Last week, which I’d dedicated primarily to family time, I jumped on to post breaking news about UAW’s successful organizing of 5000 University of California postdocs, and a fairly uncontroversial AP profile of Cary Nelson’s service as AAUP president.

In the profile, Cary gets credit for turning around organizational missteps in the membership office and staff leadership, and leading a long-overdue structural overhaul to create interlocking but legally distinct operations for collective bargaining, professional association, and a foundation in support of academic freedom. From its low point of 39,000 during the era of Greed is Good, membership has climbed to 47,000; a capital campaign has made significant progess, and the problems in the membership office responsible for the nonrenewal of thousands of members have been resolved. Most important, AAUP has continued to defend faculty rights–of members and non-members alike–in an era of profound repression.

And under the leadership of Nelson (and immediate past president Jane Buck) the association has taken an aggressive stance on the core issue of the profession today, the fact that the norm of faculty employment has become contingent appointment, what I call the global warming of our professional lives.

Over at Brainstorm, a furor erupted based on one reader’s remark, “The AAUP’s defense of Churchill also prevents me from renewing my membership. What a waste of resources!”

This inflamed one of Brainstorm’s regular less-pleasant commenters, who posts screeds accusing AAUP of acting in ways diametrically opposed to its mission and generally accepted record of distinguished professional citizenship (levelling bizarre charges of censorship, fiscal malfeasance, hostility to dissent, etc.). Of the 28 comments on the thread, my count is that 13 belong to this one commenter, including a doozy that compares Cary Nelson to a Nazi sympathizer. Being on the topic of this individual’s obsession, the nearly 50% figure (by number, over 50% by word count) is somewhat higher than this individual’s usual percentage, though it’s not uncommon for this person to account for a quarter or a third of the remarks on any one thread, and a higher percentage of the word count.

In fact, as I promptly pointed out, and Michael Berube joined in to underscore, AAUP was not asked to investigate the Churchill case, and has not. It therefore hasn’t taken a position. I for one would very much like to have seen what a Committee A-led investigation would have revealed about the matter.

So I explained how Committee A works, and that in a decentralized organization individuals and local chapters are going to have very different opinions, and that most folks thought that was a good thing:

Fred, there can’t be a national AAUP position on a matter it hasn’t investigated. It can’t investigate unless an aggrieved party so requests.

As a decentralized organization, AAUP chapters take extremely diverse views on all matters—whether to bargain collectively or not, for instance. Most folks think that’s a good thing.

The same freedom applies to individual members of the association, including its officers, who take quite divergent views on many of the issues we have to consider officially, as well as on matters outside our purview. Most folks think that’s a good thing too.

I have opinions on Ward Churchill’s situation, having read many of the publicly available reports.

I may or may not share them in this forum.

Should I choose to discuss them, you’d find they differ from some of the views held by others who are AAUP’s officers, and resemble the views held by others.

That is, if they chose to share them with you.

Which they very well might not, since they don’t believe their views on an individual case should be used as a litmus test for an organization which has an unparalleled record of distinguished service to the profession.

I may not agree with some of them about the Churchill case. But I agree with them that AAUP is, has been, and remains a beacon for all of us in very rough waters. I’d urge you to join, get active, and come talk to us in person—at the Annual Meeting, perhaps.

Those who disagree with you about a whole range of matters will still be glad to see you there. Solidarity, M

Michael Berube, who warned me on camera that trolls on unmoderated fora were going to be the bane of my existence, also got into the action, posting two or three times:

it is incredibly rude for Prof. Berube to blast the reading public for “ignorance”, when in fact the AAUP is complicit in creating that public perception.


Once again, I am not blasting the “reading public” for “ignorance.” I am, rather, addressing two people who are offering uninformed opinions about the AAUP in a public forum, and who refuse to admit it when they’re called out on their misinformation. There is a difference, after all, between being uninformed about the AAUP’s operations (as most people are, through no fault of their own) and being uninformed about the AAUP’s operations and mouthing off in blog comment sections anyway.

