Academic Freedom

Table of Contents

§ Academic Freedom Executive Summary
§ 2018 Statement on Academic Freedom at Rutgers:Where Are We and How Did We Get Here?
§ Why Academic Freedom Matters
§ Historical Background
§ Academic Freedom at Rutgers
§ Defending and Renewing Academic Freedom at Rutgers in 2018
§ Academic Freedom, Online Teaching, and Learning Management Systems
§ Academic Freedom in the Classroom
§ Academic Freedom and Social Media
§ Academic Freedom and Email
§ Academic Freedom and Contingent Faculty
§ Academic Freedom and Faculty Governance
§ Beyond the Guarantees of Due Process
§ The Role of the Union


Academic Freedom Executive Summary

Academic freedom is essential to the mission of Rutgers. It is key to educating students, supporting cutting-edge research and serving the public. Thus, academic freedom is a common good that the university as an institution must guarantee. Faculty and students must be able to express ideas free from harassment, intimidation, threats of violence, or professional disadvantage. The Union is committed to negotiating and advocating for the common good and recognizes academic freedom as a fundamental pillar of the conditions of work for all members.

In April 2017, hundreds of thousands of Americans marched in the streets of Washington, D.C., to defend science and to protest climate science denial. Despite pouring rain at the March for Science in Washington, D.C., Americans thought it was necessary to make their voices heard and to speak out against an attack on science and evidence-based research waged by the federal government. This kind of interference in the scholarly pursuit of knowledge and freedom to express ideas is a threat to the central missions of the University.

Rutgers currently guarantees academic freedom, having incorporated the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) statements of 1940 and 1969, but it has not updated it to the digital era. In our 2018 contract, we are setting out to:

1)    guarantee academic freedom in the classroom—both the physical classroom and online classes

2)    defend academic freedom in social media and online communication

3)    ensure freedom to communicate via email and other focused online portals without surveillance/monitoring

4)    extend academic freedom protection to PTLs and NTTs

5)    broaden faculty governance with particular attention to the curriculum

The development of new communications technologies and digital platforms for learning and scholarship requires new institutional guarantees to preserve academic freedom. These include due process protections from unwarranted monitoring of email by the University, a vigorous commitment to extra muros academic freedom exercised via social media, attention to the role of recording technology in the classroom and continued vigilance to protect classroom discourse as a place for the exchange of cutting-edge and controversial ideas. Also, faculty and students need protections from coercive terms embedded in user agreements for learning management systems.

Rutgers’ increasing reliance on contingent faculty (including PTLs and coadjutants) means that all academic freedom protections extended to tenured and tenure-track faculty must be extended to contingent faculty. These protections necessitate explicit due process guarantees concerning hiring, reappointment, promotion, and evaluation of contingent faculty.

The institutionalization of academic freedom arises from robust faculty governance and due process guarantees. In an era of rising corporatization of the university characterized by the growing ranks of top administrators, increased attention to regulations and the prioritization of standardization and efficiency, faculty control over curriculum is more essential than ever. This extends to faculty control of course content and decisions about qualifications and evaluations of faculty.

Principles of academic freedom call for a University that is not primarily a top-down corporate entity driven by the bottom line, but rather a dynamic, democratic institution open to controversy and debate and committed to civil discourse. Academic freedom is necessary because the production and spread of knowledge is inherently political. Academic freedom may cause discomfort when a new set of ideas challenge the status-quo, but it is essential to the mission of Rutgers. Rutgers has a storied and sometime imperfect history as a guarantor of academic freedom. Our era is turbulent and challenges us to write a new chapter in this history in which Rutgers exercises leadership in the vigorous defense of academic freedom.

2018 Statement on Academic Freedom at Rutgers: Where Are We and How Did We Get Here?

In April 2017, hundreds of thousands of Americans marched in the streets of Washington, D.C., to defend science and to protest climate science denial. Despite pouring rain at the March for Science in Washington, D.C., Americans thought it was necessary to make their voices heard and to speak out against an attack on science waged by the federal government. This kind of interference in the scholarly pursuit of knowledge and freedom to express ideas is a threat to the central missions of the University. The principle of academic freedom allows all faculty and students the right to express ideas in the classroom, in the laboratory, and in their scholarship without harassment, professional disadvantage, official interference, or fear for their safety. Critically, it also demands that free expression extends to the public forum. Academic freedom means the ability to pursue evidence-based research, to question established dogmas, to present novel ideas, and to discuss controversial and sensitive issues. Without institutionalized protections of academic freedom, the University cannot serve society, incubate new knowledge, or educate the public.

Rutgers AAUP-AFT stands strongly opposed to attacks on academic freedom and the safety and well-being of faculty and students. We participated in the marches for science both in Washington, D.C. and Trenton, NJ, and brought several busloads of faculty and students to both. In addition to widespread current attacks on academic freedom, we have seen further erosions of academic freedom and privacy in the emergent digital realm. Examples at Rutgers include the adoption of and coercive mandate through email programs such as Office 365, as well as Learning Management Systems such as Pearson and Canvas. The Union has been working to defend academic freedom and digital privacy.

The importance of academic freedom is well-established as essential to what a University is and does. It is also the case that with the advance of the internet in an increasingly digital world, old principles of academic freedom need to be renewed and strengthened in the contemporary online and digital world. This report will outline why academic freedom matters and how this impacts us in several arenas—the classroom, digital learning environments, and social media. We conclude by proposing various measures that Rutgers University needs to adopt to protect academic freedom.

