The American Association of University Professors has had Hillsdale College on its censure list since 1988. Since then, Hillsdale has annually declined to accept the AAUP’s invitation to present new evidence that would repeal its status.
Hillsdale made it onto the national academic watchdog group’s censure list almost 25 years ago, after a faculty-administration dispute went public in the Collegian.
The issue was raised last month when The Detroit Free Press mentioned it in an article about the college.
Although the staff involved are long since gone, and the faculty handbook has been updated significantly since then, Hillsdale administrators said they still do not accept the organization’s invitation to review the censure because of ideological differences between the college and AAUP.
“The college does not recognize their authority to censure,” Provost David Whalen said. “They are self-appointed arbiters of professional propriety.”
The AAUP published a report in 1988 that is available on its website claiming that the college did not extend a non-tenured professor’s contract because he criticized an administrator’s behavior in a letter to The Collegian.
Whalen said the college is in a fundamentally different place now.
“That’s ancient history — things don’t look like that now,” he said.
Whalen also said the college will not accept the AAUP’s invitation to repeal the censure.
“We do not regard the AAUP as having any moral or professional authority, so there is no need to erase a censure that has no traction.”
The AAUP’s five-page document describes the incident from the untenured professor’s perspective, with no direct input from the college’s administration.
“There wasn’t enough information to know what really went on,” Whalen said.
According to the AAUP report, Hillsdale violated the professor’s academic freedom by not extending his contract with the school. The professor had co-authored a letter to The Collegian criticizing an administrator who had sued a professor for alleged slander.
The AAUP criticized Hillsdale for not having a policy for professors to appeal their contract-terminations to a peer-reviewed board.
“The administration … in … refusing to provide [the professor in question] with any reasons and any opportunity for faculty review of the decision, denied him the generally accepted procedural safeguards to which he was entitled…” the report said.
Whalen said the Board of Trustees is the ultimate authority for personnel issues at Hillsdale.
“The only way to create an appeal procedure is to either create a body with the authority to overturn the board of trustees or to ask the board of trustees to think again,” Whalen said. “Essentially anyone is free to do [the latter].”
The college will not, however, establish a faculty board with more authority than the board of trustees, he said.
“If by faculty-review they mean a body that has the authority to overturn a decision by the board of trustees, that’s anarchy,” Whalen said.
According to the Faculty Handbook, however, tenures and non-tenured professors are told the reasons for why their contracts are not renewed or terminated.
Both President Larry Arnn and Whalen said the AAUP’s censure list signifies a difference in philosophy in the running of a college, stemming in part from the organization’s founder, John Dewey.
“Dr. Arnn has done some research and has some interesting remarks about the philosophical underpinnings of an organization that tends to look at universities and colleges as entities mired in an inescapable political struggle,” Whalen said. “We tend to look at the source of our institutional effectiveness and internal harmony as having a common purpose and being willing to reason with each other when there are differences about how best to pursue that purpose.”
The AAUP did not return calls to comment.