The American Association of University Professor (AAUP) was founded in 1915 to defend the academic freedom of faculty who faced political and economic retaliation because of their research, teaching, and public speech. In the organization’s foundational document, the AAUP grounded academic freedom in the principle that universities exist to “promote inquiry and advance the sum of human knowledge”; “provide general instruction to the students”; and “develop experts for various branches of the public service.” The founders argued that these objectives could not be achieved unless faculty received protection from potential pressure coming from inside the university (such as trustees, administrators, students, other faculty) or from outside, including politicians. In subsequent years, the AAUP further clarified and updated the principle of academic freedom in additional statements and guidelines. These AAUP statements offer a useful framework for publicly defending faculty from politically motivated attacks, such as those that can follow from Campus Reform stories.
“1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure”
This statement was negotiated between the AAUP, representing faculty, and the Association of American Colleges, representing administration, and has been ratified by more than 250 academic professional associations. It lays out an agreed upon definition of academic freedom as well as the specific institutional mechanism for ensuring that faculty do not face retaliation for their speech.
The 1940 Statement clarifies that faculty have academic freedom in three areas: research, teaching, and “extra-mural utterances”:
Research: “Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties”
Teaching: “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.”
Extra-mural utterances: “College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”
This document further lays out the institutional mechanisms for protecting academic freedom. This include the creation of the tenure system, whereby, upon being hired, faculty undergo a probationary period that includes regular peer evaluation. The successful completion of this probation culminates in tenure. The statement also clarifies that faculty can only be terminated for “cause” (defined as gross violations of academic or professional standards) or in instances of “financial exigency.” The decision to fire a professor for cause should be undertaken by a committee that includes faculty, and in a formal hearing that ensures due process, transparency, and an appeals process.
“Statement on Extramural Utterances”
In 1964 the AAUP’s Committee A (which oversees issues pertaining to academic freedom, tenure, and due process) issued further clarifications about the organization’s policies regarding extra-mural utterances. The committee reiterated that faculty have a right “to speak or write as citizens, free from institutional censorship or discipline.” In doing so they should strive “to be accurate, to exercise appropriate restraint, to show respect for the opinions of others, and to make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.” However, if an administration feels that a faculty member violated these standards they could file charges as outlined in the 1940 Statement. The decision to fire a faculty member, however, should not be made by the administration alone but by “an appropriate—preferably elected—faculty committee” and include an examination of “the faculty member’s entire record as a teacher and scholar.” In other words, a single Tweet should not be given equal weight to an entire career of work. Furthermore, the “faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness to serve.” In other words, faculty can not be fired for expressing personal political views in public, but could be fired if these views demonstrated gross violation of academic and disciplinary standards (such as a historian denying the Holocaust).
“On Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications”
In 2004 Committee A issued a statement (revised in 2013) clarifying the relationship between academic freedom and the increasingly widespread usage of electronic communications. This statement clarified that AAUP protections of academic freedom in the area of extramural utterances do pertain to social media as well, writing that: “Obviously, the literal distinction between ‘extramural’ and ‘intramural’ speech—speech outside or inside the university’s walls—has little meaning in the world of cyberspace. But the fundamental meaning of extramural speech, as a shorthand for speech in the public sphere and not in one’s area of academic expertise, fully applies in the realm of electronic communications, including social media.”
“Protecting an Independent Faculty Voice: Academic Freedom after Garcetti v. Ceballos”
In response to the 2006 Supreme Court decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos, which affirmed a state employer’s ability to discipline an employee over his speech, the AAUP explained that this precedent does not also allow public colleges and universities to fire faculty members for their speech. The AAUP clarified that: “Academic freedom is the freedom to teach, both in and outside the classroom, to conduct research and to publish the results of those investigations, and to address any matter of institutional policy or action whether or not as a member of an agency of institutional governance. Professors should also have the freedom to address the larger community with regard to any matter of social, political, economic, or other interest, without institutional discipline or restraint, save in response to fundamental violations of professional ethics or statements that suggest disciplinary incompetence.” Because faculty are appointed (but not hired) by the governing board they are not at-will employees. As such, efforts to fire professors for their speech must still follow the procedures of faculty review and due process laid out in the 1940 Statement.