Why Academic Freedom Matters

Attacks and erosions of academic freedom risk the mission of the University to educate students, conduct cutting-edge research, and perform public service. Students and faculty must be free to express themselves in the classroom. Faculty must be free to establish an appropriate learning environment. All scholars at the University must be free to advance new ideas and question old dogmas. The community of scholars that compose the University must be free to develop and set the curriculum and set the standards of scholarship within their fields of study.

Academic freedom is always in jeopardy because all fields of scholarship are inherently political. The attack on climate science makes this point. The scientific study of what constitutes a species is political because species status sets conservation policy priorities. The study of gender identity is reflected in our politics. Race and class are subjects of scholarly inquiry and are profoundly embedded in our politics.

Historical Background

The noted historian Richard Hofstadter traced the origin of academic freedom in the US back to the colonial era in the context of the founding of colleges by religious dissenters. However, it was only in the late 19th century, particularly in the aftermath of a case at the University of Wisconsin, that academic freedom came into its own. Richard T. Ely, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison came under attack in the 1890s, a period of great social and political conflict, for his pro-labor views. In 1894, the UW Board of Regents ruled in Ely’s favor, producing a defense of academic freedom that has been widely cited ever since. They wrote:

As Regents of a university with over a hundred instructors supported by nearly two millions of people who hold a vast diversity of views regarding the great questions which at present agitate the human mind, we could not for a moment think of recommending the dismissal or even the criticism of a teacher even if some of his opinions should, in some quarters, be regarded as visionary. Such a course would be equivalent to saying that no professor should teach anything which is not accepted by everybody as true. This would cut our curriculum down to very small proportions. We cannot for a moment believe that knowledge has reached its final goal, or that the present condition of society is perfect. We must therefore welcome from our teachers such discussions as shall suggest the means and prepare the way by which knowledge may be extended, present evils be removed and others prevented. We feel that we would be unworthy of the position we hold if we did not believe in progress in all departments of knowledge. In all lines of academic investigation it is of the utmost importance that the investigator should be absolutely free to follow the indications of truth wherever they may lead. Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere we believe the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.

In 1915, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, which defined academic freedom as consisting of three elements: “freedom of inquiry and research; freedom of teaching within the university or college; and freedom of extramural utterance and action.”

In 1940, the AAUP working with the Association of American Colleges (now the Association of American Colleges and Universities), updated its earlier statements and issued the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Following this it issued a further statement in 1969, based on discussions with faculty, administrators, and educational institutions. Rutgers University adopted the 1940 and 1969 statements. However, since then there has been no update. This is a serious issue especially given the restrictions on academic freedom in the digital era.

During the Cold War and McCarthy period, academic freedom came under serious attack. University and college professors were dismissed for holding critical views or conducting research that challenged the status-quo. These were indeed dark times for independent inquiry and critical thinking. However, as former Columbia university Provost and dean of faculty, Jonathan Cole writes, “a half century after the 1954 House Un-American Activities Committee held congressional hearings on Communists in American universities, faculty members are witnessing once again a rising tide of anti-intellectualism and threats to academic freedom.” A book co-edited by Cole titled, Who’s Afraid of Academic Freedom notes, he warns that we have entered “another era of intolerance and repression.”

Academic Freedom at Rutgers

Rutgers is sometimes referred to as the “Berkeley of the East,” a label appearing in right-leaning media to denigrate the University’s presumed tolerance for leftist political expression, but the historical reality suggests a more complex, nuanced reality.

Given Rutgers’ origin as a college for training young men in Dutch Reformed traditions, one might expect a lack of support for free religious expression to be part of the record. And, indeed, it is. We need look no further than the Leinhard Bergel case to remind ourselves of how fundamental violations of academic freedom may be masked by bureaucratic double-speak. Bergel served as an instructor at the New Jersey College for Women (now Douglass College), his contract renewable on an annual basis. He joined the faculty in 1931 after earning a Ph.D. in Germany, little knowing that his new colleagues were Nazi supporters, led by department head Friedrich J. Hauptmann, who had been appointed by Joseph Goebbels as “leader of the Germans” in central New Jersey. Chairman Hauptmann ordered instructor Bergel to spend the first ten minutes in each of his classes to rebut “’lies’ about the Nazi regime.” Bergel refused, and instead took to distributing pamphlets warning of the impending dangers of the Nazi regime; in 1934 he was summarily dismissed, labeled by Hauptmann and Dean Margaret Corwin as “incompetent,” a word that especially rankled the haughty Bergel.

Dean Corwin’s anti-Semitic policies were no secret, as she actively supported quotas restricting the admission of Jews to her school with its curriculum emphasizing proper behavior for Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic young ladies. In response to protests from (mostly male Rutgers College) students, alumni, and some vocal citizens, RU President Robert Clothier appointed a group of five prominent trustees to review Bergel’s charge that he had been dismissed for “incompetence” when in fact his accomplishments in teaching and scholarship were far superior to those of anyone else in the German department. Notwithstanding the testimony of dozens of supportive witnesses, the committee report and eventually the full Board of Trustees in 1935 cleared Hauptmann and approved Bergel’s firing.

