Peter Wood

Ever wonder why the American Association of University Professors is in such sharp decline? In the last forty years, while the number of full-time members in the United States has soared from about 255,000 to 765,000, the dues-paying membership of the AAUP has cratered from over 90,000 to about 40,0000. 

             No doubt there are many reasons for this decline, but among them I imagine is the character of the people who came to represent the AAUP. This comes to mind in light of an email we received today from Doug Derryberry, a professor emeritus of psychology from Oregon State University, who makes clear his past role as an AAUP chapter president. He is exercised over the National Association of Scholar’s Argus project. He writes: 

I want to express in the strongest possible terms my extreme disgust and dismay upon reading of your "Argus Project".   You are actually trying to recruit people who will act as spies for ferreting out "bad thought" on campus. I find this stunning.

As a former AAUP chapter president, it seems to me that your organization's aim is to limit academic freedom on campus and thereby impose your own conservative ideology. In other words, you are a bunch of political operatives who could care less about the free search for truth and the common good. And you are hypocrites.

Well. What stands to me is that Professor Derryberry seems not to have troubled himself in the least to check the facts before reaching his emotional extremities. 

                If he had checked the facts, he would know that the “Argus Project” seeks volunteers to identify and pass along to NAS public documents that bear on issues of academic integrity and freedom. We have recruited no “spies,” and have made perfectly clear that the only information we seek is from publicly available and verifiable sources.   This is the same thing that journalists, historians, and others seeking to document events typically do. We ask volunteers to help us with this because we have a small staff and American higher education is a large canvas.

                Professor Derryberry proceeds to his strange claim that the NAS seeks “to limit academic freedom on campus and thereby impose your own conservative ideology.”   This seems to be pulled out of thin air. There is no instance of the Argus Project having anything to do with limiting academic freedom.   There is not even a single case of anyone responding to our Argus reports even accusing us of such a motive. The canard that NAS seeks to impose a “conservative ideology” has been rolling around like a penny in an empty jar for years now. Every time some Leftist ideologue wishes to arouse himself from his customary torpor, he picks up the jar and rattles it, and is thereafter content that he has made a big noise. 

                But the mundane truth is that NAS is a non-partisan organization of rather centrist character. We support Millsian notions of academic freedom, uphold the 1915 AAUP statement of principles, and chastise the political Right as well as the Left when either one attempts to substitute ideological conformity for disciplined intellectual inquiry. If our criticisms seem more often directed to the partisan Left, it is for the good and sufficient reason that—by its own admission and abundant objective evidence—the Left is far more powerful and prominent on campus than the Right.

                The very determination of some on the Left to caricature NAS as promoting a “conservative ideology” is evidence of the Left’s hegemony. The reason the Left goes after us is that actual conservatives on campus are almost a null category.   The logic of polarization requires the Left have a Right, and in the absence of a genuine Right on campus, we get conscripted to fill the void.

                That doesn’t mean that the jacket fits. The NAS has no foreign policy and no positions on most domestic political issues. But I somehow doubt that Professor Derryberry will be persuaded by the facts.

                Immunity to the facts, lack of sufficient curiosity to inquire before making pronouncements, ideological smears of those with whom you disagree—stuff like this from a retired AAUP chapter president may indeed have something to do with the AAUP’s long-term decline.  The organization founded by Dewey, Lovejoy, Seligman, and other prominent scholars of the early decades of the 20th century would be chagrined by what has happened to their legacy. 

                The AAUP these days is an organization with a fair share of Derryberries and not so many in the mold of Roscoe Pound

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