18 Jul Know Your Contract – Academic Freedom
- Academic freedom and individual freedom of speech are broadly protected in our contract and UI Statutes
- Seeking remedies for potential violations of these principles presents unique challenges
- Regardless of remedies specific to violations of academic freedom, inappropriate discipline may be grievable under the union’s current contract language.
- Want to work on these issues directly? Join our Committee on Shared Governance and Academic Freedom, or our Senate Caucus. UICUnitedfaculty@gmail.com for more info.
- This entry refers to Articles X, XI and XV of the 2018-2022 NTT contract and TT contract
As many of us recently celebrated the 4th of July, commemorating our freedom from kings and foreign powers, we wanted to discuss another important set of freedoms specific to the academy. These, of course, are collectively known as academic freedoms, and it will probably come as no surprise that they are very important to faculty at UIC. In fact, it was one of the most popular issues in our 2017 bargaining survey, with 62% of respondents regarding it as a major priority for the union and university, second only to the protection of tenure lines. Delving into the comments section of that survey, however, revealed that there is a lot of disagreement about what exactly academic freedom means, and what it should protect.
This segment of our Know Your Contract series will address what specifically is in our contract, and what you can and can’t do if you feel your academic freedom is being violated. There are myriad other resources on this topic, including the UI Statutes, and the authoritative AAUP statement on academic freedom and tenure, if you want to learn more about how the UI system and the academic community define these critical freedoms. As we will discuss, there are unique challenges involved in addressing violations of academic freedom. However, we encourage you to contact us at UICUnitedFaculty@gmail.com if you have such concerns, particularly if they involve inappropriate disciplinary action.
What does our contract have to say about academic freedom?
Article X.A essentially acknowledges and restates university policy:
“It is the policy of the University to maintain and encourage full freedom within the law of inquiry, discourse, teaching, research, and publication and to protect any member of the bargaining unit against influences, from within or without the University, which would restrict the member’s exercise of these freedoms in the member’s area of scholarly research and interest.”
Here we get a broad claim of protection for academic activities, with some specificity to a faculty member’s area of scholarly research. Article X.B further affirms basic freedom of speech principles, with a notable word of caution:
“As a citizen, a faculty member may exercise the same freedoms as other citizens without institutional censorship or discipline. A faculty member should be mindful, however, that accuracy, forthrightness, and dignity befit association with the University and a person of learning, and that the public may judge that person’s profession and the University by the individual’s conduct and utterances.”
So you can theoretically say what you want in context as an individual, let’s say on your personal social media account, but the university makes explicitly clear that they don’t have to like it. And herein is the tricky part….
What If My Academic Freedom Is Violated?
Currently, you can report academic freedom violations, such as being censored or disciplined by the university for expressing a particular view or opinion, to the University Senate. Per Article X.C of the contract:
“A faculty member who believes that they do not enjoy the academic freedom which is the policy of the University to maintain and encourage shall be entitled to a hearing on written request before the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the campus Senate. Such hearing shall be conducted in accordance with established rules of procedure. The Committee shall make findings of facts and recommendations to the President and, at its discretion, may make an appropriate report to the Senate. The several committees may from time to time establish their own rules of procedure.”
Reading this, you might quickly notice that there is no mention of actual remedy should the committee assigned to investigate find that a violation took place. In fact, there is no suggestion that the person making the complaint will even be informed of the findings of this committee. The only guarantee is that the committee will make a report to the university President. There is no requirement for either the President or the Senate to act on the committee’s findings.
Is There Anything Else I Can Do If I’m Disciplined Inappropriately
While there isn’t a lot of comfort to be found in the article on academic freedom itself, we do have some remedies available for members who feel they’ve been inappropriately disciplined in violation of their academic freedom. Specifically, if action is taken against a faculty member, our new language on discipline in Article XV of the contract requires that discipline take a certain form, which must be progressive and transparent (so it should be clear you are being disciplined, and why). If faculty are disciplined in a way that is counter to this due process, in violation of academic freedom or for any other reason, a grievance may be filed on this basis. Thus, it’s possible to fight inappropriate disciplinary action that contravene academic freedom, regardless of the senate’s findings.
Can We Do Anything To Bolster Academic Freedom Protections?
If you find the protections offered by current university policy to be less than convincing, you are not alone. While we fought to add both more transparency, and meaningful remedies to this process via our contract, Administration was adamant that these issues can only be decided in the University Senate. This is among several issues we intend to pursue in the Senate, and we are now in the process of developing a Senate Caucus to address concerns that were not remedied through contract negotiations. We also have a Committee on Shared Governance and Academic Freedom which is charged with the task of monitoring the state of academic freedom across the university, and educating faculty on their rights. If you want to get involved, either by joining the Committee or the Senate Caucus, please email us at UICUnitedFaculty@gmail.com.
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