Miami’s “Boldly Creative” Profit Focus: How to Reduce the Risks

Miami's Love & Honor Code, which declares that freedom of inquiry should be defended at Miami.
The Love & Honor Code: “I defend the freedom of inquiry that is at the heart of learning.”

Miami’s new “Boldly Creative Initiatives” plan — funded by $50 million that’s just been swept from department and program budgets—is an effort to respond to a difficult situation for higher ed. Moody’s, the bond rating agency, has just revised the bond outlook for higher ed downward. Higher education’s financial outlook is not good. Publics such as Miami are funded only minimally by the state, and even if Ohio gave publics more leeway on tuition, it would be foolish to raise it much. The public is increasingly distrustful of higher education and its high sticker prices. So what can Miami do? Well, we’re trying a number of things. We’re increasing enrollment. (Hello, contingent faculty to teach all those credit hours. Hello, highly-paid admissions czar.) We’re trying to cut costs. We’re developing revenue-generating programs. And we’re about to create a lot more. That’s what the “Boldly Creative” $50 Million is for.

We all want Miami to survive and thrive. But when profit generation becomes the centerpiece of higher ed’s plan to save itself, we may be at risk of transforming the identity and value of the educational enterprise too far. With “Boldly Creative” plans already underway, we must do what we can to mitigate the risk of damage to our core mission, a mission the future depends on: serving the public good by increasing and disseminating knowledge.  

The university takes several risks when its plan for supporting its future relies so heavily on for-profit programs. First, when programs are vetted primarily on the basis of their revenue-generating potential, their use to society may be questionable. Second, the potential to reap rewards by partnering with for-profit businesses might encourage us to be less guarded about the influence of private funding on our mission. Third, returns on investment in these programs will be the object of scrutiny, so pressures to keep costs low will be even stronger than they are in other parts of the university. This last point will impact hiring. If you think that “Boldly Creative” programs are going to be, in any significant way, hiring tenure-line faculty, we have a bridge to sell you over Four-Mile-Creek.

When we expand hiring off the tenure track to support increased revenue-building enrollments, we’ll worsen a problem that already plagues Miami: the twin monsters—joined at the hip—of economic precarity and lack of academic freedom. The majority of faculty at Miami face those monsters: they lack basic due-process protections should they be dismissed or not renewed. And most of them work on year-to-year contracts.

In academia, we have a special reason why due-process protections are essential. Universities support the public good by increasing and disseminating knowledge, and we who do that work cannot fulfill that mission if we are at risk of censorship when we seek or share knowledge. Academic freedom is a core value for the university. It rests on economic security and due process, which, in their strongest form, we call tenure. Where tenure is not available, due process protections and economic security should still be extended to faculty in order to protect the educational mission. At Miami, a majority of faculty are deprived of academic freedom protections.

It’s curious that just as the “Boldly Creative” initiatives were announced, the administration put forward another proposal: to “go silent” on the current 5-year limit on terms for Visiting Assistant Professors. Why would the administration make such a proposal now? Well, there are good reasons to ditch the five-year limit. We’d all like to retain good faculty, and many VAPs want to stay. 

But if no employment protections for our non-tenure-line faculty are instituted when the VAP limit disappears, our Boldly Creative future could be dystopic: large revenue-generating programs, invisible to most tenure-line faculty, that are taught by a permanent precariate. We’re at risk of expanding our current contingent majority into an ever-greater percentage of faculty who can be fired at any time, who do not participate in governance at Miami, and who have little influence on curriculum despite having more contact with the students than many tenure-line faculty do. In addition, contingent faculty’s conversations with both students and program directors are constrained by their precarity. Non-tenure-line faculty must decide what is sayable in the knowledge that they can be let go at any time with no reason given and no opportunity for appeal.

It’s important to note that Miami’s dependence on precarious faculty is out of step with its own stated policy. MUPIM, our policy manual, contains a robust statement on the value of academic freedom, explicitly noting that academic freedom depends on economic security. The Board of Trustees, to its great credit, adopted the policy back in 1950, in a time when McCarthyism was leading some institutions to require loyalty pledges from faculty. The 1950 Board of Trustees could have had no inkling that in less than seventy years, the policy would have become a hollow statement of values underpinned by protections for only a minority of faculty. At mid-century, a strong majority of faculty were tenured or on the tenure-track. As late as 2001 (the first year for which we could locate federal figures), 79% of faculty at Miami were tenured or on the tenure track. But the situation has changed. As of 2016, 51% of faculty at Miami did not have explicit due process rights stated in MUPIM, and the future looks worse: the same year, 78% of full-time faculty hired were contingent faculty.

