Johns Hopkins University Press

In this article, I examine the relationship between unionism and academic freedom as revealed by 50 years of reports by the American Association of University Professors’ Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Written following investigations of significant and/or intractable situations, the reports demonstrate the complex interactions between two key aspects of modern academe. Findings include that collective bargaining can complicate but has not endangered Committee A’s work; organizing has been both a cause and effect of academic freedom violations; and, while bargained contracts can help establish faculty rights, shortcomings in provisions and administrators’ contract focus can raise new challenges.


academic freedom, collective bargaining, unionization, faculty

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Since its founding in 1915, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has been the leading professional association committed to defining, developing, and protecting academic freedom. Through policy statements, collaborations with other higher education associations, and investigations by its Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure (originally Committee A on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure), the AAUP has shaped the contours of academic freedom in the United States and beyond. It has advocated for expansive principles based on the role of higher education in society, while also revealing the places where reality does not live up to the ideal. For almost exactly half of that time—since the faculty at Belleville (IL) Junior College chose the AAUP as its bargaining agent in 1967—the association has also been engaged in faculty unionization. That latter role was contested at the time and, for some, has remained so. Advocates of fully adopting a bargaining role, which the AAUP did in 1973, pointed to the need for a stronger faculty voice amid shifting power relations in higher education and the fear that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA), which were aggressively pursuing bargaining roles in colleges and universities, would not uphold the values that the AAUP had long sought to establish and maintain. Opponents argued that unionization was anti-professional and warned that bargaining would change the nature and perception of the association (Hutcheson, 2000; DeCew, 2003).

A key issue in these debates was whether serving as a bargaining agent would affect the AAUP’s work to promote the 1940 “Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure,” which it had co-authored with the Association of American Colleges (now the Association of American Colleges and Universities). The 1940 Statement is the nation’s most influential formulation of academic freedom but lacks legal backing, except when written into contracts. Some worried that entering bargaining could lead to a reprioritization of resources, a loss of identity, and questions about the AAUP’s objectivity. They feared it could inhibit the work of Committee A both on campuses covered by bargained contracts and on those not covered. Others, though, thought that bargaining had the potential to promote academic freedom, including by having the 1940 Statement included in contracts. As Reichman (2015), who served both as the chair of Committee A and in bargaining roles with the California Faculty Association, argued, “tensions persisted between unionism and the AAUP’s traditional work in support of academic freedom” but that “the tension between the two, while perhaps inevitable, can be constructive” (p. 1).

Of course, issues involving academic freedom and unionization extend beyond the work of the AAUP. In the early years of faculty bargaining, there was worry that closed-shop provisions could violate academic freedom or that bargained arbitration procedures could circumvent appropriate faculty [End Page 58] roles. Some feared that unions might trade academic freedom or other professional rights for salary increments (e.g., Bernstein et al., 1973; Kadish et al., 1972; Kirk, 1980). Moreover, since the late 19th century, faculty members’ relationships with unions have been implicated in battles over academic freedom, as many early cases centered on left economics (Furner, 1975). As faculty began organizing themselves after World War I, universities cracked down and removed faculty who sought collective action against academic autocracy (e.g., Cain, 2010). Despite the work of the AAUP and other organizations, as well as increased legal protections arising in the middle third of the 20th century, faculty who openly counter their administrations have remained at risk (e.g., Slaughter, 1994b).

This article considers the intersection of unionization, collective bargaining, and academic freedom as indicated in the work of Committee A during the past 50 years. Specifically, it asks: What issues involving organized labor were implicated in the cases on which Committee A reported? How did unionization affect Committee A’s ability to undertake investigations? How did collective bargaining affect perceptions of the AAUP, as revealed by Committee A investigations? It answers them through an analysis of the 47 Committee A investigative reports published between January 1970 and December 2019 that specifically mentioned unionization, collective bargaining, or closely related topics. As is discussed below, Committee A reports have their limitations, but they remain a prime source for understanding issues pertaining to academic freedom that scholars have mined for decades (e.g., Metzger 1961; Slaughter, 1981, 1994a. 1994b). None of the multiple analyses of Committee A reports, though, has focused explicitly on issues involving unions or bargaining, nor on the full period considered here.

