Tenure and Academic Freedom — Part 4

Ok. We’ve spent the last few posts looking at which instructors at Waterloo have tenure, which have the functional equivalent of tenure, which are on probation towards receiving tenure, and which just don’t have tenure.

Before we sink our teeth in the hard question of whether tenure supports or erodes academic freedom (we’ll look at that next week), here is a list of most (I’m sure I’ve missed some) of the people at Waterloo who are not instructors (i.e., who do not fall into the categories we looked at yesterday and the day before) but who engage in scholarship of some kind:

  • librarians
  • archivists
  • students (graduate, undergraduate, and non-degree)
  • teaching developers
  • teaching assistants
  • research assistants
  • research professors
  • research scientists
  • laboratory technicians
  • instructional staff (i.e., not faculty instructors, a whole other class of instructors in a whole different employee group)

We’ll get into the weeds if we try to define all of these appointment types here. And, as I say, I’ve probably missed a bunch of folks too. But you get the idea: there are lots of scholars outside of the faculty ranks at universities. What should their academic freedom look like? And does the existence of tenure help or hurt them?

We’ll take up those questions next week.


Academic Freedom and Tenure — Part 3

Today, we continue thinking through whether academic freedom in fact erodes tenure by setting up a two-tiered (or multi-tiered) system of academic freedom “haves” and “have-nots”. And, for simplicity, we’re using my university, University of Waterloo, as our case study.

Yesterday, we learned that at Waterloo Associate and Full Professors have tenure, and that Continuing Lecturers have the functional equivalent of tenure. We also saw that sessional instructors, definite-term lecturers, and assistant professors don’t have tenure or its functional equivalent. But do they “not have tenure” in quite the same way? And what’s the practical upshot for their academic freedom?

First, let’s note the following. An assistant professor doesn’t have tenure, but is on track to be granted tenure if they satisfactorily fulfill their probationary requirements. A sessional isn’t on a track to tenure. Some definite term lecturers are on a track to the functional equivalent of tenure and some aren’t, and they don’t always know themselves which of these categories they belong to.

What protects each of these instructor’s academic freedom? Well, all but the sessionals are covered by the academic freedom section of the Faculty Association’s MOA with the University (which we discuss in a bunch of places, but initially here). Sessionals are covered instead by a university-wide policy, Policy 33 “Ethical Conduct” (again, we discuss it in a bunch of places, but initially here). While the MOA discussion of academic freedom is much more detailed than the Policy 33 discussion, both state quite quite clearly that those personnel in their remit have academic freedom. So, don’t sessionals (and untenured professors and lecturers) have just as much academic freedom as professors? Well, yes and no.

If any of these folks were terminated by the university for expressing controversial views that fall under the remit of academic freedom, they could grieve or sue and equally have policy on their side. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that if the University wished to terminate a sessional or a definite-term lecturer for expressing controversial views, there is available to the institution an easy workaround — just wait until the contract is up and then don’t rehire/renew the colleague. And since both definite term lecturers and sessionals are on contracts with fixed end dates, the University need not provide a reason for not renewing them.

This means that sessionals and definite term lecturers have academic freedom in principle, but not necessarily in practice.

We’ll keep working through this material tomorrow. Stay tuned…

Academic Freedom and Tenure — Part 2

Our new project on this blog is working through some of the issues that came up at an academic freedom panel at my university on Monday.

Yesterday, we began to explore the relationship between tenure and academic freedom in preparation for putting some thought into worries some of my colleagues expressed that tenure may in fact erode academic freedom by creating a two-tiered system in which some university community members have academic freedom and some don’t. In that post, we looked at UNESCO and AAUP language that tightly connects tenure to academic freedom. UNESCO, though, used the phrase “tenure or its functional equivalent.” Today, then, we’ll keep chipping away at the broader topic by trying to unpack what “functional equivalent of tenure” means.

The OED tells us that the relevant usage of the word originated in the U.S. and means the following: “Guaranteed tenure of office, as a right granted to the holder of a position (usually in a university or school) after a probationary period and protecting him against dismissal under most circumstances.”