What can we do? University Senate, which votes on MUPIM changes, has the power to update Miami policy. Senate must act soon to strengthen MUPIM on academic freedom and economic security for non-tenure-line faculty before a “Boldly Creative” revenue-focused tide swamps Miami’s educational mission.

Upcoming Changes to Faculty Composition: A Conversation

As many faculty have already heard, Miami’s administration is preparing to propose changes to the faculty composition at Miami. While nothing is certain, the proposed changes may involve raising the lecturer cap from 20% to 25% and having MUPIM “go silent” on the 5-year limit for VAPs, among other plans. Our chapter would like to engage the campus community in a discussion of what changes in the faculty composition could mean to all of us. What effects could they have on economic security and academic freedom for faculty at Miami? Come get informed! Our chapter is hosting a conversation and information-sharing session on Tuesday, February 13, at 4:30pm in Harrison 02. Refreshments will be served.

 

Letter in support of Georgette Fleischer

The leadership of Miami’s AAUP chapter have submitted a letter to Sian Beilock, president of Barnard College, in support of Georgette Fleischer, an adjunct who has taught there for seventeen years and who was abruptly and unfairly terminated on the heels of the formation of a contingent faculty union at Barnard. Fleischer is a leader in the union, and her record did not warrant termination. Read more on Fleischer’s case here and here. We encourage others who support Fleischer’s case to write to President Beilock to support her at presidentsoffice@barnard.edu.

Got academic freedom in the classroom?

Are you a lecturer or visiting professor at Miami, or do you have a friend who is? As you may know from reading other recent posts (or if you’ve read Miami’s policy manual), you know NTT faculty at Miami—including not only visiting and per-credit-hour faculty but also lecturers and clinical faculty—don’t have due-process protections should they face non-renewal.

Faculty at Miami tend to be a talented, high-achieving lot, whatever their rank, and if you’re a lecturer at Miami, you may rightly feel that you’re highly valued by your department. Your continuing employment at Miami might seem a safe bet. But let’s say that this fall, a new chair replaces the one who hired you. The new chair disagrees with your approach to the subject you teach. In spring, the new chair does not renew your contract. You are not told why. You’re a dedicated teacher, so you suspect the decision was not about your course evaluations or performance. You believe it to have been a political or personal decision. But you can’t find out. There is no opportunity for a formal discussion of your case ahead of your non-renewal, and no chance of appeal now that it has happened. Your department happens to have no due-process procedures for non-renewal of lecturers, and neither does the university. (Miami’s policy manual is clear on this.)

Now let’s say a friend of yours — a visiting assistant professor in her third year — is asked to take over the course. Privately, she says to you that there’s no way she’s going to teach a particular text you’d been using, even though you both think that the text sparks useful critical discussion of your subject. She worries that the chair disapproves of the text and she wants to make sure she gets renewed for her full five years. No censorship has taken place, but your colleague’s academic freedom has been curtailed. She has adapted her teaching, and probably also the opinions she expresses in public, in order to reduce her risk of unemployment.

Could this scenario happen at Miami?

It already does. Ask non-tenure-track faculty members whether they feel they have full freedom to teach the materials and use the approaches they think would be most effective in their classroom. Many will say they feel they do, but some will say no. And those who think they do might change their minds if the leadership of their department changed. Many non-tenure-track faculty also do not feel they can openly and publicly express unpopular opinions or opinions critical of university leadership or policies.

We sometimes assume we have academic freedom until the moment we realize we don’t — which might be the same moment we find ourselves out of a job. Let’s work on expanding due process protections for faculty at Miami, so that we can have academic freedom in more than just 40%* of our classrooms.

_______________________

*See Miami University Budget Symposium 2017 presentation, p. 26, and this post on academic freedom at Miami.

Who needs tenure any more?

