18 October 2011
An Open Letter to Ian Wilson, Vice President for Academic Affairs, UVU
I’ve been thinking a lot about our meeting last week. In several ways it was an important event, certainly for those of us in the AAUP, perhaps for you as well and for the University in general. In two decades of work with the AAUP, first at BYU and then at UVSC/UVU, I have often spoken with administrators about matters of concern, but only when we pushed a specific issue and then in an adversarial role.
Your invitation, then, with no current issue at stake, was unprecedented and even generous. It extends a pattern you have set over the years and especially since becoming VPAA, a pattern of openness to competing ideas and of concern for the opinions of all of us who work together at the University. Your speech in August to the CHSS faculty in which you noted that the University must be a place that fosters the best interests of its faculty as well as its students was a good example of your sense that we’re all at our best as we support one another. Your asking about faculty concerns in our meeting last week further demonstrated that sensibility. And finally, your questions about the AAUP and our perceived role at UVU were an important gesture toward future work together.
In response to the questions about the AAUP, I gave you the current issue of the AAUP’s Academe, an issue that includes Cary Nelson’s essay titled “An AAUP Chapter Can Transform Your Campus.” You’ll remember that Cary visited our campus a couple of years ago and raised questions related to academic freedom and to teaching most of our classes with adjunct faculty who receive no benefits and have no voice in University governance. You have the article, but because this is an open letter meant for anyone at UVU, I’ll include a couple of Cary’s points here with my comments interspersed:
A chapter can help institutionalize AAUP policies. Many campuses already incorporate the AAUP’s principles and recommended standards—including explicit AAUP language—in their faculty personnel policies. But many more AAUP principles should be built into your faculty handbooks and campus regulations, from the joint statement on student rights to guidelines on maintaining academic freedom in electronic communications and on college and university websites.
[We have good and improving policies at UVU. The ones relating to the faculty and to academic freedom and to shared governance, especially, include many AAUP-recommended standards. Faculty Senate President Chuck Alison used the AAUP Redbook almost like a Bible as he worked on various policies with the Senate.]
A chapter can speak truth to power. The most immediate difference an AAUP chapter can make is to be a source of frank, honest, and forthright commentary on nearly every aspect of campus life. . . . An AAUP chapter provides the faculty with a voice that can shed sunlight on cant, self-interest, and deception and applaud good practices. Then, of course, the chapter needs to promote solutions to problems.
[As I suggested in the meeting, we see our communications with you (and President Holland and the Faculty Senate President), most recently about the announced Center for Constitutional Studies, about the proposed “White Paper,” and most often about perceived breakdowns in due process related to tenure, as positive contributions to the University. We’re not always right, we don’t always have all the facts, but the questions we raise are always meant to protect and strengthen the principles we share. Because we stand outside the budgeted and appointed structures of the University, we’re uniquely able to raise such questions. Although it must be irritating, at times, to have to respond to our questions and complaints, in the long run we’re all better off for having frank discussions about important issues. Finally, as I promised in our meeting, we do our very best to “applaud good practices and to promote solutions to problems.” This letter, in fact, is largely an attempt to applaud the good practices that have, in the past couple of years, moved us forward in many positive ways.]
A chapter can promote sound governance. An AAUP chapter should be an ally, partner, and political advocate of faculty governance and its processes and products. When necessary, it can remind the senate, campus committees, and the administration of good governance principles. It can sound a warning when people—whether administration, faculty, or governing board—deviate from those principles.
[Our conversation last week led to a discussion of our chapter’s role vis-à-vis the Faculty Senate. They make policy, I noted, they have institutional standing, they represent the faculty in a wide range of governance issues. The AAUP chapter does none of that, nor do we want to. We’re focused on the principles of academic freedom and shared governance that make a University a University in the best sense of the word. Our authority is based only on good arguments and appeals to shared principles. When we argued, for instance, that Professor Hyunmee Lee was denied tenure without due process, it was the Faculty Senate that appointed a committee to look into the matter and that finally required that the tenure decision be revisited, with an ultimate reversal of the decision. Our role was simply to raise the question and to make good arguments. See Cary Nelson’s next point for more about this.]
A chapter can pursue grievances. Your AAUP chapter can form a grievance committee to assemble evidence, pursue cases, and obtain justice for aggrieved faculty members. It can negotiate informally but effectively with the administration. It can seek assistance from the AAUP’s national office and pursue some cases jointly with the national staff.
A chapter can educate the entire community. A chapter should aim to reach not only faculty members and administrators but also students, board members, community members, legislators, and all employee groups.
[To this end, we have sponsored, sometimes in conjunction with other campus organizations, a series of lectures and conversations on academic freedom and shared governance. In 1999 or 2000 we participated in discussions organized by Brian Birch that included the Provost of Baylor University and UVSC President Kerry Romesburg. Several years later we helped with the discussions on shared governance led by Jack Newell. Cary Nelson’s visit to campus was a highlight. And our offer to help sponsor a visit to campus by former U of U and University of California President David Gardner was another gesture toward education and discussion.]
So, Ian, we’ll continue to do our best to contribute to the wellbeing of Utah Valley University. Thank you again for your willingness to engage us in conversation and to consider our questions and concerns.
President of the UVU Chapter of the AAUP
p.s. I’ll post this at our UVU AAUP blog, where you will also find earlier work we have done.