A picture of the OED definition of "tenure", and some accompanying usage examples.

That’s a good start, but it’s a little thin. Here’s a fuller elaboration of what tenure is from University of Waterloo’s policy “Tenure and Promotion of Faculty Members”:

Tenure is meant to provide institutional support for academic freedom (see the Article on Academic Freedom in the Memorandum of Agreement between the University and the Faculty Association). The pursuit and dissemination of knowledge and the attainment of understanding through scholarship and teaching, which are essential functions of a university, occur best in an atmosphere in which free inquiry and discussion are fostered. Free inquiry may at times bring a faculty member into conflict with society, governments or the University itself. Tenure provides security of employment against pressures that might arise from such conflicts, in the belief that the University and society at large benefit from honest judgments and independent criticisms rendered by scholars who are free from fear of possible consequences that might arise from giving offense to powerful individuals or groups.

Tenure provides stability for both individual faculty members and the University. Tenure provides a faculty member with an environment conducive to long-term scholarly work. The University, for its part, is assured of a continuing group of teachers and scholars committed to the University, around which it can plan and from whom it can draw its academic leadership.

Combining the OED with the UW policy, the following would seem to be the core features of tenure:

  • a guarantee
  • provided by an academic institution
  • for holders of academic positions
  • that guarantee preceded by a probationary period
  • that guarantee providing security of employment
  • that guarantee freeing holders of academic positions from “fear of possible consequences that might arise from giving offense to powerful individuals or groups”
  • that guarantee providing stability to both individuals and institutions

Any functional equivalent of tenure would need to possess these (or very similar) core features. So, what might that look like?

The answer varies a bit from institution to institution and from legal context to legal context, but let me tell you what it looks like — and what it doesn’t look like — at University of Waterloo, where I work.

At University of Waterloo, instructors (typically) are either “sessionals”, “lecturers”, or “professors”.

Let’s start with professors because they’re the most familiar type of appointment. You know more or less what professors are or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. At University of Waterloo, junior professors serving a pre-tenure probationary period are called “assistant professors.” Tenured, mid-career and senior professors are called, respectively “associate professors” and “professors” (sometimes termed “full professors”). We needn’t worry about functional equivalents to tenure in this category because we just know that assistant professors don’t have tenure, and associate and full professors do have tenure.

But this varies from place to place. At some universities, tenure and promotion are detached, so one could be a tenured assistant professor. And it is worth noting that in recent years some U.S. states have moved toward abolishing tenure.

At the other end of the spectrum from professors are sessionals. A sessional is someone hired to teach a particular course. Their contract obliges them to teach that course, and their pay is a flat amount for teaching that course. Sessionals do not typically acquire seniority. And they typically have to apply for work over and over, from one term to the next. The position of sessional lacks lots of fundamental features of tenure — most notably, security/stability and probation. Sessionals are not probationary in the sense that their work is not intended or represented as a “test” of their suitability for a permanent position. There is no functional equivalent of tenure for sessionals.

Ok. So who are the lecturers? Typically, lecturers have a heavier teaching load than professors and no (or not much of a) research load. Lecturers are appointed full-time (usually), on salary, and have a suite of tasks they are assigned to do — this suite often more flexible and evolving than those of sessionals. At Waterloo, there are two kinds of lecturers — “definite term lecturers” and continuing lecturers. Definite term lecturers are hired for a finite period; their contracts have end dates. Continuing lecturers are permanent employees of the university. Further, university policy says that continuing lecturers must first have been definite term lecturers. So, while not all definite term lectureships are intended as probationary, all continuing lecturers completed what in retrospect served as a probationary period a definite term lecturers. Just as assistant professors do not have tenure, definite term lecturers do not have the functional equivalent of tenure. By contrast, continuing lecturers at Waterloo could plausibly be said to have the functional equivalent of tenure. They have secure, permanent academic positions at at university, that position having been preceded by a probationary period.

