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The American Association of University Professors is a non-profit organization that is committed to improving the system of education and protecting the rights of those working within it. By their establishment and promotion of standards for academic freedom and tenure, and their accessible support and information available, this association has protected faculty from injustice and removed the barriers that hinder the advancement of knowledge. “The AAUP has helped to shape American higher education by developing the standards and procedures that maintain quality in education and academic freedom in colleges and universities” (AAUP 2012). The AAUP is crucial to the system of higher education in the United States.

The birth of this influential organization, nearly a century ago, was brought about in response to a court case dealing – for the first time – with the concept of academic freedom. In 1900, Edward Ross, a professor at Stanford University, shared his opinions on some controversial issues – namely, opposition to Asian immigration and lack of opposition to municipal ownership. In reaction to this, Jane Stanford (wife of Stanford’s founder and the university’s sole trustee) ordered the president of the university, David Jordan, to fire Ross. Unable to deny Mrs. Stanford’s demands, Jordan forced Professor Ross to resign (Lucas, 1994). This situation was controversial as it exemplified an infringement of Ross’ constitutional right to freedom of speech. It also boldly brought the issue of academic freedom to the forefront. Though Ross’ case was not the first instance of injustice in this area, it certainly aroused the most controversy and public attention. Ross’ defenders argued that “pronouncements issued by a professor outside the classroom, were as deserving of academic protection as what was taught inside the classroom or written for publication” (Lucas, 1994). Though this protection has been implemented and accepted in today’s age and education scene, the concept of academic freedom was not yet established in the time of Ross’ case.

The reason that the opposing force found the Ross case justified was because, “So far as many university trustees were concerned, an errant professor was an employee of the institution, no more, no less. If his conduct was displeasing to management, officials were entitled to give him his walking papers as readily as business executives might fire any factory hireling” (Lucas, 1994). At the time, the court was not involved in internal affairs of academic institutions. Consequently, there was no protection or establishment of freedom and justice for those in this vocation – nor any way of redressing grievances. The faculty was powerless; what they spoke and taught (as it applied to their position) was under complete discretion of administrative powers to be deemed appropriate. Professor Ira W. Howerth commented on this issue in 1900; he writes,

“It is contended by the authorities that there is complete liberty, and the claim is logical, for they make the careful distinction between liberty and license…Thought is free so long as it is sound, and the authorities have their own convictions in regard to what constitutes sound thinking. While freedom of thought is doubtlessly increasing in all our higher institutions of learning…yet it is probably true to-day that there is not a college or university in the country that would long tolerate an active and formidable advocate in serious changes in the present social order. He would be required to go, and the occasion of his removal would not be avowed as opposition to intellectual liberty, but to his capacity as evidenced by his vagarious opinions” (Lucas, 1994).

Ira Howerth points out the paradoxical injustice of the predicament. Said lack of academic freedom would pose apparent problems for the development of education and the advancement of knowledge; if the material taught and spoken on in the learning environment was restricted to what the powers-at-be deemed appropriate, then the advancement of knowledge would be essentially prohibited, or at least severely hindered by restriction. New and abstract thought existing outside the established boundaries of knowledge and “truth” would be subject to persecution and consequently new truths and important theories might continue to go undiscovered.

The previous lack of academic freedom can be better understood in the context of the preceding education timeline. From the time of establishment through the Middle Ages, the central purpose and motivation for higher education was to read and understand scripture for advancement of the Christian faith. Education (along with every other aspect of culture) was controlled by the church, and the first established schools were in monasteries – taught by monks – and later in cathedrals taught by abbots (abbey schools) (Pedersen, 1997). Considering these circumstances, there was clearly a lack of academic freedom due to the Church’s domineering control. Academia had to correlate with Christian doctrine and concepts accepted and approved by the church; deviation from this within academic curriculum was subject to persecution from the church, without question. In addition, early education was a system of scholasticism – so not as much freedom and abstract thinking accompanied teaching as is seen in the twentieth century, onward (Jackson, 2012).

After 1900, there was extensive change and expansion in American higher education. The significant increase in national income lead subsequently to the increase of the income of colleges and universities (which multiplied almost eleven times from 1883-1913). The overall size of universities expanded and student enrollment drastically increased, but most significantly, curriculum and professorship evolved. When higher education became more secular and spiritual focus was somewhat diluted, curriculum was able to be diversified and the advancement of knowledge and academic inquiry became more open. Professorship evolved as well and diversified along-side the expanding curriculum. The American professorate became “intellectually heterogeneous” (Metzger, 1965) and the position developed to include the aspect of research and publication in addition to traditional teaching methods. This transitioned higher education to a dynamic system of education and thus provided professors with more of an opportunity for new-age thinking and rationalization.

