Statement on Academic Freedom, Tenure, and the Whittier College Faculty Personnel Process

Whittier College Chapter of the AAUP

January 29, 2014

The American Association of University Professors was established for the purpose of expanding, protecting, and preserving the academic freedom of college and university faculty in their roles as teachers, scholars, and citizens.  Several axioms underlay that purpose.  The first is that ideas are powerful, and can be considered dangerous by established powers.  The second is that colleges and universities exist to serve the common good.  The third is that college and university faculty serve the common good by exploring, understanding, and questioning ideas about the way the natural and human worlds work, including the policies, practices, and priorities of the college or university at which they are employed.

To serve these ends, the AAUP has articulated policies and procedures that colleges and faculty should adopt to protect and support faculty and academic freedom, most importantly those articulated in the “1940 Statement on Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure with 1970 Interpretative Comments.”[1] Key among these policies is the institution of academic tenure, or “continuous appointment,” an institution through which a faculty member has earned a right to a faculty position.  Whittier College aspires to these AAUP principles.

In the early 1970s, the Whittier College Chapter of AAUP worked to translate those principles into a faculty governance system that includes a rigorous faculty personnel process that includes tenure.[2]  In the Whittier College process, the Board of Trustees is the body authorized to grant tenure.  That Board action is preceded by a lengthy, usually six-year process during which non-tenured, tenure-track faculty hold probationary status and are subject to peer review based on criteria established by the faculty of Whittier College. Typically, non-tenured faculty hold annual contracts.  Unlike tenured faculty, non-tenured faculty during their probationary years do not have a right to their position beyond the contract period.  For a non-tenured faculty member, non-renewal of an appointment is not the same as dismissal for cause, commonly known as “firing.”  The rights of non-tenured faculty are spelled out in the AAUP document “Statement on Procedural Standards in the Renewal or Nonrenewal of Faculty Appointments.”[3]  Where faculty during their probationary years may have their appointment renewed or not renewed, following processes spelled out in the AAUP “Statement on Procedural Standards in the Renewal or Nonrenewal of Faculty Appointments,” tenured faculty may be terminated only for cause;[4] that is a significant distinction between tenured and non-tenured faculty, and gives weight and meaning to “tenure.”

In the Whittier College faculty personnel system, all faculty members, in consultation with their department chairs, have the responsibility for assembling evidence of accomplishment in the four areas designated as criteria for assessing a faculty member’s effectiveness: teaching, scholarship, advising, and service (see section III.B.5 of the Whittier College Faculty Handbook).  The peer review is undertaken first by the Faculty Personnel Committee, composed of five elected faculty members, the chair of the Faculty Executive Council (FEC), and the dean of faculty.  Non-tenured faculty typically submit to full FPC review in their 2nd, 4th, and 6th years.  By College policy, faculty personnel deliberations and discussions are confidential.

In a faculty member’s 6th year, FPC formulates a recommendation about tenure, based on its peer assessment of the tenure candidate’s dossier and its understanding of College standards for tenure.   That recommendation is then forwarded to the president of the college, who reviews and approves or disapproves of FPC recommendations.  If the FPC recommendation is favorable and the president agrees, the president brings that recommendation and backing materials to the Board of Trustees for action.  If the president disagrees with the FPC recommendation, the committee and the president meet to see if their disagreement can be resolved.  If not, the president’s decision stands and is brought to the Board of Trustees.  FPC may send a letter of dissent to the Board of Trustees.  The decision whether or not to tenure a faculty member rests with the Board of Trustees.

This lengthy, thorough, peer-reviewed process is designed both to protect the academic freedom of faculty members, and to enable the College to select the best possible candidates for tenure consideration.  Moreover, the faculty personnel process epitomizes the concept of “shared governance,” in which faculty, administration, and trustees have essential roles to play.

The Whittier College Chapter of the AAUP fully supports our faculty governance structure and system in general, and the faculty personnel process in particular.  All Whittier College faculty have a stake in insisting and ensuring that process is followed, and that a faculty member’s academic freedom is protected.  Should any faculty member have concerns about the faculty personnel process in general or in any particular case, our process does allow for those concerns to be directed to FEC, the dean of faculty, or the president of the college (see section III.B.10 of the Faculty Handbook).  If a faculty member has concerns that academic freedom has been infringed or violated, the Faculty Handbook also identifies the Faculty Executive Council as the “guardian of academic freedom” and as the grievance committee for the faculty (section I.D of the Faculty Handbook).   This process conforms to AAUP recommendations about the protection of academic freedom, and the investigation of allegations of its transgression.  In addition, the national AAUP may seek to investigate particular violations of academic freedom.

Should the Whittier College faculty personnel process not be followed in any particular case, that would be a matter of deep concern not just to the Whittier College Chapter of AAUP, but also to the entire faculty.  The same is true should there be any allegation or evidence of the violation of any faculty member’s academic freedom.  Should FEC receive either kind of case, we recommend that FEC consult the AAUP document “Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure”.[5]

That being said, the Whittier College Chapter of AAUP expresses full confidence in the ability of the faculty governance system to handle such issues should they arise.

[Statement on Academic Freedom, Tenure, and the Whittier College Faculty Personnel Process  (original document)]

[2] These criteria and processes are open to public access, and are spelled out in Sections III.B.1-10 and Appendixes 1, 3, 10,and 11 of the Whittier College Faculty Handbook  The Whittier College faculty personnel process as well has been amended to now include significant post-tenure, and post-promotion-to-full-professor review.

[4] The AAUP recognizes other reasons an institution may consider the termination of faculty with tenure, in particular a bona fide financial exigency or the discontinuation of a program or department.  In all cases, the AAUP has recommended processes that should be followed to protect faculty interests.