Overheard at Miami:

“Tenure? I think it should go away. It’s an unfair system. Some people get a golden ticket to lifetime employment and some of us who are just as qualified have to work for low pay and no benefits and have no protections.” — Part-time faculty member X.

We salute Part-Timer X and understand where he’s coming from. It’s tough to stomach having trained for years to be a scholar only to find oneself in a nonpermanent and low-paid position. The precarious situation of adjunct faculty — as well as that of temporary full-time faculty — is one of AAUP’s core causes; it’s unjustifiable on many grounds.

But is tenure to blame for the obvious injustice of the situation?

Let’s get clear on what tenure is. Tenure protects free, uncensored scholarly research and inquiry. Miami’s policy manual clearly associates tenure with academic freedom. In order for inquiry to be free, it must be protected from censorship. When you are awarded tenure, your university has to show just cause in order to dismiss you. That way, you don’t wind up getting dismissed for doing controversial research or expressing unpopular opinions. Tenure is simply a way to enable and protect academic freedom. And while the tenure system is especially important at universities, where knowledge is (ideally) freely produced and disseminated, it’s actually the way more workplaces should work. Instead of aspiring to make all workers equally unprotected, Part-Timer X, couldn’t we aspire to a system in which there could be due process and academic freedom for you and for all faculty?

Here’s what tenure emphatically is not: it is not permission to do whatever the tenured professor pleases, and is not a free pass to incompetent, illegal, exploitative, or discriminatory behavior. While different institutions vary over what counts as cause for dismissal, incompetence in the classroom and illegal behavior would be cause at most universities.

In short, the due-process protections tenure provides should be the right of the majority of educators and researchers, not the “privilege” of a dwindling few.

By the way, if you’re a lecturer, a graduate student, a VAP or visiting instructor, or a part-time instructor at Miami — that is, if you’re among the people who teach roughly 60% of the credit hours at Miami*you don’t have due-process protections, and therefore academic freedom in your classroom is not protected.

 

*See Miami University Budget Symposium 2017 presentation, p. 26.

What’s academic freedom and why is it important?

Overhead at Miami:

“Academic freedom? Sometimes I think that’s just a way of protecting incompetent teachers.” — Professor X.

Most of us at Miami agree with you on wanting to keep classroom standards high at Miami, Professor X! But when we say we value academic freedom, are we really somehow getting into the business of supporting or promoting bad teaching? Certainly not.

Here’s how academic freedom really works: It allows students and faculty to engage in debate and knowledge-production without fear of censorship or retaliation. Academic freedom is essential to a thriving intellectual culture — not just at universities, but in the larger society that’s informed by knowledge generated and shared by universities.

Here’s what academic freedom is not: an excuse for faculty incompetence or bad behavior. A good faculty handbook should clearly state what counts as dismissal for cause — incompetence, bad behavior, a range of other possibilities — while also clearly stating that academic freedom is a value of the institution and that instructors’ and researchers’ rights to it are protected.

For more on what academic freedom is and isn’t, check out Cary Nelson’s post “Defining Academic Freedom” on Inside Higher Ed.

Do all faculty at Miami have academic freedom? Not by any stretch. See here.

Why should contingency matter to tenure-line faculty?

First, what’s contingency? As defined by the GAO* and AAUP, “contingent faculty” is an umbrella term encompassing all non-tenure-system faculty — that is, faculty who, to different degrees, experience precarity. Contingent faculty teach about 60% of the credit hours taught at Miami. 

Contingency matters a LOT to tenure-line faculty. Why?

  • Reduction in TT numbers leads to increased service loads. Feeling run off your feet? So are most of your tenured colleagues. More service means less time for research and teaching.
  • Contingents have no voice or vote on campus. As their numbers increase, faculty influence on the management of the university dwindles. More and more top-down decisions are made (if you have been at Miami for awhile, you will recognize the trend). Faculty know-how is essential to the design and protection of Miami’s educational mission—and when shared governance declines, so does that mission.
  • Reductions in state funding and market-driven, efficiency-oriented thinking mean that administrative decisions are driven almost entirely by revenue.  Tenure-line numbers decrease — and lower-paid contingent faculty numbers increase — with each budget crunch, whether it’s real or rumored. Afterward, the new ratio becomes the new normal.
  • Academic freedom is diminished and threatened when, as is the case at Miami, a majority of faculty don’t have employment due-process protections. (For more on academic freedom at Miami, see here.)