Although this transition to dynasticism was very beneficial for the future of intellectualism (Jackson, 2012), it faced heavy criticism. Henry Pritchett of the Carnegie Foundation wrote, “Everything about the college is under the fire of the critics – its government, its teaching, its financial conduct, its ideals of social life, its right to exist at all” (Metzger, 1965). For example, The New York Times scorned the concept of academic freedom calling it: “the unalienable right of every college instructor to make a fool of himself and the college by…intemperate, sensational prattle about every subject under the sun, to his classes and the public, and still keep on the payroll or be reft therefrom only by elaborate process” (Lucas 1994). It was such senseless criticism and unjust cases like Edward Ross’ that lead to the creation of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

In 1913, a letter stating the need for formation of a national association of professors was signed by eighteen elite professors of John Hopkins University and sent to nine other leading universities to recruit professors of equal rank. In the letter was stated, “the specialized interests of academics were served by the disciplinary societies, but that the institutional and societal interests, which were equally important and pressing, were not being adequately cared for; and that for this purpose an ecumenical society was required” (Metzger, 1965). When professors were recruited, committees were formed for the cause. Finally, at an academic convention in 1915, the American Association of University Professors was born, with Arthur O. Lovejoy as its president (Metzger, 1965).

The mission of the American Association of University Professors is “to advance academic freedom and shared governance, to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education, and to ensure higher education's contribution to the common good” (AAUP, 2012). However the core mission of the AAUP is the protection of academic freedom, and this organization has played the most important role in promoting and protecting this freedom in the system of higher education. A major breakthrough in the establishment of doctrine in this area was the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. In a series of conferences the AAUP paired with the Association of American Colleges and Universities to create this compilation of standards to ensure that primary principles of academic freedom are adhered to in the system of higher education. The document states:

“The purpose of this statement is to promote public understanding and support of academic freedom and tenure and agreement upon procedures to ensure them in colleges and universities. Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.

Academic freedom is essential to these purposes and applies to both teaching and research. Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth. Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning. It carries with it duties correlative with rights” (1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure).

The principles and standards established for justice in the world of higher education by the AAUP have gained wide support and acceptance; their Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure is especially relevant and acknowledged, and has been endorsed by over 200 professional and educational organizations. Policy documents and reports from the AAUP have become standard in this area and hold a great deal of authority. The association does more than simply establish these principles though; more importantly they strive to provide an easily accessible source of knowledge, and a place for faculty, staff, and administration (and anyone else interested) to ask questions about their rights and responsibilities and express grievances (a concept that, as previously stated, was inexistent in the earlier system) (AAUP, 2012).

More than a thousand faculty members seek help or advice from the AAUP each year. There are a large number of specialized committees and helpful personnel to ensure rights of due process are upheld by the country’s education system, and that faculty and administration alike are aware and knowledgeable of such policy and practice. The AAUP staff answers questions and provides the opportunity for consultation in cases such as when an educator believes his/her academic freedom is not being upheld. The AAUP will then give advice and make suggestions of how to resolve the problem with a solution resulting in the least confrontation possible. However, if the problem ensues and they determine that injustice in taking place, they may suggest a legal investigation be conducted and will direct the individual to resources available to do so. In a similar manner, the AAUP will get involved in cases that may proceed after such investigation. Though the association does not have the power to represent the individuals in litigation, the association’s legal office will make attorney referrals and in some cases will even prepare amicus briefs to the court. In this way, the AAUP takes part in determining cases and thus shaping educational law to integrate the principles the association has established (AAUP, 2012).

The AAUP’s legal office plays other important roles as well; they provide legal support for the committees, “monitor legal developments in higher education around the country, lead workshops and presentations on higher education law, and also track the legal implications of legislation and its implementation in executive branch agencies.” The principles and standards established by the AAUP have become “customary in the academic world” and due to the legitimacy of their ideology and the widespread support it has gained, courts often use AAUP policy in determining verdicts (AAUP, 2012).

