UC Administration: “Academic Freedom is not a good fit for your unit.”

(Editors note: If you disagree with UC administration on this, sign our petition today!)

On July 26th, The UC bargaining team responded with a flat NO to our proposal that Academic Freedom rights be included in our new contract. They decided not to put their response in writing, so we are left with only their verbal explanations at the bargaining table. This post is an attempt to capture their professed logic behind that denial.

When speaking about the UC’s position on Academic Freedom (AF), they included these revelations:

  • AF is tied to faculty and students alone; more specifically, Instructors of Record and students are granted AF, to enable free expression in the classroom and related research.  They further asserted that AF arises only from this classroom need.
  • Librarians only have AF when they are granted Instructor of Record status (which does occasionally happen). At all other times, they do not.
  • They further clarified that no one involved in teaching has AF unless they have Instructor of Record status.  They clarified that Teaching Assistants, for example, only have AF as the result of their status as students.
  • When we asked UC who they had consulted to come to this conclusion, they claimed to have consulted the University Librarians, the Academic Senate, and other executive academic leaders.

Further to this outright rejection of our right to academic freedom, the University rejected our proposal to add academic freedom to Article 1 – Recognition.  Here is the exact language that UC rejected (underlined):

“The University recognizes librarians as academic employees, and further recognizes that they possess specialized expertise and independent, professional judgment, and employ both in service to the mission of the University. The University recognizes that all librarians are entitled to academic freedom, as their primary responsibility to their institution and profession is to seek, state, and act according to the truth as they see it.”

At the next bargaining session (8/8 at UC Berkeley), UC-AFT presented an initial rebuttal to this rejection, beginning with the UC definition of Academic Freedom found in APM-010:

As the Regents assert in Regents Policy 7401, The University of California relies upon Section 10 of the Academic Personnel Manual (APM-010) to define Academic Freedom and the conditions that require it for its academic employees.  It begins [emphasis added]: “The University of California is committed to upholding and preserving principles of academic freedom. These principles reflect the University’s fundamental mission, which is to discover knowledge and to disseminate it to its students and to society at large. The principles of academic freedom protect freedom of inquiry and research, freedom of teaching, and freedom of expression and publication. These freedoms enable the University to advance knowledge and to transmit it effectively to its students and to the public.”

APM-010 continues detailing how Academic Freedom applies to faculty, pointing to APM-015, the Faculty Code of Conduct, for more specifics.  It also mentions this right as necessary to students, and points to APM-010 Appendix B, “Statement of Principles: Student Freedom of Scholarly Inquiry,” for more details on the scope of academic freedom as applies to students.  It does not address other academic titles.

However, while these sections address the rights of faculty, that focus is not meant to imply exclusivity.  As it states clearly in APM-010 Appendix A, “Although this new policy applies to the University’s faculty, its issuance does nothing to diminish the rights and responsibilities enjoyed by other academic appointees.” So, there is nothing in the policy that binds these rights exclusively to faculty and students; in fact, it specifies the exact opposite.

We then began asking clarifying questions of the UC table team, starting with:

  • There is no mention in any of these policies that Instructor of Record status has anything to do with who is granted AF, and who is not. So – can you clarify where this response from last time, that AF is tied to Instructor of Record Status, comes from? (see responses below)

We prefaced our next set of questions with the following:

The Faculty Code of Conduct in APM-015 goes into further detail in regards to the professional duties.   “It is the intent of the Faculty Code of Conduct to protect academic freedom, to help preserve the highest standards of teaching and scholarship, and to advance the mission of the University as an institution of higher learning. Part I of this Code sets forth the responsibility of the University to maintain conditions and rights supportive of the faculty’s pursuit of the University’s central functions.”

We have proposed that LAUC should determine a Code of Conduct for Academic Librarians, and we expect such a Code will fundamentally mirror APM-015 in form and function.  Working without such a code, as Librarians currently do, we have questions related to the articulated Professional Rights of Faculty.

We offered some clarifying questions as we went through this section…

Excerpt from APM-015 Part 1- Professional Rights of Faculty

Our questions:

In support of the University’s central functions as an institution of higher learning, a major responsibility of the administration is to protect and encourage the faculty in its teaching, learning, research and public service Does the University have a similar obligation to its librarians?
Does the University have a similar obligation to any other academic appointees?
Such conditions, as they relate to faculty, include, for example:

1. free inquiry, and exchange of ideas;

Is it the UC position that this isn’t necessary for librarians?
2. the right to present controversial material relevant to a course of instruction; The UC has already acknowledged this right at table last time as applying to librarians only when they are instructors of record.  Why doesn’t it apply when they are guest instructors in a classroom? Or teaching in a context outside of credit courses?
4. freedom to address any matter of institutional policy or action when acting as a member of the faculty whether or not as a member of an agency of institutional governance; Are UC Librarians currently free to address any matter of institutional policy?  If not, who determines when and where a librarian may speak on an issue?

As we went through these questions, and several follow-up points that arose in conversation, the UC administration clarified their views:

  • AF is a professional standard established by faculty, for faculty.  It is a community principle, and that community is the faculty. The university does not set this standard, the faculty does.
  • They say this position is consistent with AAUP’s stance on AF. They steadfastly claim that AAUP says that AF is explicitly tied to faculty status, even after we’ve shown them policy statements from the AAUP stating that academic librarians, regardless of faculty status, require to protections of academic freedom to do their work.
  • They clarified that while they still believe that AF “started with the classroom dynamic,” they accept that freedom of teaching is no more important a concept than it is in freedom of inquiry and research, and freedom of expression and publication.
  • If a librarian’s teaching is challenged while they are Instructor of Record, the challenge would be weighed against the protections provided through AF by the Academic Senate.  In other instances, the challenge and any necessary discipline would be handled by library administration; by their own admission, there is “currently no policy on that situation.”
  • They were never able to point to any UC policy that specifies that only those with Instructor of Record status are granted AF,  but they stood by that assertion repeatedly.
  • They explained that Faculty research and publication requires rigorous peer review, and faculty have professional standards.  They seemed oblivious to the fact that librarians’ research and publication similarly requires rigorous peer review, and that librarians have professional standards.
  • Because AF is a faculty construct, if librarians had AF, then a faculty committee would need to review librarian research to determine if they meet the professional standards of faculty.  (Currently, peer review of librarians is performed by the Librarian Association of the UC (LAUC).
  • Faculty have a responsibility for shared governance through a Standing Order of the Regents, which is therefore a different shared governance than the rest of the University.  Librarians must rely on “free speech” – in other words, first amendment protections – if they choose to speak out in their shared governance context. 
  • UC administration repeatedly conflates the exercise of AF as the need to conform to professional faculty standards, in the classroom and in peer review.  There seems to be little grasp that AF is still challenged even when teaching and research is up to standards.
  • They claim that Intellectual Freedom is an individual right, and Academic Freedom is a community/ group standard.  They said they would entertain some kind of policy under a different name than AF – with specific, enumerated rights contained within such an individual right.
  • Among all the word salad above, they literally said: “Academic Freedom is not a good fit for your unit.”

They even volunteered to “carry the message” to those who can make decisions and weigh in on our right to academic freedom, clearly indicating that UC’s table team is not empowered to make decisions on this topic.

We have addressed some of their arguments in a separate post, and will be responding to all of the above with time; this conversation at the bargaining table is far from over.  There is little that our bargaining team feels is appropriate, or even respectful, in their response above.  For now, we feel the entire university should know the stance that UC administration is taking on this matter.



6 thoughts on “UC Administration: “Academic Freedom is not a good fit for your unit.”

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