Bergel appealed his dismissal but, to its shame, the national AAUP refused to support him or testify on his behalf. And fifty years later, a detailed scholarly investigation by RU historians Daniel Horn, Richard P. McCormick, and David Oshinsky came to the equivocal conclusion that while anti-Semitism was obvious throughout, the German department was a nest of pro-Nazi sympathizers and collaborators, and Bergel’s academic freedom was not upheld, the administrative decision to terminate him was justified on grounds of declining overall department enrollments and a “last hired, first fired” practice. Not everyone agreed. A noteworthy voice in defense of academic freedom came in a 1935 letter to President Clothier from the Committee on Academic Freedom of the American Civil Liberties Union, signed by the distinguished theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and housed now in RG 3/C2 Box 4, Folder B, at RUL Special Collections and University Archives. Its seminal paragraph is worth quoting in full:

While we commend the painstaking inquiry conducted by your trustees’ committee — probably the most searching and certainly the most lengthy public inquiry of its sort in academic history – we must take exception to its prejudiced aspects cited in the report to us. Even if Mr. Bergel were found to be a difficult personality and un-cooperative, as the testimony indicated, that should have been frankly stated instead of blackening his academic record with a charge of incompetence. Where issues of political prejudice are raised, your committee would have been well advised to lean over backwards in judging this in order to avoid the suspicion of condoning the injustice of political prejudices.

Political prejudice and administrative failure to defend academic freedom famously emerged again at Rutgers in 1952 in the cases of Moses Finley, Simon Heimlich, and a year later a third faculty member, Abraham Glasser. The former two were summarily dismissed, while Glasser was forced to resign, his academic career destroyed. Finley, on the other hand, went on as Sir Moses I. Finley of Cambridge University to a career as one of the twentieth century’s most distinguished historians of Ancient Greece, while Heimlich settled into a modestly successful career outside academia. Both men had invoked their Fifth Amendment rights in refusing to provide Congressional investigative committees with the names of persons who may have been members of the Communist Party back in the 1930s. Finley’s refusal in spring 1952 only became a public issue in the fall of that year when Heimlich also invoked his constitutional rights against self-incrimination.

A visit at that point from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover appears to have pushed RU President Lewis Webster Jones to act, along with pressure from New Jersey local news media intent on forcing the University to “investigate” the Commies in its midst. New Jersey Governor Alfred E. Driscoll chimed in that “the professors should have answered the questions or get [sic] out.” Since the state was now providing about 60% of Rutgers’ annual income, President Jones may have felt compelled to act. He appointed a committee headed by trustee Tracy Voorhees, which after four sessions in just three weeks, issued a report warning of the dangers of having communists in the classroom but passing the specific issue of possible dismissal along to a faculty committee, as recommended by the AAUP.

The Special Faculty Committee of Review, after some tortured rhetoric about faculty responsibilities and obligations, concluded unequivocally that no action should be taken against Finley or Heimlich. Their obligations as university faculty did not extend to abdicating one’s constitutional right against self-incrimination. The Board of Trustees disagreed and, led by President Jones’s direct attack on academic freedom, ordered that the two men be fired, along with anyone else who might invoke their Fifth Amendment rights. The faculty protested six days later and again in January 1953, but to no avail. Jones issued an infamously tortured version of academic freedom that excluded “action” (i.e., invoking Fifth Amendment rights) and concluded that membership in the Communist Party was ipso facto inimical to academic freedom because communism does not allow for freedom of thought. This time around, in a laudable reversal of its acquiescent stance on the earlier Bergel dismissal, the AAUP censured Rutgers for its violation of academic freedom. Tellingly, historian Richard P. McCormick noted as well the trampling on faculty governance reflected in the Board of Trustees action, as reported in the Winter 2006 issues of the Rutgers Magazine:

As a member of a special faculty committee on the matter, McCormick made a personal appeal to the board asking them to reconsider their decision. Jubilant after the hearing, he headed back to a study he was using in Winants Hall. “As I walked up the stairs, I saw stacks and stacks of mimeographed press releases,” says McCormick. “I picked one up and it was a long statement by the president saying that the board had reemphasized its decision in respect to the Heimlich-Finley cases. In other words, what we had said was a lot of hot air. I went into my office and wept. I was young and idealistic and couldn’t believe there could be such contempt for the opinion of the faculty. It was very disheartening.

By 1958 Rutgers had done just enough to remove itself from the AAUP’s list of censured institutions but a total about face occurred only in 1966, when the organization recognized RU President Mason Gross and its Board of Governors with the Alexander Meiklejohn Award for their defense of academic freedom in the case of History Professor Eugene Genovese. Yet even in the largely positive sequence of events in this instance, we note ambiguities and warning signs in the exercise of academic freedom at Rutgers. The story began on the night of April 23, 1964, when eleven faculty members, mostly but not exclusively opponents of American involvement in the civil war in Vietnam, led a teach-in at Scott Hall on the New Brunswick College Avenue campus. The assembly attracted a standing-room-only crowd of students, including many from Douglass College who had received special permission to be outside their dorm rooms through the night. The most memorable event of the evening initially occurred when History Professor Warren I. Susman smashed his watch on the podium as he responded to a Douglass professor’s defense of “Western Civilization.”

By contrast, Genovese’s remarks identifying himself as a Marxist and saying he did not fear or regret a Viet Cong victory attracted far less attention, particularly since at that point the United States had not invaded Vietnam and was not an open participant in the conflict. This reality—that Genovese in fact did not welcome the defeat of the (non-combatant) United States—was quickly overlooked. Also ignored in the media was Genovese’s careful separation of his professional classroom teaching from his statement of opinion in a non-instructional situation. The distinction, which Genovese had cleared in advance with History Department chair Richard P. McCormick, relied on the “extra muros” exercise of academic freedom.