In extreme cases, the AAUP may choose to censure a college or university. Though this is not a legal process, nor something that is instituted by the government, it is a decision that holds clout due to the authority of the association. In cases of unresolved deviation from the policy in the Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the association may conduct an investigation to decide if the misconduct of the administration warrants the censure of the university. To be sure, efforts are made to settle the problem and correct the divergence from policy before the steps of investigation are taken. Thereafter, if these attempts are unsuccessful, the AAUP general secretary (given the advice and support of the AAUP staff) with authorize a committee be formed to perform an investigation. Upon receiving the information from both parties involved, this committee will form a report that will be submitted to the AAUP's national Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure. If this committee concludes in accordance with the accusation and the report is accurately formulated to their satisfaction, it will be passed on and eventually reach the AAUP’s annual meeting of members and delegates. It is the responsibility of this body to discuss the matter and vote to decide the verdict. In this case then, the university may be added to the AAUP’s censure list – this decision publicly expresses disapproval. “This list is published for the purpose of informing Association members, the profession at large, and the public that unsatisfactory conditions of academic freedom and tenure have been found to prevail at these institutions.” The AAUP began this censure process in 1930 and currently 47 institutions reside on this list. Placement to the list is not of permanent stature though, a university can be removed from the censure list by the same process if improvements are made and just adherence to the principles of academic freedom is restored (AAUP, 2012). The AAUP’s censure list provides a useful resource to potential employees and those already a part of the establishment by making public the institution’s unacceptable and unjust practices. It promotes, likewise, the efforts of the institution to correct the faults and flaws within itself, thereby improving the university for the future. The censure process is another way that the American Association of University Professors is influential to the world of higher education.

Adequate faculty participation in the government of the institution is another concern of the AAUP (Joughin, 1967). It is important for faculty of the university to have a voice, and to not only be aware and informed of the decisions being made that will affect them, but also to have a say in those decisions. It is especially important in the current times of economic turmoil that the faculty is well informed and is part of a collaborative process with the university administration as to what steps are being taken (salary cuts and freezes, layoffs, regards of tenure, etc.). A specific means taken to establish this beneficial relationship is the creation of AAUP’s Collective Bargaining Congress (CBC), which was formed in 1985 (AAUP, 2012). Many AAUP chapters and affiliates that focus on the advancement of collective bargaining exist to represent individual campuses; the CBC is a sort of mother organization for these smaller subsets and is in place to provide information, advice, and resources to the local chapters. “The CBC works with local faculty to assist them in a variety of activities, including academic organizing, training faculty for collective bargaining negotiations, training in grievance handling, arbitration, and providing public education and advice about ongoing negotiations, grievances and other problems that occur during the term of a collective bargaining contract” (AAUP, 2012).

The American Association of University Professors is an establishment whose efforts have greatly impacted and benefited the realm of higher education in the United States. The organization provides easily accessible information, expertise, and resources to ensure that a body of knowledgeable and free-thinking individuals comprises the world of higher education. Since its founding, the AAUP has been essential in the establishment of principles and rights of academic freedom – a concept that education and the advancement of knowledge as a whole would be significantly compromised and hindered without. In their efforts to investigate, report, and even influence educational policy and also through the creation of a censure process, the association works to spread justice within educational legislation and continues to aid awareness throughout the system of education (and the public as well). This organization has spread the right of academic freedom and thus advanced, as a whole, the search for truth and the quest for new knowledge and ideas. The American Association of University Professors has played the biggest part in benefiting and advancing the system of higher education.


The American Association of University Professors


Page Author: Erica R. Dines

Saturday, 11-Feb-2012 14:19



AAUP. American Association of University Professors. Web. 04 Feb. 2012. <>.

Jackson, Steve N. “The Thin Tweed Line: The Rise of Literacy.” DHC 261: The University. Black Hall 151, Ellensburg, WA. Feb. 2012. Lecture

Joughin, Louis. Academic Freedom and Tenure; a Handbook of the American Association of University Professors,. Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1967. Print

Lucas, Christopher J. "American Academe in the Early Twentieth Century." American Higher Education: A History. New York: St. Martin's, 1994. 195-99. Print.

Metzger, Walter P. "Origins of the Association." AAUP Bulletin Volume 51, Number 3 (Summer 1965): 229-237

Metzger, Walter P. "The First Investigation." AAUP Bulletin Volume 47, Number 3 (Autumn 1961): 206-210.

Pedersen, Olaf. The First Universities: Studium Generale and the Origins of University Education in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print.


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