Founded in 1915 by philosophers Arthur O. Lovejoy and John Dewey, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is a nonprofit organization that defines its mission as follows: “to advance academic freedom and shared governance, to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education, and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good.” Claiming to represent approximately 45,000 “academic professionals” (including librarians) at American institutions of higher learning, and adopting the official motto “Academic Freedom for a Free Society,” the AAUP functions as the voice of the tenured professoriate. It first outlined its principles in its 1915 _General Report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure__, which a_dmonished faculty to avoid “taking unfair advantage of the student’s immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher’s own opinions before the student has had an opportunity fairly to examine other opinions upon the matters in question, and before he has sufficient knowledge and ripeness of judgment to be entitled to form any definitive opinion of his own.”
While the AAUP has fought to preserve tenure, to prevent market-oriented management of universities, to encourage unionization and “equity” in compensation of non-tenured faculty, and to uphold racial preferences in university hiring and admissions, the organization’s chief raison d’être remains the defense of academic freedom.
The AAUP expounded upon this theme in its 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which stipulates that academics should be entitled to “full freedom in research and in the publication of the results,” as well as in the classroom discussion of subject material, but cautions instructors against introducing “into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.” The Statement also admonishes professors to be ever mindful of their status as “scholars and educational officers,” given that “the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances.” “Hence,” the Statement continues, ” they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”
Over the years, the AAUP has subtly modified its positions and focus. In the 1990s it took a passive role regarding campus speech codes, arguably the most extensive infringement of academic freedom since the McCarthy era. Moreover, it has been supportive of the trend towards politicization of the classroom, a possibility that the authors of the 1940 statement explicitly opposed.
The AAUP has supported numerous political ideologues and the terrorist sympathizer Sami Al-Arian of the University of South Florida (USF). The organization attacked USF over its disciplinary action and eventual dismissal of Al-Arian, a tenured professor who was indicted for his leadership role in the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The AAUP claimed that USF was punishing Al-Arian unjustly for what amounted to an “active extramural interest in Palestinian and Islamic developments.” (This “extramural interest” included founding an Islamist “think tank” whose directors included two leaders of Islamic Jihad; delivering speeches in which Al-Arian referred to Jews as “monkeys and pigs”; and proclaiming “Death to the Jews” and “Let us Damm [sic] America” — all while teaching full-time at USF.)
In 2004, AAUP issued a report asserting that a professor could not be penalized for matters unrelated to his or her scholarship or teaching. Specifically, the report dealt with the 2002 federal indictment of Mohammed Yousry, an adjunct lecturer in Middle East studies at York College of the City University of New York (CUNY). Yousry had been terminated from his CUNY post when he was indicted for having abetted terrorism while serving as a translator for attorney Lynne Stewart and her former client Omar Abdel Rahman. According to the AAUP report, CUNY administrators, by firing Yousry, had violated numerous guidelines related to due process, faculty peer review, and open communication. By AAUP’s reckoning, the right to “academic freedom” entitles professors to retain their jobs even when they are being investigated for supporting terrorism. Said the report: “Adequate cause for a dismissal will be related, directly and substantially, to the fitness of faculty members in their professional capacities as teachers or researchers” — and not to any extracurricular considerations. Further, the AAUP report rejected “the theory of teacher-as-role-model” as one that had “scant purpose” in terms of determining an individual’s fitness to teach in the university:
“There are … moral lacunae, flaws in character, that have no bearing on fitness for academic authority. There is no obvious connection, for example, between being a shoplifter, even a persistent criminal petty larcenist, and being a professor of poetry (even though such a person would clearly be a bad role model for any students who might be led to emulate his extramural behavior).”
The AAUP has also come to the defense of Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim academic who was hired by Notre Dame but was denied a visa by the State Department because of his connections with al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. On September 18, 2005, Professor Joan Wallach Scott (who was then the Chair of the AAUP’s Committee on Academic Freedom) gave a speech at Princeton University in which she defended both Ramadan and al-Arian. A media account of this speech summarized what Professor Scott said about the AAUP’s defense of academic freedom as follows: “Of the incidents the AAUP has tracked since 9/11, Scott said, all but one have been instigated by the pro-Israel bloc.”
The AAUP is a member organization of the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE), a coalition of groups that believe the American workplace is rife with sexism and discrimination against women.
This profile is partially adapted from the article “American Association for University Professors: Lobby for the Left,” written by Nathan Giller and published by FrontPageMagazine.com on June 4, 2003.