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Academic Freedom at U of A, RIP?

Updated: Apr 13

A proposed policy change by the Board of Directors of the University of Arkansas system has some professors worried it could lead to less academic freedom in the Natural State.

The policy change would water down the University of Arkansas System’s tenure protections. “Tenure” is an elevated category of employment that provides additional protection to academic employees.

However, the U of A board is now considering a policy change that would greatly reduce tenure protections.

Richard Peltz-Steele, a former law professor at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, detailed the proposed changes in a recent post on his blog.

Peltz-Steele said:

As is widely known both in and outside the academy, this is not a happy time for freedom of expression on the university campus. **** Especially problematic is a provision that would allow termination of faculty for “unwillingness to work productively with colleagues.”  As Professor Silverstein aptly observes, this is administrator-speak for what the AAUP long ago described and condemned as a “collegiality” requirement. That provision would allow the termination of a faculty member who ignores instruction to teach the politically correct or anti-intellectual version of a subject in the classroom; who refuses to give passing grades for failing performance, when campus bean counters fear losing the student’s tuition dollars; or who objects to the elimination of disciplines such as philosophy and foreign language as the university looks to budget according to revenue potential rather than academic mission.  In the corporatized university, there is no room for faculty governance and less for freedom of thought.  Faculty are expected to toe the line and make the widgets.  That’s a frightening vision of the university, especially when one contemplates the impact on young adults of modeling automatous obedience in a purported democracy.

Joshua Silverstein, a law professor at UALR critiqued the change in a recent letter to his colleagues.

Silverstein said:

[T]he proposed changes are a grave threat to tenure and academic freedom within the entire UA System.  Most importantly, the revisions dramatically expand the grounds justifying termination for cause.  They do so by (1) effectively establishing collegiality as a basis for termination, and (2) permitting dismissal after a single unsatisfactory rating in an annual review.  In addition, the revisions critically weaken the procedural protections available at university committee hearings regarding terminations.  If these changes are adopted, the damage to the University of Arkansas will be wide-ranging and likely permanent.  It is thus imperative that we speak out about the threat.

It’s no secret that universities in America are becoming more and more politically correct as each day passes. Historically, tenure has been a valuable way of allowing professors to engage in unpopular speech and research without fear of losing employment.

Unfortunately, it looks like the Board of Trustees at the University of Arkansas is looking to weaken this protection.

You can read the full proposed policy here.

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