Saturday, March 2, 2019

Meeting with President Tuminez

In February, Chapter President David Knowlton and I, Vice President, were fortunate to meet with our new University President. We talked for about an hour, touching on various issues related to our work on academic freedom, due process, and shared governance at UVU. In advance of the meeting, we sent President Tuminez the following description of our activities:


31 January 2019


A Brief Introduction to the Activities of our Chapter

Before there was an organized chapter of the AAUP at UVSC, the college (as do most US colleges and universities) drew on AAUP statements and recommendations (https://www.aaup.org) for policies like this one on faculty tenure: https://policy.uvu.edu/getDisplayFile/588a60b23543020f057db59b
and this one on Faculty Rights and Professional Responsibilities: https://policy.uvu.edu/getDisplayFile/563a40bc65db23201153c27d.

            As members of the UVU Chapter, we focus on three issues: shared governance, academic freedom, and due process. 

Shared Governance
We support the UVU Faculty Senate as our elected and official representative body. Most of our Chapter members have served as senators over time. Our current president, David Knowlton, ran for Senate President about fifteen years ago and came within one vote of being elected. On extremely rare occasions (only two that we can remember over twenty years), we have written an open letter and invited faculty to sign it when speed was of the essence. The first one protested Matthew Holland’s signature as UVU President of an amicus brief for the Supreme Court opposing marriage equality­–over 100 of us signed the letter that filled most of the Salt Lake Tribune’s opinion page that day. The second was in 2018 in protest of sabbatical denials, pressure to increase class size, and other unilateral measures that lessened the quality of our instruction (published in the UVU Review).
Our former Vice President for Academic Affairs, Ian Wilson, invited our officers to his office annually for discussions about the state of the University from our perspective. Relations with our current SVPAA have not been as cordial, and at several points relations have deteriorated substantially.

Academic Freedom
            On two occasions we have sponsored day-long discussions of the principles of academic freedom. For the first, we invited the Cary Nelson, President of the national AAUP and author of several books on university governance and academic freedom, including No University is an Island. He gave a memorable keynote speech. The keynote speech for the second discussion was given by Jackson Newell, former president of Deep Springs College and author of several books about education, including The Electric Edge of Academe. We are pleased to report that with one exception we have not been asked to support a member of the faculty whose academic freedom has been infringed on. We remain ready to do so if needed.

Due Process
            Much of our work over the years has involved supporting colleagues who have, in our judgment, been denied due process in tenure decisions or in grievance procedures of various sorts. We don’t presume to judge tenure decisions or the facts of grievances. Worthy of tenure or not, deserving of the grievance or not, faculty members have a right to due process. When our colleagues contact us for support and when it appears to us that due process has been violated, we offer counsel, help with appeals, and even represent our colleagues in the appeals. We don’t have official standing at UVU as an organization, but because we have standing as members of the faculty, we often act simply as faculty representatives as allowed by policy. We work with two or three faculty members each year. Three quick examples will provide a sense for our work.

In 2008, a Korean/American member of the Art faculty was denied tenure. She was (and still is–represented by galleries in Santa Fe and NYC) a nationally known painter and an extraordinary teacher by all accounts. Tenure was denied after two of her colleagues inserted accusatory letters in her file and when, in a clear breach of due process, she had no chance to see or respond to the Chair’s letter or to the Dean’s letter before receiving notification from the Vice President that she would not be given tenure. We helped her craft an appeal. The Senate committee appointed to decide if she had received due process heard the appeal and resolved that due process had been violated; they ordered that the tenure process be redone. In the end, she was awarded tenure. And then, deeply offended, she left the University.