Extra muros”, a concept which appeared in the original 1915 AAUP “Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure” and was further amplified in the 1940 AAUP statement, is worth a moment of clarification. One aspect of academic freedom refers to the right of a highly qualified professor to express judgments in her/his area of expertise. Thus, a historian teaching a class on the French Revolution has the right to profess informed opinions about Maximilien Robespierre but does not have the right to bloviate about organic chemistry, and a chemist in a class on Organic Chemistry does not have academic freedom to express opinions about the French Revolution, the Trump administration, or anything other than organic chemistry. But “academic freedom” also protects speech (and action) beyond the walls (i.e., extra muros). So, outside the classroom, Genovese was free to welcome a Viet Cong victory without penalty to his employment, Moses Finley should have been allowed to exercise his constitutional rights, and Leinhard Bergel should have been allowed to distribute anti-Nazi pamphlets in the hallways outside of class. As we shall see further along in this report, the critically important “extra muros” distinction becomes much harder to draw and defend in a world not of four walls but of highly permeable cyberspace.

Back to the case at hand, local newspapers picked up a distorted version of Genovese’s words, which then made their way to Wayne Dumont, a Republican gubernatorial candidate with not much else in the way of campaign rhetoric beyond his intent to rid Rutgers of unpatriotic leftist faculty who allegedly were poisoning the minds of New Jersey’s vulnerable young men and women. Unlike during the years of tolerance for Nazi sympathizers in the 1930s and McCarthyites in the 1950s, the overall political climate in New Jersey in 1965 paved the way for the Rutgers administration to take a stance in support of academic freedom. Republicans were in a losing race and incumbent Democratic governor Richard J. Hughes, sensing a clear path to re-election, deplored Genovese’s statement but defended the professor’s right to state his “prejudices and opinions,” outside the classroom, without being punished by his employer.

Throughout the fall election cycle and beyond, local and national media spotlights shined brightly on Rutgers, featuring threatening blasts from callers to radio talk shows and legislative committees poking here and there. Further teach-ins and additional events sponsored by the student-led Committee for Free Speech (CFS) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) sensationalized the original issues and brought about a split even among students, with the Targum roundly denouncing the SDS for lack of political acumen. Nonetheless, the FBI paid late-night visits to Targum editor Michael Perlin urging him to take a more pro-American stance, Genovese received a steady flow of death threats, and supportive colleagues such as Lloyd Gardner were subjected to callers who knew where his daughter waited for her school bus. In November, Governor Hughes won re-election in a landslide, sanctimoniously declaring that his support of academic freedom had been hard but worth the cost, when in fact it had sunk his opponent Dumont in a losing mudslide, supported among Republican leaders only by Richard Nixon.

Professor Eugene Genovese fared less well. In addition to the public vilification and death threats he endured, Genovese later reported that “Rutgers officials informed him, once the election was over, that while his job was secure, he should not expect standard academic rewards, that ‘I was going to be a second-class citizen in salary and promotion possibilities.’” He was urged to postpone the sabbatical for which he had been approved for the 1967-68 academic year. “So I quit; I didn’t see any reason to take it,” he asserted, adding that his departure to McGill University in Canada was “to the great relief of all concerned.” But in a recent scholarly assessment, career-long defender of academic freedom at the AAUP, Robert Kreiser, reaches a much more positive conclusion about the robustness of Rutgers support for Genovese’s academic freedom, explicitly citing the actions of President Gross, the Board of Governors led by Charles Brower, and numerous faculty interviewed on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the seminal April 23, 1965 teach-in. Certainly the history of Rutgers administration’s response to the Black Student Movement protests that rocked the three campuses in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as the ongoing anti-war protests of those same years, speak well of a commitment to protecting free speech as well as academic freedom.

Presidents after Mason Gross, who old-timers may fondly recall for ordering pizza delivered to relieve the hunger of students who had taken over his office, have been rather less tolerant and supportive of student protest, faculty governance, and the exercise of academic freedom. In actions ranging from threatening to call in police to expel occupying students, to peeking into faculty email, and on to arbitrarily suspending faculty without the due process right to confront witnesses against them, all the while hiding under the guise of corporate efficiency, Rutgers today is a place where active defense of academic freedom in its broadest applications is an obligation and a necessity.

Rutgers has not been the Berkeley of East, we must make progress.

Defending and Renewing Academic Freedom at Rutgers in 2018

As a cornerstone of a vital university that is capable of serving society broadly, academic freedom requires vigorous defense and revitalization in the face of evolving structures of the university. These range from the administrative to those emanating from new technologies of the digital world. Similarly, academic freedom as exercised by voices marginalized by those in power must be recognized as particularly vulnerable. The Union bears a particular responsibility as advocate for this defense and renewal of academic freedom. Moreover, academic freedom is increasingly and inextricably integrated with the conditions of the  work of faculty. Negotiating the definition of these conditions on behalf of the membership is a central responsibility of the Union.

A 2007 statement from the American Federation of Teachers describes five central threats to academic freedom:

The increasingly vocational focus of higher education; Loss of financial support for colleges and universities; Corporate-style management practices; Erosion of the academic staffing structure; and Political attacks on faculty and instructional staff — (Academic Freedom in the 21st-Century College and University, 12).

