AAUP Publishes Official Policy on Campus Controversies

Ashley Thorne

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has released the final version of its policy statement "Ensuring Academic Freedom in Politically Controversial Academic Personnel Decisions." When the AAUP released in February the draft copy of the statement, NAS president Peter Wood critiqued it in two columns at the Chronicle of Higher Education's Innovations blog, and was quoted at length in Inside Higher Ed's article about it.

Peter noted the double standard in the AAUP statement with regard to activism:

The AAUP is, however, putting itself in a complicated position. It extols the willingness of faculty members to become social activists who use their academic positions to arouse the public. But it sees only danger in the public responding in kind. Activism apparently is good when pursued by academics bearing doubts about some aspects of society, but bad when society bears doubts about some aspects of the academy.

He observed the way the AAUP abuses the concept of academic freedom:

“Academic freedom” is construed by the AAUP as a firewall. Those inside can aim their weapons at those outside with impunity, but if those outside respond in anything other than humility, they offend against this fine principle.

And Peter contrasted the AAUP's declarations of commitment to academic freedom with example after recent example in which professors' and students' academic freedom was threatened - and the AAUP was silent. We should weigh the merits of this document, he argued, in terms of "not just what it says, but what the AAUP does and doesn't do."

The earlier draft was released for comment, but although Peter made many valuable recommendations, none were implemented in the final version. As Inside Higher Ed reports today, "The new version contains only minor changes (and no substantive policy shifts)."

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