What are the end results of contingency?

An insecure labor force, fewer opportunities for research, and lack of academic freedom in academia is harmful to students, faculty, and citizens. Universities’ educational mission is increasingly restricted. Free inquiry declines. When we emphasize career preparation at the expense of critical thinking, we deprive citizens of the tools they need to understand and solve the world’s problems.

What to do?

Tenure-line faculty can try to improve their conditions without seeking solidarity with contingents. But unless TT and non-TT faculty join together and organize, budget pressures and reduced faculty power mean that TT numbers could continue to erode until almost all faculty (if not all faculty) are contingent.

AAUP’s One Faculty movement explains that “the best way to halt the erosion of tenure and to extend economic security and other rights to contingent faculty is by organizing and using our collective strength—working together in solidarity across faculty ranks…The participation of all faculty in shared governance strengthens the faculty’s voice.”

We can fight contingency and win. Become part of AAUP’s One Faculty Miami movement by joining AAUP and becoming active in Miami’s AAUP Advocacy Chapter. And get to know your local VAPs and adjuncts!


*The GAO (United States Government Accountability Office) did a report for Congress on contingency in higher education in October of 2017—read highlights or the full report.

 

Do NTT faculty at Miami have academic freedom?

Do NTT faculty at Miami have academic freedom? What about due process in case of non-renewal?*

Fact: The answer to both questions is no. While Miami asserts both the value and existence of academic freedom at Miami, it provides due process protections only for tenured faculty — not for the new majority of non-tenure-line faculty, whose status is much more precarious.

  • Miami’s policy manual, MUPIM, specifically associates academic freedom with tenure. (If you aren’t totally sure what academic freedom is or why it’s important, please read this.)
  • Miami’s policy on academic freedom was approved by the Board of Trustees back in 1950, when it was assumed that a strong majority of faculty would be, and would continue to be, tenure-line. As late as 2001 (the earliest data available on the federal IPEDS database), Miami’s percentage of tenure-line faculty was 79%. Now, tenure-line faculty account for 36%—well below half—of total faculty.**
  • Miami’s policy claims that teachers are “entitled to freedom in research…and in the classroom” (MUPIM 5.2). However, should nontenured faculty’s freedoms be abridged, no recourse or protections exist for them at Miami.
  • MUPIM is silent on academic freedom for NTT faculty—LCPL, visiting, part-time faculty, and graduate students—who teach ~60% of the credit hours at Miami.**
  • MUPIM provides for a very loose version of due process in cases of nonrenewal only for lecturers and clinical faculty, and only at department or program level. Due process procedures for these faculty are not required and their nature is not specified.

Here are the relevant passages.

From MUPIM 7.3: Tenure & Promotion:

“Tenure is a means of assuring academic freedom: that is, the freedom to teach, to inquire, to create, to debate, to question, and to dissent (see Section 5.1). Such activity is the essence of the search for truth and knowledge, and is primary to the University. This atmosphere is necessary as the University seeks to attract, maintain, and nurture a diverse and exceptional faculty.

From MUPIM 5.1: Principles of Academic Freedom:

“The following statement of principles of academic freedom adopted by the American Association of University Professors in 1940 was approved by the Board of Trustees, June of 1950:

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. (The word “teacher” as used in this document is understood to include the investigator who is attached to an academic institution without teaching duties.)

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.

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.

No faculty member shall be obliged to make her or his nonpublic work available for inspection by a second party in the absence of compulsory legal process.

From MUPIM 7.11: Nontenured-Eligible Faculty Positions

“Appointments to nontenure-eligible faculty positions are made on an academic year basis. A person in a nontenure-eligible faculty position is eligible to receive, but not entitled to expect, renewal of appointment. No person shall serve more than five (5) years in a fulltime, nontenure-eligible instructional staff position except for those appointed as Lecturers or as Clinical/Professionally Licensed Faculty. Appointments to nontenure-eligible instructional staff positions are subject to renewal at the will of Miami University. Persons whose appointments are not being renewed are entitled to notice of nonrenewal on or before February 1.”