A decade later, these threats are markedly exacerbated. The economic crash and recession and rising political climate of anti-intellectualism and public distrust of universities has combined to create a perfect storm for public universities in particular, corresponding with state governments’ reduced investment in higher education and increasingly heavy hand in university affairs. A burgeoning university administrative class has adopted more corporatist management approaches that are often strongly aligned with such external demands. Rapidly accelerating technologies of communication and learning have enhanced university administrations’ capacities to monitor and control faculty ideas and speech, while the centrality of email as well as a range of social media vehicles in both professional and personal domains has drawn the attention of those expanded monitoring efforts. In tandem, faculty—both tenure-track and not—have faced increasing, organized political attacks on their free speech in and beyond—often far beyond—the classroom. Finally, the decline of shared governance policies and practices at numerous universities in the last decade serves to threaten faculty’s central role in protecting academic free speech.

What follows are discussions of specific arenas relating to academic freedom in 2017 where the Union bears a particular responsibility as representative of the Rutgers faculty. These include: 1) online teaching and learning management systems, 2) the traditional four walls of a bricks and mortar classroom, 3) social media and online communication broadly, 4) university regulation and monitoring of speech conducted through email or other focused online portals, 5) the rights of contingent faculty, and 6) faculty governance in relation to academic freedom with particular attention to curriculum.

Academic Freedom, Online Teaching, and Learning Management Systems

Academic freedom enables criticism, heterodoxy, and innovation in the classroom, in the seminar room, in the lab, and in academic publishing. Why do college classes often seem so much richer than high school classes? It is because people who teach in higher education have the authority to shape their classes according to their own professional judgment. As expressed in the AAUP statement of 1940, academic freedom is good for students and good for knowledge. It thus exists very much in service to society at large.

Instructors relied upon two independent systems ensuring their academic freedom: first, the policies of colleges and universities and, second, the physical architecture of those same institutions. Each of those factors is now changing in ways deleterious to academic freedom.

To start with architecture, classrooms have always afforded considerable autonomy. Managers cannot feasibly observe or surveil what happens in them. And faculty have resisted the introduction of recording technology (including by students themselves). The online format sweeps away these limitations, making every utterance in a course visible, storable, and sometimes searchable as well. Online, there are no walls between the part-time lecturer and the Executive Dean. Thus, the traditional structure of the classroom itself, the erasability of the chalkboard to the ephemeral nature of the lecture itself preserved only in student notebooks and minds have provided a space safe for the discourse of ideas. The technology of our era has made possible the wholesale erasure of this protection. To preserve academic freedom, new guarantees must be negotiated that reinstitute these protections.

There are also no walls between the lecturer and the corporate CEO. To run online platforms, most universities have contracted with outside firms for learning management systems (LMSs). Rutgers has actually bought three services (Pearson/eCollege, Blackboard, and Canvas) while also running two non-profit, open source platforms (Sakai and Moodle). The open-source platforms impose no restrictions. They maintain academic freedom equivalent to that within classrooms. With the exception of Blackboard, however, the corporate systems limit the content of lectures, assignments, and online discussion. Canvas and Pearson/eCollege does so through user agreements to which each instructor and student must assent before registering. Canvas’s fine print, for example, prohibits material that:

(i) encourages illegal activities, is fraudulent, or is unlawful; (ii) insults, defames, harasses, or threatens others; (iii) violates the copyright or intellectual property or privacy rights of others; (iv) contains obscene, vulgar, pornographic, or libelous material; (v) harms or impersonates others, including other Users…

The text does not define these terms further.  On the face it, they would seem to censor teaching the Civil Rights movement or the American Revolution (as illegal activities), a good deal of art history (as obscene and pornographic), and analysis of, say, Donald Trump (as insulting, defamatory, or libelous). Clearly, whole fields of study fall afoul these restrictions.

It is clear then that defense of academic freedom in 2018 must respond to the potential for intrusions from corporations external to the university made possible by contracts for digital and online services. In the past, the chalkboard was not owned nor its content regulated by a corporation external to the university. So too, must new guarantees be made that preserve academic freedom from diminishment by contract dictated by the priorities of corporations outside the university.

On 20 February 2017, the Rutgers AAUP-AFT raised this issue in a meeting with the Administration. After some initial surprise, the Administration suggested 1) that they could negotiate with Canvas and Pearson/eCollege for Rutgers-specific exemptions; and 2) that the Indemnification policy of the University would protect faculty from any suit on the part of online LMS firms. The unions has requested a follow-up meeting, but the Administration has not responded. It appears that they have not successfully brokered an exemption for Rutgers faculty. The Indemnification Policy, moreover, does not protect faculty in any secure fashion.  At its discretion, the General Counsel or the Board of Governors may refuse to indemnify an instructor. Worse still, since it applies only to employees, the policy may not cover contingent faculty sued after they have left the University. Even if Rutgers offered iron-clad indemnification, the Union can not accept user agreements that violate academic freedom.  No instructor should be compelled to promise that she will not teach material she deems relevant to her specialty.

Specific proposals regarding online teaching

Therefore, in support of academic freedom online and with LMS, the Union proposes the following:

  1.     Explicit contractual recognition that all principles of academic freedom apply to online teaching, as conducted by any member of the faculty, including non-tenure track faculty, part-time lecturers, and teaching assistants;
  2.     Faculty may not be compelled to sign user agreements of private corporations or any user agreement that restricts their academic freedom;
  3.     The University must offer faculty choice in LMS platforms including one maintained by the University that is minimally restrictive and maximally customizable. An example of such an LMS is Sakai.
Academic Freedom in the Classroom

The work of college and universities—and those who teach, study, and conduct research in them—is carried out over many kinds of terrain: places where research is carried out and published; academic conferences; and in an age of digital connectivity; increasingly public fora. But no place of knowledge production and learning is as central to the life of universities as the classroom, where faculty and students interact and faculty most directly impact intellectual life outside those universities.