In considering these questions, this study speaks to the longstanding uncertainties about the effects of unionization on academic freedom and responds to specific calls for research on both academic freedom and collective bargaining in modern higher education, including on how they intersect. Numerous scholars have argued that academic freedom plays a vital role in higher education, and substantial work has been done to justify its importance and conceptualize its terms (e.g., Menand, 1996; Scott, 2019). Yet many have called for more studies that explore how and for whom it works. Abdel Latif (2014), for example, claimed that there is a “concrete case for future research” on academic freedom using varied designs and multiple methods (p. 400). Pratt (2000) and Schrecker (1983) similarly called for more research to extend the reach and coverage of academic freedom. With approximately 25% of college faculty members covered by collectively bargained contracts (Berry & Saverese, 2012), understanding faculty unionization is likewise crucial. Yet, as has been recently argued (e.g., Cain, 2017; Julius, 2020; Rhoades & Torres-Olave, 2015), it remains significantly understudied and much of [End Page 59] the work that has been done is decades old. These issues come together in works such as Wickens’s (2008) review of the literature on the organizational effects of faculty unionization. After recapping her findings, she concluded that there are significant shortcomings in the research: “For instance, even at the height of research into faculty unionization, there was not enough study of the effects of unionization on university governance and academic freedom” (p. 561).

This paper’s step toward filling that gap in the research is especially timely in light of the current financial crisis, which promises to reshape faculty members’ relationships with their institutional employers, as well the recent restructuring of the AAUP. Effective January 1, 2013, the AAUP responded to legal and philosophical concerns over its multiple roles by separating into three interconnected but distinct bodies: the AAUP Collective Bargaining Council (AAUP-CBC), the AAUP Foundation, and the AAUP (the historic professional association). The split enabled a clearer distinction between the association’s collective bargaining activities and its advocacy and investigatory work. On January 1, 2020, this split was partially reversed through the dissolution of AAUP-CBC and its integration into the AAUP. The 2020 restructuring was designed to promote efficiency in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31 (2018), which poses significant fiscal challenges to public sector unions by prohibiting them from collecting bargaining fees from nonmembers. Bringing together the AAUP’s historic and bargaining roles also emphasizes unity among the faculty (AAUP, n.d.). At the same time, it makes understanding the impact of bargaining on the AAUP’s academic freedom work even more pressing.


Three main bodies of literature informed this study: that on the AAUP and collective bargaining, that on academic freedom and unionization more generally, and that which relies on Committee A reports to understand academic freedom in U.S. higher education. Multiple scholars have noted the significance of the AAUP’s transition from a voluntary professional association to one that also features bargaining as a core activity. In the most thorough historical study of the AAUP’s relationship with unionism, Hutcheson (2000) detailed the association’s longstanding opposition to bargaining, followed by beginnings of change amid the tumult of the late 1960s. Relying on published reports and AAUP materials, he pointed to internal disagreements as the association wrestled with how to best meet its historical commitments while simultaneously adapting to a new context. Among his sources was Kadish et al.’s (1972) report outlining Committee A’s objection to the AAUP replacing its tentative approach to bargaining with a full commitment. They [End Page 60] cautioned, “the risk is great that we may see an end to our capacity to make inquiry or investigation into academic freedom and tenure complaints on any campus with a collective bargaining representative other than our own” (p. 58). Moreover, they warned of a “substantial change in the character of its membership, its identity, and its image, sharp impairment of its ability to carry out its historic role and an indeterminately severe curtailment of the effectiveness of the Association’s staff and of Committee A” (p. 59). As Hutcheson detailed, despite these concerns, the AAUP Executive Council in 1972 and then membership in 1973 voted to adopt bargaining as a key component of its efforts to promote faculty and educational interests. The initial results were conflicted, with both real successes in bargaining and substantial losses in resources as thousands of members left the association.

Multiple scholars affiliated with the AAUP have noted these tensions but have emphasized positive outcomes (e.g., Gorman, 1982). Historians Schrecker (2010; 2014) and Reichman (2019) stressed the benefits of the AAUP’s bargaining activities in the near and longer terms, both arguing that the association’s experiences demonstrated that protecting academic freedom and pursing collective bargaining were not in conflict. Benjamin (2015), who twice served as AAUP General Secretary, also highlighted the positives but pointed to the instability of the association until the mid-1980s. In his analysis of the state of academic freedom, O’Neil (2004) noted the challenges that the AAUP faced when Committee A reports found that even contracts negotiated by its own locals could fall short of the principles espoused in the 1940 Statement. The higher education press has been far more critical, including Wilson’s (2007) claim that collective bargaining continued “to roil the organization” (para. 8) and threatened its academic freedom work. Indeed, into the 2010s, news reports asserted that internal divisions remained pronounced (Schmidt, 2012, 2014).