From MUPIM 7.11 C & D: Nonrenewal Process for Lecturers & Clinical Faculty:

In the event the nonrenewal of a Lecturer [or Clinical/Professionally Licensed Faculty] is under consideration, the department chair or program director (when appropriate) must first consult formally with the faculty consistent with the governance procedures of the department or program (when appropriate).

[No language about academic freedom; no language about cause or due process above department/program level in cases of nonrenewal; no language specifying that governance procedures governing nonrenewal exist at department program level, or what they should consist of if they exist.]

From MUPIM 7.1 1A & B: Renewal/Nonrenewal of Visiting Instructors and Visiting Faculty:

Visitors [& Instructors] are eligible to receive, but not entitled to expect, annual reappointment not to exceed five (5) years.

[No language about due process protections in cases of nonrenewal or about academic freedom.]

From MUPIM on per-credit-hour/part-time faculty:

[No language we could locate on either academic freedom or any due process protections for part-time/per-credit-hour faculty.]

The point here is not so much that Miami faculty don’t, in practice, have academic freedom most of the time. Most LCPL we’ve spoken with do feel they have freedom in the classroom. The point is that NTT faculty do not have express protections of academic freedom in the form of due process. That means that their academic freedom depends not on policy, but on the will of the people who hire them. And that means that when someone decides not to renew someone and it’s for the wrong reasons — let’s hope that doesn’t happen, but it could and does happen sometimes — then suddenly their academic freedom is a mirage. And if NTT academic freedom could become a mirage at any time, that means that actually NTT faculty don’t really have it at all.

 

*In cases of abrupt termination, it’s possible—although unclear, because no due-process protections exist—that NTT faculty could seek legal recourse given MUPIM 5.2. But with nonrenewal, due process is not required and no cause for termination need be offered, offering the administration an easy out should a difficult case come up in which dismissal might appear to abridge a faculty member’s freedoms: just wait till the end of the term and don’t renew.

**See Miami University Budget Symposium 2017 presentation, p. 26.

 

 

 

How contingency affects all of us

For our first fall meeting, the chapter hosted a panel of Miami contingent faculty. They contributed valuably to our discussion of contingency, an issue we hope to make a focus this year.

Whether you are a tenured or tenure-line faculty member, a student, a visiting assistant professor or instructor, an adjunct, or just a citizen, contingency at universities harms you. Find out why in these slides, which contain notes from the panel and a summary of contingency’s harmful effects.

AAUP denounces DACA decision

Today’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) will cause massive insecurity, difficulty, disruption and harm for hundreds of thousands of innocent, hardworking people—many of them our students. (The majority of people with DACA status are university students). Miami AAUP urges faculty and students to call their legislators to express support for DACA. We urge Miami University leadership to publicly denounce the DACA decision and to pledge to do their utmost to support and protect DACA and other international students.

Here is AAUP’s statement on the DACA decision:

“The AAUP denounces in the strongest possible terms the decision by the Trump administration to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). This decision marks a continuation of the anti-immigrant racist policies that the administration has supported from the start.

“Many of our members come from families that immigrated to the US. Their forebears came to the US for the same reason that today’s immigrants do, for a better life for their families, especially their children. But the Trump administration, feeding off the fears and insecurity of many Americans, has used the issue of undocumented workers, along with racism and anti-Semitism, to divide people and disguise the real causes of the declining standards of working people, including working people of color.

“DACA, which provides renewable two-year work permits for immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children, was created by President Obama after the Republican-led House of Representatives refused to act on immigration. About 1.9 million undocumented young people are eligible to apply for the DACA program. Nearly 800,000 had their request for DACA status granted in 2016. Of those who have DACA status, about 576,000 are enrolled in college. In other words, an overwhelming majority of those granted DACA status are our students.

“One of the major factors that makes American higher education a world class system is the diversity of our faculty and students. We owe it to these students and their families, as well as to other undocumented young people, to speak out against this action in the strongest manner possible. We call on our members to urge Congress to act immediately to undo President Trump’s action and allow these young people to remain in our classrooms.

“We also urge Congress to enact a comprehensive immigration reform policy that will welcome immigrants to our shores–those fleeing political persecution and violence as well as those who simply seek a better life, regardless of their race, religion, or national origin.”

Rudy Fichtenbaum
AAUP President

September 5, 2017