On Tuesday I posed a question about the new AAUP report, “Freedom in the Classroom,” which attacks critics who have complained about professors who improperly bring their politics to the classroom. Seventeen years ago, the AAUP embroiled itself in scandal by rushing out a report that smeared critics of political correctness as, in effect, racists. It turned out that the AAUP General Secretary at the time had by-passed the organization’s internal procedures and safeguards and issued that report on false pretenses as the AAUP’s official view. A lot of AAUP members and officials were chagrined, and the AAUP promptly withdrew the document.
The new document bears some suspicious resemblance to the one issued 17 years ago. It comes with a header saying it was approved by a committee but with no sign that it had been broadly vetted. Yet the AAUP press release issue on 9-11 presents the report very much as if it is the official verdict of the AAUP. Key sentence: “In Freedom in the Classroom, a challenging new report released on September 11, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) answers “Yes” to these questions.” That’s the AAUP speaking, not some trial-balloon committee. Moreover, the manner of issuance indicates the report’s official status:
“Print copies of the report will be published in the September–October issue of the AAUP’s journal of record, Academe. A link to an online copy of the report will be e-mailed to over 350,000 U.S. faculty on September 11. Other countries are following suit. The Canadian Association of University Teachers will be distributing both English and French versions of the report to all its members. The AAUP expects worldwide distribution of Freedom in the Classroom.”
But after I asked on Phi Beta Cons whether the report had been through the AAUP’s customary review, a reader got in touch with one of the report’s four authors. Since I cannot personally verify the authenticity of the e-mail message, I’ll leave the supposed author’s name out of this, but that person wrote back that the report “has been approved for publication, which is to say for public comments. After public comments, AAUP might consider whether to endorse it as an organization. It is endorsed by Committee A at the moment.”
In other words, my suspicions appear to have been right. The report was not properly vetted or endorsed by the AAUP through its regular procedures, but has been foisted on the membership and the public as though it had. Nowhere in the report or the press release is there any indication that the report was issued to gather “public comments” in advance of asking the organization as a whole for its approval. Perhaps that statement appears in the AAUP magazine, Academe, which I’ve not yet seen. But I suspect not.
How big a deal is this? I guess that’s up to the AAUP Executive Committee and the organization’s general membership to decide. But those of us who face the brunt of the attack in the report on the clarity of our thought, the quality of our evidence, and the purity of our motives have a legitimate complaint too. Until now, it appeared we had been indicted by the whole AAUP, after due deliberation. Now it appears we have been ambushed by the four authors of the report, the members of “Committee A,” and AAUP President Cary Nelson acting on their own.
A whiff of dishonesty now hangs over the document.