But do they have a guarantee that frees them from “fear of possible consequences that might arise from giving offense to powerful individuals or groups”? Well, yes and no. They don’t have the kind of symbolic guarantee that is conveyed by the word “tenure”. However, they are protected by the very same memorandum of agreement as their associate professor and full professor colleagues such that if they were ever terminated for having given offense to powerful individuals or groups, they could be just as confident as a tenured colleague of winning at arbitration or in court.

So, it seems that continuing lecturers at Waterloo have the functional equivalent of tenure even though they don’t have the symbolic reassurance of the word “tenure”.

It is worth noting again that the situation varies from university to university. The terminology and the rules are different even between University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, which are situated not only in the same city but on the same road. And the more universities you look at, the more the differences multiply. And there are weird exceptions within each university (ergo my health use of such terms as “usually” and “typically” in the above account).

Ok. So, now that we know more or less what the functional equivalent of tenure is, we’re in a position to consider whether the existence of tenure (and functional equivalents of tenure) supports academic freedom. We’ll start on that tomorrow.


Academic Freedom and Tenure: Part 1

Yesterday, I was privileged to be a panelist at University of Waterloo’s President’s Luncheon on Academic Freedom. After an opening discussion among the panelists, we shifted to a Q&A with the approximately 100 attendees — most of them professors. Over the course of that discussion some of the concerns that emerged were: that university budget cuts constrain academic freedom, that librarians need academic freedom, that there should be more support for faculty to criticize the University, that there is insufficient effort to educate university community members (in particular, students) about academic freedom, that academic freedom becomes complicated when you are teaching upsetting material or teaching one section of a multi-section course with a shared syllabus, and that there is much anxiety about protests that shut down controversial speakers. I’ll try in future posts to get to most of these concerns. For now though, I want to focus on a concern that emerged a couple of times during the Q&A — namely, that too closely tying academic freedom to tenure creates various levels of academic freedom, and thereby erodes academic freedom.

Of the key academic freedom statements we have spent the most time discussing on this blog, the AAUP’s 1940 Statement and UNESCO’s 1997 recommendation have the most to say about the connection between academic freedom and tenure.

In fact, the full title of the AAUP statement is “1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” and throughout the document, the phrases “academic freedom” and “tenure” go hand in hand. (AAUP is not alone in this practice. My own faculty association has an Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee that supports members in sticky situations.)

The preamble to the 1940 statement notes:

Tenure is a means to certain ends; specifically: (1) freedom of teaching and research and of extramural activities, and (2) a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability. Freedom and economic security, hence, tenure, are indispensable to the success of an institution in fulfilling its obligations to its students and to society.

The “Academic Tenure” section of the statement begins:

After the expiration of a probationary period, teachers or investigators should have permanent or continuous tenure, and their service should be terminated only for adequate cause, except in the case of retirement for age, or under extraordinary circumstances because of financial exigencies.

While the overall statement closely ties academic freedom to tenure, the “Academic Tenure” section includes the following note: “During the probationary period a teacher should have the academic freedom that all other members of the faculty have.” So, for the AAUP, academic freedom and tenure are entwined, but tenure isn’t in strictness a necessary condition for academic freedom.

UNESCO does not as tightly connect academic freedom to tenure as the AAUP does, nor does it imply (as the AAUP does) that all teachers and investigators should have tenure. Rather, in Section IX “Terms and conditions of employment,” under subsection A “Entry into the academic profession,” UNESCO recommends:

43. Higher-education teaching personnel should enjoy:

(a) a just and open system of career development including fair procedures for appointment, tenure where applicable, promotion, dismissal, and other related matters;


Then, in the following subsection, B “Security of employment,” it continues:

45. Tenure or its functional equivalent, where applicable, constitutes one of the major procedural safeguards of academic freedom and against arbitrary decisions. It also encourages individual responsibility and the retention of talented higher-education teaching personnel.