In 2015, UVU’s EOAA Officer responded to claims of harassment and religious discrimination against three members of the faculty. She decided that seven-of-ten allegations were unfounded and forwarded a recommendation for disciplinary action to the VPAA for the other three. The three allegations that were judged acts of religious discrimination involved attempts by one of the accused, then in a supervisory position, to require that UVU Family Science courses not be structured after the LDS “Proclamation on the Family.” We supported the three faculty members because the accused were denied access to the original claims, because they were not allowed to bring a representative to the sessions with the EOAA Officer, because the hearing was done by the Officer and not by a committee as policy requires, because the accused were not allowed to question the accuser, and because the investigation stretched on for months. We wrote a letter to the SVPAA asking him to step in. When he answered that he would assess no punishment but that the findings would stand, we repeated our request that he expunge the case from the records of the faculty members. He refused. We asked the national AAUP to review the case. Their counsel wrote the SVPAA a strong letter protesting the lack of due process and the frivolous attribution of religious discrimination in discussions about a shared course. The Vice President then relented.

The third case was more recent, unfolding in the Spring of 2018. After positive decisions from her RTP Committee (the committee voted unanimously for tenure), from her Chair, and from her Dean, the SVPAA denied tenure The letter from the SVPAA referred to supposed “conduct that threatens, intimidates, or coerces an employee.” It claimed that there were “substantial concerns about your past conduct towards others. . . .” Because policy requires that tenure decisions be made onlyon the basis of what is in the tenure file, and because there was nothing in the tenure file that could by any interpretation be construed as rising to this level of offense, we offered our help. She appealed and the appropriate Senate committee was convened to judge if there were violations of due process. As opposed to the collegial process in the 2008 case, this appeal was held behind a metal detector attended by an armed man in uniform. The SVPAA was accompanied by counsel who challenged our representative’s right to testify about policy. The committee allowed our person to point out 1) that by policy the committee was to decide only whether or not due policy had been violated and 2) that if there were any witnesses called regarding supposed threatening or intimidating conduct it would be a breach of the policy that requires that tenure decisions be made only on the contents of the tenure file. After this testimony, the faculty member’s lawyer stated that they would rest their case – the breach of policy and the undermining of due process having been so clearly established. Nonetheless, a set of witnesses were called who painted the faculty member as a singularly horrible person. A settlement between the faculty member and UVU followed.

These, then, are examples of the kind of work we do as faculty advocates. We see ourselves as good citizens of a University we love. And we hope to work effectively, intelligently, and supportively with a new administration.

Academic Indulgences

Just over 500 years ago, Martin Luther, professor at the University of Wittenberg, tacked up his 95 theses to announce a forthcoming debate. In dispute was the practice of selling indulgences by which the buyer received forgiveness for sins committed and the Catholic Church received money to complete St. Peter’s Cathedral. No need for actual repentance or character development.Universities in the Utah System of Higher Education are issuing what amount to indulgences as they sell certificates of graduation without compelling students to complete meaningful courses of study.
Utah Valley University, Utah State University, Southern Utah University, and Dixie State University have recently developed General Studies degrees for the purpose of increasing “student success.” Student success means graduation. The General Studies degrees were designed “for students who cannot complete or pass final requirements.” Why would a university sell certificates of graduation to incapable students?
USU is now proposing a back-up degree for students who can’t finish their General Studies degree but who have “accumulated large numbers of credits” in various fields. Graduates will “enjoy the economic benefits associated” with “an undergraduate degree from an accredited university.” Don’t economic (and other) benefits follow from increased ability rather than from a degree meant to facilitate graduation?
Our state universities are obsessed with graduation rates. As an open-enrollment university, many of UVU’s beginning students are unprepared for college. We are reducing standards to raise the percentage of students who graduate, but shouldn’t we reserve graduation for students whose dedication and perseverance and ability lead them to the skills and knowledge that a college degree should certify?
UVU, defined in the state system as a “teaching university,” is in the process of raising class sizes and increasing teaching loads and discouraging research by its professors and denying sabbatical leaves and reducing requirements for introductory courses in order to increase the quality of teaching so students will graduate with more skills and knowledge. Wait, I got off track there somewhere. How could I forget that “student success” is achieved by paying tuition for a certificate?
Luther promises eternal condemnation for buyers and sellers of indulgences and predicts that the corrupt practice will destroy reputations:
#32 They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon.
#81 This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope [and university administrators] from slander, or even from the shrewd question of the laity.
Scott Abbott
Professor of Integrated Studies, Philosophy and Humanities, Utah Valley University