Throughout this document, we assert the importance of academic freedom to all the pursuits carried out in universities and colleges. This freedom is especially crucial in the classroom.  But academic freedom in the classroom has long faced varied threats—threats that are amplified today by social media and recording technologies and by the current US political climate.

At the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump administration education secretary Betsy DeVos warned,

The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say and, more ominously, what to think.”[1] With this, she aligned the administration with groups such as the Professor Watchlist, which maintains a public list of professors whom it claims, “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.[2]

But college and university teaching, if it is to be effective, must raise unsettling points of view, including political points of view (from the left and right, both challenging the establishment and defending it), and, the AAUP firmly holds that faculty should have extremely broad leeway in bringing those points of view into the classroom.

The AAUP has evolved over time clarifying this full support of academic freedom in the classroom. In its 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure‚ the AAUP expressed the general principle clearly: “the common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.”[3] But at that time, the AAUP left the application of this principle to the classroom ambiguous. The statement read:

Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. [4]

This 1940 statement seemed to open the possibility of strong limits on academic freedom in the classroom, limiting the teaching of “controversial matter” without relation to the “subject.” Such limitations would make a great deal of classroom teaching and discussion impossible. College courses, even those on seemingly technical subjects, necessarily cover “controversial” material, and draw on comparisons and connections that motivated analysts might characterize as having “no relation to their subject.”  

To eliminate some of this ambiguity, the AAUP appended the 1940 statement in 1970, qualifying it with:

The intent of this statement is not to discourage what is “controversial.” Controversy is at the heart of the free academic inquiry which the entire statement is designed to foster. The passage serves to underscore the need for teachers to avoid persistently intruding material which has no relation to their subject.[5]

In this statement, the AAUP recognized the importance of introducing “controversial” matters in the classroom—necessary for the production and dissemination of many kinds of knowledge. But the 1970 amendment still left open the question of relevance. However, successful classroom teaching involves drawing wide-ranging connections and using examples and analogies that cannot be judged via external criteria for relevance. An instructor, for example, in the contemporary societies of the Caribbean, might easily find it important to discuss the science of global climate change threatening the islands of the Caribbean with flooding and storms; or to discuss the impact and politics of past and contemporary United States on the people of the Caribbean; or the relationships between the histories of slavery and the development of industrial capitalism. These matters are undoubtedly “controversial” in the United States, but criteria of relevance can only be determined by the instructor and his or her community of academic peers—not by politicians or university administrations.  

Recognizing this complexity, in 2007, the AAUP released a report on Freedom in the Classroom that asserted that:

So long as an instructor’s allusions provoke genuine debate and learning that is germane to the subject matter of a course, they are protected by “freedom in the classroom.”[6]

Recent years have brought many threats to the freedom of instructional faculty in the classrooms of American colleges and universities. Drawing on the AAUP’s long tradition, bolstered by a strong history of legal cases in the United States, the Rutgers AAUP-AFT executive council stands firmly in support of freedom and flexibility in determining what and how to teach.

Specific proposals regarding the classroom.

Therefore, in support of academic freedom in the classroom, the Union proposes the following:

  1. All faculty have the right to establish classroom rules supporting the free and civil exchange of ideas relevant to the class subject matter;
  2. Classroom exchanges are explicitly not public records;
  3. Students and faculty have the right to engage in the classroom free from audio or video recording and free from any form of live stream to a digital platform.
Academic Freedom and Social Media

Since in the early 1990s, increasingly hostile campaigns have been mounted against educators, focusing primarily on perceptions of their personal beliefs, biases, and affiliations, or their lack of commitment to the activists preferred political ideals. From the start, the professional activities of these educators, including their teaching and scholarship, have been of secondary or tertiary concern, as these activists have historically lacked the resources and the personnel to access and directly monitor classroom spaces and professional publications.

For example, the academic study of the Middle East is area of inquiry where scholar and educators ranging across a broad spectrum of disciplines have been targets of hostile campaigns with at minimum chilling effects. After 9/11, organizations such as Campus Watch, Masada2000, and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) developed web presences to directly engage students in monitoring their teachers and filing reports on their activities, particularly with regard to America’s wars in the Middle East. Armed with this information, these campaigns developed and publicized blacklists of educators who had spoken out against the wars in their classrooms, or who had signed petitions against these wars. In many cases, these blacklists were accompanied by calls to action, inviting readers to take action against these educators by engaging them at their public lectures and contacting their employers with evidence of perceived biases.

With advent of new social media technologies and the capacity for very public online communication in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, both academics and their activist critics adopted powerful new tools in pursuit of their personal and professional objectives. For candidates seeking to distinguish themselves against an increasingly competitive field and to communicate their scholarship to the general public, social media provided the means to break free of the closely guarded and prohibitively expensive ecosystem of traditional publishing. In communicating directly with the public, however, these same scholars are likewise communicating directly with their critics, both academic and activist. After years of relying upon hearsay and innuendo, these activists could finally monitor academics as they interact with their students, their peers, and their publics in real time, and share their observations with their own publics more broadly and instantaneously than ever before.