46. Security of employment in the profession, including tenure or its functional equivalent, where applicable, should be safeguarded as it is essential to the interests of higher education as well as those of higher-education teaching personnel. It ensures that higher-education teaching personnel who secure continuing employment following rigorous evaluation can only be dismissed on professional grounds and in accordance with due process. They may also be released for bona fide financial reasons, provided that all the financial accounts are open to public inspection, that the institution has taken all reasonable alternative steps to prevent termination of employment, and that there are legal safeguards against bias in any termination of employment procedure. Tenure or its functional equivalent, where applicable, should be safeguarded as far as possible even when changes in the organization of or within a higher education institution or system are made, and should be granted, after a reasonable period of probation, to those who meet stated objective criteria in teaching, and/or scholarship, and/or research to the satisfaction of an academic body, and/or extension work to the satisfaction of the institution of higher education.

So, for UNESCO, tenure supports academic freedom, but also has other functions, such as helping to recruit and retain high quality scholars. And UNESCO allows for “functional equivalents” to tenure, as appropriate.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue our exploration of the relationship between tenure and academic freedom by unpacking what a functional equivalent to tenure might look like, and by taking seriously the worry that my colleagues raised yesterday that in the present state of post-secondary education, tenure may in fact serve to erode academic freedom.


Two Great Resources on Academic Freedom (and a brief postscript about the “crisis on university campuses”)

Last week, when I published my summary table of aspects of academic freedom, I was feeling a bit immodest. I wrote of the table that “it is, as far as I know, the best at-a-glance resource for academic freedom in Canada that exists.” My brag may be correct in the “at-a-glance” category. That is, I haven’t found other resources that boil down detailed content from key academic freedom statements into such a brief (three pages) document, and make the details salient through the use of a table.

However, there are other really excellent summaries of academic freedom statements that are worth your perusal. In particular, I commend to you SAFS‘s useful 2015 summary document, “Academic Freedom Clauses in the Collective Agreements of Canadian Universities.” The document aggregates in whole cloth the academic freedom clauses from 32 Canadian faculty association’s collective agreements. It is thus a comprehensive, up-to-date collection of the main contractual expressions of academic freedom nationwide.

Another super useful resource for better understanding academic freedom is the National Association of Scholars (NAS)’s January 2018 publication, “Charting Academic Freedom: 103 Years of Debate.” That document is primarily composed of a very long chart that compares fourteen published statements on academic freedom in twenty-five categories. Here is a sample of some of the categories:

  • University Purposes
  • Pursuit of Truth as Ground for Free Speech
  • Direction of Threats to Free Speech
  • Sanctions for Violators
  • References to Notable Violations
  • Freedom of Teacher
  • Role of Tenure Emphasized
  • Professorial Duties
  • Classroom Privacy
  • Freedom of Inquiry and Research
  • Freedom of Extramural Utterance and Action
  • Freedom of Student

That’s just a taste of the categories, but once again, the list reveals the richness and complexity of academic freedom.

It is interesting to note that, while the documents the chart surveys span 1915 to 2017, all but four were published post 2000. Indeed, nine of the fourteen statements were published 2015 or later.

As well, while the authors are clear that the chart is not exhaustive, there are some notable omissions — in particular, the “Chicago Principles.” To be clear, as I’ve noted before on this blog, I do not regard the “Chicago Principles” to be a statement of academic freedom. It is very explicitly a statement of freedom of expression, and remains silent on most of the core features of academic freedom. That said, the authors of “Charting Academic Freedom” themselves sometimes treat academic freedom and freedom of expression as interchangeable (right down to the fact that the URL for the document includes the phrase “NAS_freeSpeechChart”). So, it’s a little surprising to find the “Chicago Principles” missing from the summary.

In addition to its 16-page chart, the NAS document includes a useful historical timeline and accompanying notes, a list of online resources, and a bibliography for further reading.

