Dean Lavine's prerogative to assign the course in question to another tenured faculty member for this quarter.” Moreover, we take exception to your denial that assigning the course to someone else “constitutes a sanction for which any adjudicative hearing is required.”

Enclosed with my March 28 letter to President Schapiro was the report of our Association's Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure on The Use and Abuse of Faculty Suspensions. It quotes earlier AAUP reports which state that the action to bar a faculty member from the classroom “inflicts ignominy upon the teacher” and denies the individual “a right, in the case of the teaching profession, which is exercised not in private practice but through institutions. To deny a faculty member this opportunity without adequate cause, regardless of monetary compensation, is to deny him his basic professional rights. Moreover, to a good teacher, to be involuntarily idle is a serious harm in itself....” In short, see removal from normal teaching responsibilities, even where the faculty member retains other duties, as certainly a suspension and plainly, therefore, a severe sanction—requiring an adjudicative hearing of record before an appropriate faculty body. Indeed, on page 28 of the Northwestern University Faculty Handbook regarding “Termination or Suspension of Faculty for Cause,” one reads the following:

“Termination of an appointment with continuous tenure, or of a probationary of special appointment before the end of the specified term, may be effected by the University for adequate cause and in conformity with the procedures outlined below. If the University believes that the conduct of a faculty member, although not constituting adequate cause for termination, poses a sufficiently grave infraction of the principles of academic freedom or of faculty responsibility to justify suspension from service for a stated period or some other severe sanction, the University will follow the procedures below in conducting proceedings that may impose such sanctions. Adequate cause for termination of an appointment or the imposition of some other severe sanction will be related, directly and substantially, to the faculty member's fitness in his/her professional capacities as a teacher or researcher, which includes conduct consistent with principles of academic freedom and faculty responsibility. Termination, suspension, or other severe sanction will not be used to restrain faculty members in their exercise of academic freedom or other rights of United States citizens.”

The “procedures below” to which reference is made in the foregoing paragraph are set forth on pages 29-31 of the handbook, and these track the AAUP's recommended procedural standards. They require inter alia an adjudicative hearing of record before the University Faculty Reappointment, Promotion, Tenure, and Dismissal Appeals Panel, in which the administration, before taking any final action, must bear the burden of demonstrating adequacy of cause for the severe sanction it seeks to impose.

In sum, beyond the specific case of Professor Protess, we are troubled that, in writing for the Northwestern administration, you have set forth a position that appears not only at odds with AAUP-supported standards of academic due process but also in conflict with the university's own applicable policies and procedures.

B. Robert Kreiser
Associate Secretary

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