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American Association of University Professors - AAUP Committees, Post–World War Activities II

academic freedom faculty tenure

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) held its first meeting in 1915, in response to a 1914 call by a committee of full professors at Johns Hopkins university to organize a national association of professors. Concerned about the faculty role in college and university decision-making, the committee members made clear that the new organization was to serve university professors in ways parallel to the ways that the American Medical Association served doctors and the American Bar Association served lawyers, and the AAUP addressed many professorial concerns in its early years. The most pressing concern was academic freedom; although, according to the association's first president, John Dewey, academic freedom issues were thrust upon the organization.

The first academic freedom investigations, at the University of Utah and the University of Colorado, where the presidents had dismissed faculty members, set the precedent for future AAUP investigations, focusing on the reform of institutional practices and procedures. The association representatives negotiated with all of the parties involved (including dismissed professors not qualified for AAUP membership, administrators, and trustees) and the association published all of the evidence. The first AAUP report on the principles of academic freedom and academic tenure was the 1915 General Declaration of Principles and Practical Proposals. The report served as the basis for a 1925 conference on academic freedom that resulted in a code of academic freedom, the 1925 Conference Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure. By 1930 the association recognized that it needed a method to inform professors, administrators, trustees, students, and even the general public when colleges and universities failed to meet the standards of academic freedom and tenure. In 1931 association members agreed to publish a list of such institutions, institutions that in 1938 became known as censured colleges and universities. The AAUP still uses this method of highlighting the most intransigent administrations and governing boards.

The AAUP appointed its first full-time general secretary, Ralph E. Himstead, in 1935. Himstead was influential in the negotiations between the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges (AAC) dealing with a revision of the 1925 Conference Statement, insisting upon implementation of a maximum acceptable probationary period of seven years for professors in tenure-track positions. These negotiations resulted in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which the AAUP continues to use, and the association has secured endorsement of the statement by a wide range of education associations.

AAUP Committees

From its beginning the AAUP has designated its standing committees by letter–including Committee A for academic freedom, Committee T for governance issues, and Committee Z for salary concerns. Association concerns about professors' economic conditions began in 1916 when it negotiated with representatives of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to determine the future of a rapidly decreasing pension fund for professors. In 1920 Committee T presented the results of the first AAUP survey of faculty participation in institutional governance, concluding that extensive faculty participation was rare. Subsequent Committee T reports in the 1920s and 1930s reiterated that finding.

Post–World War Activities II

In the decade following the end of World War II, the AAUP began a period of inaction, especially in the area of investigations of alleged violations of academic freedom. The association did not publish any investigations of alleged violations of academic freedom and tenure from the summer of 1949 until the spring of 1956, even though professors were under attack. Senator Joseph P. McCarthy was the primary force in these attacks, but requirements such as loyalty oaths for faculties and trustees' condemnations of irreligious professors went far beyond McCarthy's work in the United States Senate. The AAUP leadership feared the consequences of investigating the attacks, and the association offered no defense of beleaguered professors.

General Secretary Himstead died in 1955, and he was replaced by Ralph F. Fuchs. Fuchs accelerated the removal of the backlog of Committee A cases by appointing a special committee to report on academic freedom cases arising since 1948. The committee exercised considerable caution in its 1956 report in response to still powerful anti-Communist sentiments; the report also signaled, however, a renewed AAUP commitment to academic freedom principles. William P. Fidler became the AAUP's general secretary in 1958, a position he would hold until 1967. The AAUP enjoyed considerable success while Fidler was general secretary, expanding its programs in a variety of areas.

In 1958 Committee Z began a remarkable program to address members' concerns about their low salaries and benefits. The committee began not only to survey colleges and universities to determine institutions' salary scales for professors, it also began grading the salary scales. This program continued until the 1980s, and the AAUP continues to publish an annual report of professors' salaries at most U.S. colleges and universities.

Also in 1958 Committee T began to develop a revision of a statement of principles on faculty-administration relationships that had first been presented in 1937. In the early 1960s the committee began negotiating with representatives of the AAC and the American Council on Education in order to develop a statement on governance. In 1966 the AAUP approved its Statement on College and University Government, a statement soon endorsed by the AAC, the American Council on Education, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. The statement espoused a cooperative approach to governance, arguing that governing boards and administrations, faculties, and students all had important responsibilities in the operations and policies of colleges and universities.

The association initially expressed an interest in legal proceedings with the 1958 decision to file an amicus curiae brief in a United States Supreme Court case (Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U.S. 109, June 8, 1959) on academic freedom. In 1954 Professor Barenblatt refused to answer some questions, on the basis of the First Amendment, at a hearing of a sub-committee of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Although the Court used AAUP arguments to sustain a decision contrary to the association's arguments (the Court upheld Barenblatt's conviction for contempt of the United States Congress), the association had developed another means of addressing faculty concerns. Since then the AAUP has often filed briefs in court cases, typically in support of professors' grievances.

By 1964 the AAUP leadership recognized that the faculty union movement was developing and began to raise questions about the association's role in collective bargaining. Despite the organizers' intent to create a professional association, the AAUP had often faced claims that it was a trade union, and association leaders had consistently denied any affiliation with unions and based association programs on negotiations with administrators and trustees. When the AAUP first approved collective bargaining in 1966, it did so as a tentative organizational commitment, declaring faculty unionization to be appropriate under only the most extreme conditions of administrative intransigence. In 1972 the AAUP established a firm commitment to faculty collective bargaining, although a substantial number of leaders and members were not convinced of the wisdom of such activity. For several years the association struggled with its new role, on the one hand continuing its work to reform practices in higher education, while on the other assisting local faculties in their efforts to unionize, an activity that at times led the AAUP into direct conflict with college and university administrations.

Since the mid-1970s the AAUP has attempted to address faculty concerns on a wide range of issues–in addition to academic freedom, tenure, and faculty unions. The association has offered policy statements on such matters as hate speech, the relationship of gender and race to academic freedom, and the rapid increase of part-time faculty members. It also continues to provide assistance to college and university faculties considering unionization. Most importantly, however, it remains the primary voice for professors on issues relating to academic freedom and tenure, supporting professors' unique opportunity to offer reasoned, even critical, assessments of the world at large.


GRUBER, CAROL. 1975. Mars and Minerva: World War I and the Uses of Higher Learning. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

HOFSTADTER, RICHARD, and METZGER, WALTER P. 1955. The Development of Academic Freedom in the United States. New York: Columbia University Press.

HUTCHESON, PHILO A. 2000. A Professional Professoriate: Unionization, Bureacratizion, and the AAUP. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

METZGER, LOYA. 1978. "Professors in Trouble: A Quantitative Analysis of Academic Freedom and Tenure Cases." Ph.D. diss., Columbia University.

SCHRECKER, ELLEN W. 1986. No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities. New York: Oxford University Press.


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