The NAS document is completely focused on the U.S. context. And the legal history glossed in the NAS timeline is firmly situated in the American constitutional context. So, the document as a whole is more directly useful to U.S. than Canadian scholars. That said, while legal decisions grounded in the First Amendment don’t have much bearing on Canadian jurisprudence, Canadian labour arbitrators sometimes look to U.S. precedent for models of how to resolve academic freedom complaints. (For instance, in his 2001 arbitration of University of Waterloo’s Lipshitz case, Ross Kennedy cites a number of U.S. decisions. So, for Canadians committed to academic freedom, the NAS report is still a useful resource.

I want to round this post off with a caution. In their introduction, the NAS authors describe “a growing crisis” on U.S. campuses:

We publish this chart today because America faces a growing crisis about who can say what on our college campuses. At root this is a crisis of authority. In recent decades university administrators, professors, and student activists have quietly excluded more and more voices from the exchange of views on campus. This has taken shape in several ways, not all of which are reducible to violations of “academic freedom.” The narrowing of campus debate by de-selection of conservatives from faculty positions, for example, is not directly a question of academic freedom though it has proven to have dire consequences in various fields where professors have severely limited the range of ideas they present in courses.

This example suggests some of the complications in the concept of academic freedom that were not apparent to the drafters of the 1915 Declaration of Principles. The threats to academic freedom do not always arise from outside the university. Potent threats to academic freedom can arise from the collective will of faculty members themselves.

This is the situation that confronts us today. Decades of progressive orthodoxy in hiring, textbooks, syllabi, student affairs, and public events have created campus cultures where legitimate intellectual debates are stifled and where dissenters, when they do venture forth, are often met with censorious and sometimes violent responses. Student mobs, egged on by professors and administrators, now sometimes riot to prevent such dissent. The idea of “safe spaces” and a new view of academic freedom as a threat to the psychological wellbeing of disadvantaged minorities have gained astonishing popularity among students. (2)

While the SAFS summary does not make similar claims, it is clear from SAFS’s other interventions that the organization is animated by similar worries. I am sharing both the NAS and the SAFS documents with you because they are excellent resources. However, I do not share either organization’s view of (1) whether there is a crisis on campuses, (2) in what such a crisis consists, and (3) what the most urgent threats to academic freedom are in 2018. In the weeks ahead, I will have more to say about why I disagree with organizations like SAFS and NAS on these matters. For now, take a look at this Twitter thread by anthropologist Michael Oman-Reagan, which says a lot of what I would like to say. (I will note that I have taken care on this blog to use a dispassionate, scholarly voice. The linked thread is anything but dispassionate. Nonetheless, it offers an extraordinarily useful perspective.)


Academic Freedom and Diversity in the Canadian Context

I promised yesterday that in today’s post I would offer two pieces of circumstantial evidence about how academic freedom and gender interact in Canada. Let me broaden that a bit. Although the article we looked at yesterday is primarily concerned with women, some of the challenges it discusses apply equally (or more) to racialized, Indigenous, disabled, and LGBTQ scholars. So, in a light revision of yesterday’s promissory note, I will today look at the intersection of academic freedom and diversity in Canada.

The two pieces of circumstantial evidence I wish to offer come from two very different national organizations currently based in the Atlantic provinces — the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS) and Women’s and Gender Studies et Recherches Féministes (WGSRF).

SAFS is a non-profit organization primarily concerned with institutions of higher learning in Canada. While its focus is higher ed institutions, its membership is open to anyone who shares its values, whether or not they work in higher ed. On its website, SAFS lists as its two main goals the following:

Maintaining freedom in teaching, research, and scholarship.

In pursuit of their scholarly goals, members of the university may take positions that are not in accord with popular beliefs. We oppose measures such as speech codes, extra-legal tribunals and so-called anti-hate legislation that may infringe on the right and responsibility of the academic community (faculty and students) to teach and do research on controversial subjects.

Maintaining standards of excellence in academic decisions about students and faculty.

Many universities have policies that are discriminatory to the extent that they favour groups of students or faculty on the basis of race, sex, etc. Such preferential treatment is unfair, is damaging to academic excellence, and stigmatizes the very groups so favoured. We espouse equality of opportunity but oppose preferential treatment.

