UCONN Faculty and Students Stand Up For Academic Freedom

UCONN Faculty and Students Stand Up For Academic Freedom 

On Wednesday November, 18, 2015 a group of 100 + faculty and students organized by the UCONN Chapter of the UCONN-AAUP demonstrated outside the office of UCONN President Susan Herbst for the first time in the Chapter’s history calling on the administration for action on academic freedom – the freedom to teach, to research, to critique the university, and to participate in public debate – without fear of retaliation.

In the current contract negotiations for a successor collective bargaining agreement, the UCONN Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has proposed language that would allow academic freedom to be added as a core element of the contract allowing for possible violations be brought through the grievance and arbitration process.

Academic freedom is a core founding principle of the AAUP and many universities have adopted policies and procedures based on AAUP’s 1940 Statement on Academic Freedom. It states, in part, “Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends on the free search for truth and its free exposition”.

UCONN-AAUP Internal Organizer, Chris Henderson, said during the rally, “We know that academic freedom is the bedrock principle of higher education and we know that the administration shares that view with us but academic freedom in University Bylaws alone are simply not enough – in this day in age. We are asking that Academic Freedom violations have every avenue available for redress including but not limited to the grievance and arbitration process. In a more corporatized university and society – we need to make sure that academic freedom is not diminished in any way possible but is in fact strengthened and guaranteed”.

In a formal statement at the rally delivered by Evelyn Simien, Associate Professor of Political Science and the Africana Studies Institute stated, “As per student, state appropriations have dwindled and the voices of private donors have become louder once again, such freedoms are increasingly under attack at public universities, both at the national level and here in Connecticut.  To cite but a few examples, the struggles of Steven Salaita at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, Ivor van Heerden and Dominique Homberger at Louisiana State University, and David Demers at Washington State University have shown us that the issue of academic freedom is as important now as when the AAUP was founded over this very issue, 100 years ago”.

The crowd marched down to the President Office outside Gulley Hall chanting “What do we want…Academic Freedom…When do we want it…Now”.  A small group of faculty entered the building to deliver a formal letter from the UCONN-AAUP to President Herbst. However, President Herbst was unavailable due to her attendance at the earlier Board of Trustees meeting discussing diversity efforts on campus.

Diana Rios, UCONN-AAUP Chapter President and Associate Professor of Communication and El Instituto said,

“Several decades ago it was through the ideals of Academic Freedom and social justice that allowed students, staff, faculty and community members to envision and build programs of ethnic studies, gender studies and, many other emerging areas of scholarship and teaching, that are common disciplines today on campuses across the US.

What Academic Freedom means for someone who is teaching in the laboratory, lecture hall and even online is that the instructor can present challenging materials and ideas in order to inspire students to think out-of-the-box. In our ivory tower, we hope for students stretch beyond their comfort zone for intellectual development and personal growth. In our world there are well-known and lesser known controversies in the humanities, social sciences, engineering, business, and other fields—that all need to be explored and debated.

I stand here in defense of Academic Freedom.

We stand here for Academic Freedom”

Many AAUP Chapters have language in their collective bargaining agreements that gives faculty the right to grieve violations of academic freedom. In Connecticut, Connecticut State University (CSU) –AAUP agreement with the Board of Regents offers a mechanism of redress through a faculty-administration review panel and committee charged with investigating and addressing potential violations of academic freedom. UCONN-AAUP believes that the UCONN administration should support a similar effort.