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 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.

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


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