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American Association of University Professors — On Trigger Warnings

September 10, 2014 Comments off

On Trigger Warnings
Source: American Association of University Professors

A current threat to academic freedom in the classroom comes from a demand that teachers provide warnings in advance if assigned material contains anything that might trigger difficult emotional responses for students. This follows from earlier calls not to offend students’ sensibilities by introducing material that challenges their values and beliefs. The specific call for “trigger warnings” began in the blogosphere as a caution about graphic descriptions of rape on feminist sites, and has now migrated to university campuses in the form of requirements or proposals that students be alerted to all manner of topics that some believe may deeply offend and even set off a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) response in some individuals. Oberlin College’s original policy (since tabled to allow for further debate in the face of faculty opposition) is an example of the range of possible trigger topics: “racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression.” It went on to say that a novel like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart might “trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide and more.” It further cautioned faculty to “[r]emove triggering material when it does not contribute directly to the course learning goals.”

At Wellesley College students objected to a sculpture of a man in his underwear because it might be a source of “triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault.” While the students’ petition acknowledged that the sculpture might not disturb everyone on campus, it insisted that we share a “responsibility to pay attention to and attempt to answer the needs of all of our community members.” Even after the artist explained that the figure was supposed to be sleepwalking, students continued to insist it be moved indoors.

The presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual. It makes comfort a higher priority than intellectual engagement and—as the Oberlin list demonstrates—it singles out politically controversial topics like sex, race, class, capitalism, and colonialism for attention. Indeed, if such topics are associated with triggers, correctly or not, they are likely to be marginalized if not avoided altogether by faculty who fear complaints for offending or discomforting some of their students. Although all faculty are affected by potential charges of this kind, non-tenured and contingent faculty are particularly at risk. In this way the demand for trigger warnings creates a repressive, “chilly climate” for critical thinking in the classroom.

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Academe — Losing Focus: The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2013-14

April 8, 2014 Comments off

Losing Focus: The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2013-14
Source: American Association of University Professors

In the decades following World War II, higher education in the United States has evolved from a narrow concern for a few scholars into an institution that affects all aspects of our society. Nearly every American has either attended college or has a friend or a family member who has enrolled, and many people also follow college sports or have a college or university in their communities. In short, higher education is a central social institution in contemporary America.

And yet, even as colleges and universities have become the focus of increased attention from the general public and policy makers alike, these institutions themselves seem to have lost their focus on a mission of preparing an informed citizenry for participation in democracy and expanding knowledge for the benefit of all. Without a doubt, higher education still provides a transformative experience for the millions of individuals who take part in its many activities. Behind the scenes, however, American higher education is changing in ways that detract from its potential to enhance the common good. This report will endeavor to wipe away some of the clouds obscuring a clear focus on the vital core mission of higher education.

AAUP releases 2012-2013 Salary Survey

April 8, 2013 Comments off

AAUP releases 2012-2013 Salary Survey
Source: American Association of University Professors

The AAUP has released its new salary survey, Here’s the News: The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2012-13. The AAUP’s annual report is the premier source for data on full-time faculty salaries, and this year’s report also provides updates on pay and working conditions for colleagues in contingent appointments.

AAUP — 2011-12 Report on the Economic Status of the Profession

April 12, 2012 Comments off

2011-12 Report on the Economic Status of the ProfessionSource: American Association of University Professors
From press release:

Officially, the Great Recession ended almost three years ago. Unfortunately for many, the improvements in the economics of higher education are barely noticeable. This academic year is the third in a historic low period for full-time faculty salaries, which failed to meet the rate of inflation again this year. Some who work in part-time faculty positions have justifiably criticized the lack of information about their situation, even as they have become the majority within the faculty. Our students are facing escalating tuition bills and student loan debt, and wondering what’s driving those increases. And the “Occupy” movement has drawn a new level of attention to the issue of income inequality, an issue the AAUP’s annual economic status report has taken up for many years in the context of colleges and universities.

A Very Slow Recovery: The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2011–12, released today, is now available. The AAUP’s annual report has been an authoritative source of data on faculty salaries and compensation for decades.

In addition to listing average salary by faculty rank and gender at 1,250 colleges and universities, the report provides an important perspective on the economic challenges facing higher education.

Understanding Doctoral Education in the U.S.

March 11, 2011 Comments off

Understanding Doctoral Education in the U.S. (PDF)
Source: American Association of University Professors

After World War II, the United States decided to support much of its basic research through universities. That decision invigorated research with the energy, abilities, and fresh perspectives of students, while creating a fertile training ground for future researchers. Doctoral education in the U.S.—the education and training of Ph.D.s—became a combination of study and apprenticeship.

As a result, doctoral students work with faculty mentors in teaching and research, in addition to their coursework. This enables them to acquire an understanding of teaching and research techniques, and by the end of their doctoral programs, they are required to demonstrate that they can do independent research that advances the frontiers of knowledge.

Politically Controversial Academic Personnel Decisions

March 7, 2011 Comments off

Politically Controversial Academic Personnel Decisions
Source: American Association of University Professors

The AAUP today issued for comment a new report that discusses the history and character of politically controversial academic personnel decisions, identifies weaknesses in the principles and decision-making procedures that currently safeguard academic freedom, and recommends enhanced protections in the conduct of these cases. The fundamental principle is that all academic personnel decisions, including new appointments and renewal of appointments, should rest on factors that demonstrably pertain to the effective performance of the academic’s professional responsibilities. Political restrictions on academic expression must not be countenanced – even when many faculty members support or acquiesce in them.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • It is imperative in a politically controversial proceeding to tailor questions narrowly to permissible issues of academic fitness, and to avoid any inquiry into political affiliations and beliefs.
  • Collegiality is not an appropriate independent criterion for evaluation. The academic imperative is to protect free expression, not collegiality.
  • Institutions should not discipline a faculty member for extramural speech unless that speech implicates professional fitness.
  • Complaints regarding alleged classroom statements forwarded by outside agencies or individuals should be generally ruled out of consideration in initiating or conducting personnel reviews.
  • When complaints regarding alleged classroom speech arise from or are promoted by student political groups, the complaints should be respected only to the extent merited by the complaints and only when they are based on evidence from students who were actually enrolled in the course or courses in which the alleged inappropriate conduct occurred and were present to observe that conduct.
  • In the event that an academic hearing committee is convened, it should be elected or appointed by the faculty.
  • In dismissal cases, it is essential that the hearing committee provide a written reasoned opinion, consistent with the evidence and with sound academic principles.
  • The governing board would be well advised to follow the advice of the faculty committee, particularly in politically controversial cases in which academic freedom is at stake.
  • If the board does reach a determination contrary to the recommendations of a committee, or increases the severity of sanctions, the board must provide written, detailed, and compelling reasons.

+ Executive Summary
+ Full Report (PDF)

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