Academic performance, by its very nature, often obliterates distinctions between the public and the private. Because academic interests are seldom conventional, and because publics often call upon academics to justify these seemingly personal and idiosyncratic interests, academics must explain their objective value—the “human interest” angle of their teaching and scholarship. At a time of growing anti-intellectualism and skepticism towards the very concept of “expertise,” academics are likewise increasingly required to adopt an activist posture. Additionally, academics are all too human, and in times of great personal or public trauma (say, for example, the outbreak of war or a disastrous political setback), they occasionally allow the mask of a dispassionate researcher to slip and reveal something of their personal emotions. These are the moments that have provided predatory anti-academic activists with their greatest fodder.

Thus, for example, these activists were watching closely as Steven Salaita, a newly hired professor of American Indian Studies at University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign (UIUC) and Palestinian-American academic, decried the 2014 Israeli offensive in Gaza using heated language over Twitter. While the subject of this language was not obviously related to his job at UIUC or his scholarship on American Indian Studies, his new employers found it sufficiently intemperate, absent the greater context in which it was made, to justify summarily terminating his employment. After a massive public outcry, and a motion to censure from the AAUP, UIUC settled with Salaita in the following year for a total of $875,000, including legal fees.

Although the early pioneers in the campaign against academic freedom were focused upon Middle Eastern studies, this campaign has long since transcended this focus. In 2009, the Leadership Institute launched a new news service, Campus Reform, focused exclusively on the politics of higher education. In one highly-publicized instance, Campus Reform reported that David W. Guth, a University of Kansas associate professor of journalism, used the social media application Twitter to criticize the National Rifleman’s Association, reacting to the Washington Navy Yard shooting. The university was deluged by complaints, and Kansas put Guth on temporary leave with pay. Immediately after the election of President Trump, Turning Point USA inaugurated a new Professor Watchlist documenting educators who allegedly “advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.” At present (8/10/2017), Professor Watchlist has compiled the names of 219 such educators.

The heightened focus on faculty, both inside and outside the classroom, and the means to monitor and disseminate both have resulted in a rash of new targets for this campaign. Anti-educator activists surreptitiously videotaped a Latina professor as she candidly reacted to Donald Trump’s election in a human sexualities course at Orange County College; they followed the Twitter feed of a Rutgers’ Women and Gender Studies adjunct as he criticized president-elect Trump’s stance on the Second Amendment to the Constitution; and they reacted promptly as a Trinity College sociology professor responded to an attempted spree killing at a practice session for the congressional GOP baseball team. Most recently, Lars Maischak, a history lecturer at California State University, Fresno, was first placed on a leave of absence and subsequently informed that he would not return to campus in Fall 2017, following a controversial comment that he made about President Trump on Twitter, for which he has apologized. Even though an internal review concluded that his remark was “made by him were as a private citizen, not as a representative of Fresno State,” his employer appears to have terminated his employment directly in response to the social media campaign against him.

Adjunct lecturers, in particular, have proven to be especially vulnerable to this campaign. This approach often forces educators and institutions into the position of defending a wide and occasionally mutually-incompatible array of individual perspectives and positions rather than the broader issues of academic freedom and free speech. These lie at the heart of the matter, whereas the behavior of the individuals at the center of these controversies is effectively irrelevant, as it falls well beyond the pale of what academics and institutions can and should be defending. Absent a clear-cut, unambiguous, and uncompromising commitment to academic freedom and free speech in particular, their responses have thus far been poor, and our institutions will continue to violate these values as a temporary sop to conservative activists.

The capacities available on social media in 2017 have made the 1915 concept of extra muros academic freedom more vital than ever. The Union is committed to a vigorous defense of online extra muros academic freedom. Similarly, when the same technologies are used for within the classroom communication academic freedom as freedom of teaching applies.

Specific proposals regarding social media. Therefore, the Union proposes the following:

  1. Extra muros expressions of academic freedom on all social media platforms and digital public platforms are protected including political expressions emanating from a faculty member’s scholarship;
  2. Exercises of free speech on subjects outside of a faculty member’s scholarship on all social media platforms and digital public platforms are protected when use of these platform is extra muros.

These protections apply to all scholars associated with the university including contingent faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows.

Academic Freedom and Email

While social media has expanded the niche available for public speech and has opened the door for attacks on extra muros academic freedom. Email has become a central mode of academic communication in matters of both research and pedagogy. Any regulation or monitoring of email then has potential for the diminishment of academic freedom particularly in the sense of “freedom of inquiry and research; freedom of teaching within the university or college.”

With the adoption of Office 365 as the official Rutgers email platform for “official university business” combined with mandates requiring its use and technical controls such as discontinuation of automatic forwarding, the administration has been able to regulate email communication opening the door to restrictions on academic freedom. Even more alarming is the documented implementation of tools that are part of Office 365 to expand, upgrade, and enhance the capture and monitoring of faculty email. As yet the full scope and nature of such email capture and surveillance has not been divulged by the university administration.

Email communication is now central and essential to faculty communication on research and pedagogy. As such freedom in its usage is required for academic freedom and it is a responsibility of the union to negotiate all conditions of work pertaining to email use on behalf of the union membership.