It really is kind of surreal. When Fred here learned that the national AAUP is not defending Churchill, his fallback position was “well, people have that impression, so I’m still right.” This is a very strange argument. If I said, “the United Nations is going to destroy the United States and install a world government,” and someone pointed out (with whatever degree of “condescension”) that I was wrong about this, would I be justified in replying, “yes, but some people believe this, and the U.N. has not dispelled the impression, so I’m right”? As for the Colorado chapter: as Marc points out in comment 17 (with, I admit, far more patience than I have), it doesn’t speak for me.

And as for aha — sigh again. In the course of one comment he says that Committee A “very carefully selects which cases it will ‘officially’ investigate so as not to rock any important boats,” and that this explains . . . why the AAUP has allegedly given people the impression that it is defending Ward Churchill? Quoi?

On other matters about which aha is half-informed: the shutdown of the AAUP listserv had nothing to do with “dissent,” and everything to do with the realization that a once-useless forum had become a vicious one. And I’d really like to hear how the Ivies have been violating the 1940 Statement with regard to tenure, since the statement doesn’t say anything about whether a university has to grant tenure after a probationary period.

The AAUP investigation of universities affected by Hurricane Katrina, by the way, is a marvelous piece of work. Anyone interested in forming an informed opinion of the AAUP and its operations should check it out.

That wasn’t enough for our friend, who is quick to Google and even quicker to judgement, who raced back on to post comments #23, 25, 26, 27, and 28, including the claim that

Once again, AAUP National Council members are themselves the source of “misinformation” on this blog thread (cf. especially Comments 17 and 22). Rather than admit that the National AAUP took public positions on the matter, the National Council members instead deny that the National AAUP could make any pronouncements without a full-blown Committee A investigation – which the results of a few minutes’ research on the Web belie.

The substance of this person’s “few minutes research on the Web” are two related statements made in February and March 2005, before the UC administration had initiated an investigation into its charges of scholarly misconduct or moved to terminate Churchill’s employment.

Both simply urge faculty due process in the case–that “the decision process belongs with his faculty peers, and should not be influenced by inflammatory statements by public officials that interfere in the decisions of the academic community.”

I’ve reproduced the March 2005 statement below in its entirety. The statement actually congratulates UC-Boulder for refraining from inititating an at least openly politically-motivated inquiry and then cautions that the same political motivations should not affect the faculty inquiry into the charges.

The decision of the administration of the University of Colorado, Boulder, not to initiate action against Professor Ward Churchill on the basis of hostility toward his statements was in keeping with principles of academic freedom. A university truly committed to academic freedom will do its utmost to resist pressure from those who want to rid the institution of an offending professor, even when the pressure is intense and threatening.

The Boulder administration has, however, decided to refer allegations of research misconduct against Professor Churchill to the Campus Committee on Research Misconduct. We note that the administration acted on these allegations after it had investigated Professor Churchill’s controversial writings. We trust that the professor’s offending opinions and reactions to them will have no role in decisions to be reached in this case. In the event that the committee concludes that a full investigation is warranted and recommends possible disciplinary action, the administration will be required, under the university’s own rules and generally accepted standards of the academic profession, to demonstrate before a faculty hearing committee adequacy of cause to impose punishment. Adherence to these rules and standards not only protects the individual, but also, like academic freedom, benefits society at large.

The controversy stirred by those who objected to Professor Churchill’s remarks about the victims of the attacks on September 11, 2001, is a forceful reminder that there are many who, misunderstanding the mission of the university, would curtail academic freedom rather than allow the expression of unsettling, even repugnant ideas. We believe, to the contrary, that society is best served when members of the academic profession are free to take strong issue with the most deeply held beliefs and are at the same time afforded responsibility for judging whether one of their own is fit to continue on the institution’s faculty.”

In other words, AAUP made strong statements about academic freedom and due process, but didn’t pre-judge the case. Since it was not asked to investigate the process that actually lead to the termination of Churchill’s employment, it has not taken a position. That of course does not prevent individual members, including officers, and chapters, from having opinions of their own. These opinions, to my knowledge, do in fact vary widely and are based on very different knowledge and experience.

You can join AAUP here. As I told Fred, you’ll be welcomed warmly, even by those with whom you disagree on any number of issues.






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