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AAUP issues report on cuts at UNI

Academics Writer

Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 17:02

In December 2012, the American Association of University Professors published a report compiled by an investigative committee within the larger Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure regarding “actions taken in February and March 2012 by the administration of the University of Northern Iowa.”

The report addressed five “issues of concern” with the actions taken: the basis for the decision to terminate appointments, participation of faculty in decisions to terminate programs, identification of programs for termination, constructive discharge of faculty members and general conditions for academic freedom and governance.

According to the report, several faculty members expressed a lack of trust in the Allen administration that started before the events of 2012.

“In sum, the investigating committee left UNI with the distinct impression of insecure conditions for academic freedom and shared governance,” the report concluded.

UNI released a response to a draft of the AAUP report sharing its disagreement with the committee’s conclusions.

“The draft report acknowledges the critical fact that the university did not lay off any faculty members as a result of program closure or restructuring,” the response said. “Nonetheless, the (AAUP investigative) committee condemns the university’s conduct as inconsistent with AAUP standards and academic custom and practice.”

Impact of the report

Dan Power, president of the United Faculty, said “it is likely that the UNI administration and Iowa Board of Regents will be censured by the AAUP for actions that were taken,” Power said.

“It remains my hope that agreements can be reached that avoid a censure vote in June 2013 by the AAUP delegate assembly in Washington D.C.,” Power continued.

According to a press release written by Scott Peters, chair of the faculty senate, and Jeffrey Funderburk, chair of the faculty, censure by the AAUP “would be a signal that UNI falls short in protecting (shared governance).”

“(Censure) would be an embarrassment to UNI and to the Regents system, and it is in everyone’s best interest to avoid it,” Funderburk said.

Peters, associate professor of political science, wants students to understand there will be “no immediate impact on them.”

“Faculty are still here. We’re still devoted to students and still doing our job,” Peters said.

According to Peters, the value of students’ degrees and the likelihood of getting into graduate school will not be affected in the short term.

“However, there is potential for (censure) to harm the institution in the long term.  None of us want to see that happen,” Peters said.

Benjamin Allen, president of UNI, was “surprised that (the committee) went public the weekend before Christmas” and said the report was, in theory, an internal document used by the committee to determine whether to put UNI under censure.

In a response to an early draft of the report, Allen said the report “criticizes the University for allegedly departing from AAUP principles in its handling of the program closure and restructuring.”

“AAUP principles are merely recommendations, and are not controlling in this situation,” he wrote.

In a later interview, Allen said AAUP was not an accrediting agency. In fact, he said UNI passed its most recent reaccreditation with “flying colors.”

“Obviously we’ve had disagreements, but we have an outstanding university,” Allen said.  “We have great students and great faculty, and we’ll continue to do good things here.”

Funderburk and Peters wrote that “UNI’s faculty remains steadfastly committed to providing a high quality, affordable education for Iowa’s students that is second to none.”

“They are eager to work collaboratively as UNI faces the challenges ahead,” Funderburk and Peters continued.  “It is our sincere hope that the necessity for open communications and close collaboration on matters of curriculum will be recognized by all, and that significant progress will be made in establishing procedures going forward that will assure that events similar to last spring are never repeated at the University of Northern Iowa.”


The basis for the decision to terminate appointments

According to the report, the AAUP only recognizes the termination of tenured appointments, or term appointments before the end of said term, valid for adequate cause, a “bona fide financial exigency,” or of a program discontinuance “not mandated by financial exigency” and based on “educational considerations.”

The report said, in public statements, that the UNI administration portrayed the termination of faculty appointments as a staff reduction justifiable because the “current budget requirements” created a need to reallocate resources to high demand and growth programs.

In an interview with the investigative committee, Allen maintained the rationale behind the closures, and thus the termination of appointments, was due to budget shortfalls. Though an addendum to the report stated the administration never “provided substantiation for its claim that the school was financially unsustainable,” faculty reported to the investigative committee that Gloria Gibson, executive vice president and provost, said “closures would have occurred regardless of the financial condition of the university.”

“Indeed, the state legislature has since given UNI an 8.5 percent funding increase that has had no ameliorating effect on the administration’s actions regarding program closures,” the report continued. As such, according to the report, the investigative committee found “no legitimate basis, financial or otherwise” in the decision to terminate faculty appointments.

In a response to the draft of the report, UNI wrote that this “fanciful conclusion misapprehends the serious financial circumstances the University operated under in the years preceding the program review process and continuing into the months afterwards.”

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