Specific proposals regarding email. Therefore, the Union proposes the following:

  1.     Contract provisions must include a due process procedure before email capture or surveillance of faculty may be implemented. This due process procedure must include oversight that includes union participation;
  2.     The current exemption of research and pedagogy from the category of official university business must be continued and recognized in the contract;
  3.     Faculty must be given the option to opt-out of systems that exercise coercive control of email such as prohibited auto-forwarding;
  4.     Students and staff of the University may not be prohibited from sending email to an account other than an official University email account.
Academic Freedom and Contingent Faculty

No discussion of academic freedom in 2018 is complete without recognition of the increased adjunctification of faculty. Universities’ reliance on adjunct and graduate student labor to teach courses has continued to grow. More than half of all faculty appointments are now for non-tenure track faculty, with graduate students accounting for a fifth of part-time appointments. These instructors are increasingly vulnerable to threats to their employment due to political and other speech. Unlike tenured faculty, contingent faculty have little recourse if courses—or employment—are taken away from them by the university in response to political statements, with university administrators exhibiting an unwillingness for the most part to defend adjuncts in the face of political controversy. Such recent dismissals include those of Lisa Durden, an adjunct at Essex County College suspended in June 2017 after a caller complained about her appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight; and two adjuncts whose courses were stripped from them in August 2017 after political tweets: Lars Maischek, who had been teaching history at Fresno State since 2006, and Kevin Allred, in women’s and gender studies and gay studies at Montclair State. These terminations represent just a sampling, and reflect a chilling environment for academic freedom.

It is contingent faculty who are currently most vulnerable to political attacks on their academic freedom. It is the position of the union that all contingent faculty (PTLs, TAs, NTTs, and coadjutants teaching students) have academic freedom and that their vulnerability makes it particularly critical that their academic freedom be protected by contract.

Specific proposals regarding contingent faculty. Therefore, the Union proposes the following:

  1.     Formal recognition that all contingent faculty have academic freedom;
  2.     Due process for all contingent faculty concerning contract renewal, promotion, and evaluation of teaching.
Academic Freedom and Faculty Governance

Universities today operate with a declining ratio of faculty to administrators, dropping 40 percent in the span from 2000 to 2012 from 2.5 full-time faculty and staff members per professional or managerial administrator. This “administrative bloat,” featuring growing numbers of staff without faculty or even educational backgrounds, brings with it corporate management practices that emphasize efficiency and standardization over free inquiry. Adding pressure to these internal factors working to recast universities as businesses, decreased public funding of universities has brought dramatic tuition increases, encouraging students to think of themselves as consumers of university educations.

These trends have worked to further undermine faculty governance. Faculty governance intersects with academic freedom and is particularly significant with respect to the curriculum. Design and control of the curriculum must reside with faculty as individuals and as members of units corresponding to fields of expertise.

At Rutgers, disputes over curriculum have resulted in an administrative process to resolve such disputes and the final authority to resolve disputes resting with the Chancellor. The Chancellor’s Committee on Academic Program Coordination (CCAPC) has been designated as the referee of these disputes. The process by which the CCAPC operates remains opaque and clear rules of due process have not been articulated.

Given that faculty teaching is a primary labor, control of curriculum is a central condition of work, and academic freedom in design of curriculum is necessary to serve the University mission.

Specific proposals regarding contingent faculty. Therefore, the Union proposes the following:

  1.     All faculty including contingent faculty have intellectual ownership and control of their syllabi;
  2.     Design and control of the curriculum is the primary responsibility of faculty units with expertise in the relevant field;
  3.     Recognition of who has the expertise and qualifications necessary to implement a part of the curriculum or teach a course is the primary responsibility of faculty units with expertise in the relevant field;
  4.     University oversight of curriculum by any body must include elected faculty representation or a union representative. The process and proceedings of the CCAPC must be posted and the findings and rationale of the CCAPC must be made public;
  5.     Evaluation of faculty teaching rests primarily with faculty units with expertise in the relevant field.
Beyond the Guarantees of Due Process

As exercises of academic freedom become more visible via social media and attention is placed on faculty by outside groups with political agendas, targeting of specific faculty has become more common. This targeting ranges from placement on “watchlists,” to harassment, to doxing, to threats of rape and death. Several Rutgers professors have faced these forms of targeting. Such targeting is often directed at otherwise marginalized individuals. This includes women, minorities, contingent faculty, and those engaged in controversial scholarship.

The consequences of such targeting mean that due process protections of academic freedom are not enough to maintain a commitment to  preserving academic freedom. Measures of physical protection and media relations protocols are necessary to preserve academic freedom.

Specific additional proposals. Therefore, the Union proposes the following:

  1.     The University must provide security measures (these might include ant-doxing protocols, physical security, office surveillance cameras, cyber security) when faculty are targeted due to an exercise of academic freedom. These include reasonable pre-emptive measures during targeting, and post-targeting measures that are necessary both at work and at home and detail what is needed from the university administration when this happens.
  2.     The University must observe a public relations protocol that emphasizes the faculty member’s rights to academic freedom.
The Role of the Union

The position of the union is that academic freedom is a central pillar supporting the university mission. Issues relating to academic freedom are conditions of members’ work and we have a responsibility to negotiate these issues. Furthermore, in advocating for the common good, the Union is committed to a defense of academic freedom.

Moving forward we are asking for member input as we develop more specific proposals and language as a basis for discussion during contract negotiations. The defense of academic freedom is necessary but will only succeed with the broad, engaged, and energetic support of members.

 

 

[1]https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/02/23/devos-colleges-tell-students-what-to-do-what-to-say-and-more-ominously-what-to-think/?utm_term=.7b91884ca390

[2] http://www.professorwatchlist.org/index.php/about-us

[3] https://www.aaup.org/report/1940-statement-principles-academic-freedom-and-tenure.

[4] https://www.aaup.org/report/1940-statement-principles-academic-freedom-and-tenure.

[5] https://www.aaup.org/file/ACASO07FreedomClassrmRpt.pdf

[6] https://www.aaup.org/file/ACASO07FreedomClassrmRpt.pdf