SAFS regularly writes to university presidents to express concern in cases of both types — that is, when universities limit the academic freedom of their members, or when universities adopt programs such as “equity hiring,” which SAFS regards as unfair and contravening academic excellence.

Recall that the article we looked at yesterday argued that defense of academic freedom can be an obstacle to equity-supporting practices. It is instructive to note that SAFS seems to regard its promotion of academic freedom as entwined with opposition to university practices intended to promote equity. So, our first piece of circumstantial evidence suggests that in Canada as well as in the U.S. there may be some tension between academic freedom and equity.

However, our second piece of circumstantial evidence — this one from WGSRF — complicates this view.

WGSRF is the scholarly association for Women’s and Gender Studies researchers in Canada. It is primarily an association of professors and students, although community members may also join.

Last month, we looked at WGSRF’s February 4 statement on academic freedom. In that statement, WGSRF alludes to recent attacks on “feminist scholars in the name of ‘freedom of speech’.” The authors go on to endorse CAUT’s academic freedom statement  and to claim that (some) deployments of freedom of speech threaten the academic freedom of feminist scholars.

While there are no explicit contradictions between the SAFS position and the WGSRF position, there are implicit tensions between them. In its various communications, SAFS tends not to distinguish between freedom of speech and academic freedom whereas WGSRF contrasts them. And, while SAFS sometimes defends feminists and equity-seeking groups, in its opposition to so-called equity hiring (and similar), it marks itself out as taking a very different approach than WGSRF, which has historically supported such initiatives. It would be a bit too ham-fisted to say that SAFS treats academic freedom as opposed to equity and diversity, while WGSRF regards academic freedom as supporting equity and diversity. …but only a bit.

So, is there any tension in Canada between academic freedom and diversity? In the end, it’s complicated. And it depends a lot on what you mean by academic freedom. As we’ve already seen in the few short weeks this blog has existed, different groups mean different things by academic freedom. Whether or not you regard academic freedom as supporting diversity will depend on which version of academic freedom you espouse. (Or, for some folks, vice versa.)


Academic Freedom and Gender

Hey! It’s International Women’s Day!

That got me thinking, “What (if any) are the interactions between academic freedom and gender?” I did what any scholar would do and started searching databases for peer-reviewed articles about academic freedom and gender. I found this article:

Breena Coates, “Has Judicial Thinking on Academic Freedom Impeded Gender Mainstreaming in Universities?” Business Renaissance Quarterly 7.1 (2012) 47-74.

In the article, Coates documents U.S. courts’ reluctance to interfere with universities’ academic freedom by rendering decisions in support of human rights plaintiffs; this reluctance is, according to Coates, an expression of the so-called “academic deference” principle. Academic deference by the courts makes it harder for women at universities to receive legal remediation for unequal treatment than it is for women in other sectors. On Coates’s account, academic deference thus sets up a third “whammy” in a “triple-whammy” that negatively affects women’s participation and career outcomes in academe. The other two “whammies” are departmental cultures and institutional processes that disproportionately favour men. Here’s an image from the article:

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 2.51.39 PM

A couple of cautions about the article: First, it is situated within the U.S. post-secondary and legal contexts. So, our mileage may vary in Canada. (And, as I noted yesterday, I’m not a legal scholar; so, I don’t know the corresponding Canadian legal landscape well enough to comment on it.) Second, some of the literature Coates cites in support of the first two “whammies” has in the years since the article was published come under contestation. Specifically, Coates draws on scholarship about unconscious bias that has recently come under critique by some scholars. (To be clear, I would say that the unconscious bias literature is nowadays contested; it would be an exaggeration to say that it has been rejected or “debunked”.)  Of course, since academic freedom is only explicitly implicated in the third “whammy”, worries about the unconscious bias literature aren’t germane to the topic of this blog.

While I am not in a position to say whether a version of academic deference gets applied in the Canadian court system, I can offer two pieces of circumstantial evidence to provide a rough sense of how academic freedom and gender intersect in Canada outside the legal sphere. I’ll do that in tomorrow’s post. Spoiler: it’s complicated.