AAUP council sanctions 6 colleges over governance violations

by Jeremy

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Dive Brief: 

  • The American Association of University Professors’ governing council voted to sanction six of eight colleges it investigated earlier this year over reports of governance violations, the faculty organization announced this week. 

  • AAUP publishes the sanctions to inform instructors and the public that “unsatisfactory conditions of academic government exist” at those schools, according to its website. The last sanction, of Vermont Law School, came in 2019. 

  • The organization has warned that faculty governance standards have been slipping at some schools during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Dive Insight: 

AAUP’s investigation committee probed eight schools last month over academic governance concerns, finding that all of them had violated or disregarded governance standards. Most of the colleges were confronting serious financial challenges, some of which predated the health crisis. 

The governing council voted to sanction six of those schools: 

  • Canisius, Keuka and Medaille colleges, all in New York. 

  • Marian University, in Wisconsin. 

  • National University, in California. 

  • Wittenberg University, in Ohio. 

In its recommendations, the council rattled off a litany of violations. It called Medaille’s move to abandon tenure an “alarming decision” and contended that the administration used the pandemic as cover to eliminate programs and lay off faculty members. It also alleged that Wittenberg ignored faculty governance policies when closing programs and terminating two tenured positions. 

The AAUP committee spared two colleges. It delayed a vote on Illinois Wesleyan University until the fall, and it made no recommendation on whether to sanction the University of Akron after the school reached an agreement with the school’s AAUP chapter. That memorandum of understanding included review timelines for underperforming programs and processes for the administration to share data about its finances with the chapter. 

The sanctions inform prospective students and faculty members that the listed schools don’t follow academic governance norms, Greg Scholtz, director of AAUP’s academic freedom, tenure and governance department, said in an email. “As a result, a sanction might affect an institution’s ability to attract students and to attract and retain faculty members,” Scholtz added. 

AAUP asks the administrations of sanctioned schools annually whether their conditions have improved. If the school’s administration, governance bodies and AAUP chapter agree that they have, the organization sends a representative to report on the institution’s shared governance climate, Scholtz said. 

A Keuka spokesperson referred Higher Ed Dive to the college’s earlier statement on AAUP’s investigation, which said the probe’s findings contained “myriad examples of misinformation and mischaracterizations.” The statement also noted that the college was only able to endure a nearly 24% year-over-year decline in enrollment revenue in fiscal 2021 through layoffs and program closures. 

Other sanctioned schools did not respond to Higher Ed Dive’s request for comment by publication time Thursday. 

Job losses have been widespread in higher education. The sector shed some 650,000 jobs from the start of the pandemic to the end of 2020, according to a tally by The Chronicle of Higher Education. All faculty types experienced job losses during the 2020-21 academic year, though adjuncts had the greatest declines, based on data from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.

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