Multiple studies have identified a relationship between academic freedom and collective bargaining, though the findings point in several directions. Angell (1973), for example, found that the lack of academic freedom was perhaps the most important factor leading to unionization at two-year colleges, and Benjamin (2006) argued that Angell’s claim could be extended to four-year institutions. Dayal’s (1982, 1986) studies of a single institution found securing academic freedom to be the most important goal of faculty who supported bargaining. Bornheimer (1985) similarly found dissatisfaction with conditions, including academic freedom, to be a significant predictor of favoring unionization. However, Hammer and Berman (1981) found that academic freedom trailed behind other measures in importance for faculty who supported unionization.

The relationship between academic freedom outcomes and bargained contracts is generally thought to be positive, though the research is not conclusive. Authors have pointed to the inclusion of the 1940 Statement [End Page 61] in contracts as an encouraging development but have also noted that such inclusion has been inconsistent. In a comparison of contracts from 1975 and 1985, Williams and Zirkel (1988) found that academic freedom appeared in an increasing percentage of contracts but that the 1940 Statement was still incorporated less than 20% of the time and that “administrative prerogative” had remained (p. 87). Nicholson (1977) claimed there was no evidence “that collective bargaining has adversely affected the status of academic freedom” but warned that grievance procedures remained a “potential problem area” (p. 41). At times, restrictive definitions of and protections for academic freedom have been negotiated or been in play during negotiations (e.g., Tice, 1972; Aby & Witt, 2012). In a study of 23 community colleges, Poole and Wattenbarger (1977) found that bargained contracts had no influence on academic freedom. Still, more recent treatments based on lived experiences at the University of Delaware have shown that AAUP bargaining agents can work with administrators to improve protections for academic freedom (DelFattore, 2011; Turkel, 2017).

For more than half a century, scholars have used Committee A reports to understand the nature of academic freedom in the United States. Metzger (1961), for example, noted that interpersonal conflict and economic pressures were often more important than either ideological issues or controversial extramural speech in early cases. In a series of articles, Lewis (e.g., 1972e.g., 1973) largely concurred with these findings while highlighting that both pressures and the sources of those pressures changed over time. Ideological reasons were important in the 1950s and early 1960s; they were then joined by conflicts over governance. Lewis (1973) and Lewis and Ryan (1971) pointed to unionization as a possible negative outcome of these conflicts but did not consider it more broadly in their analyses. Slaughter (e.g., 1981e.g., 1993e.g., 1994a, 1994b) emphasized retrenchment in the 1970s, restructuring in the 1980s, and interpersonal and ideological conflict between faculty and administrators in both decades. As might be expected due to the timing of her work, Slaughter paid more attention to unionization than other authors, though it was not a primary focus. She noted that faculty could look to unionization to overcome power imbalances, though both organizing and successfully bargaining a beneficial contract were increasingly difficult (Slaughter 1994b). As part of a larger analysis Rhoades (1998) considered retrenchment in five cases, demonstrating that administrators replaced full-time faculty with part-time workers through various mechanisms. These and other authors (e.g., Davis, 1970) recognized that Committee A reports cannot provide a full picture of academic freedom but showed that they are unique, useful sources of information. [End Page 62]

Methodology and Methods

This study considered AAUP Committee A reports to understand what they can reveal about the intersections of unionization and academic freedom. Although often used as part of a larger analysis, scholars have argued that document analysis can also stand on its own (e.g., McCulloch, 2004). Documents offer scholars significant value and research based on them has been lauded for being nonintrusive, stable, and efficient (Bowen, 2009; Meriam, 2009). Considering such, I undertook a thematic document analysis informed by the work of Braun and Clarke (2006) and Nowell et al. (2017). Both sets of authors highlighted that the approach is highly flexible, can be used with a variety of forms of data, and consists of an iterative process of moving back-and-forth between different aspects of data analysis. Braun and Clarke proposed—and Nowell et al. elaborated on—a six-phase process including: familiarization with data, initial coding, theme generation, reviewing themes, naming, and producing a research report. Importantly, Braun and Clarke emphasized that they offered a guide, rather than a strict protocol.

Data and Analysis

The broader corpus of data for this study is the 190 investigatory and supplemental reports produced by Committee A from 1970 through 2019. Committee A investigations are generally undertaken by two to four AAUP members at the discretion of the association’s national office after other attempts to resolve a conflict are unsuccessful. Most appeals for help from the AAUP are handled through other processes and only a minute percentage are ever investigated. As Nails (2015) wrote, “An investigation is rare, and it should be rare” (p. 16). When, though, significant violations of core AAUP principles appear to have occurred and other attempts at resolution fail, a committee may be appointed to investigate the conditions of academic freedom and tenure at an institution. Based on interviews with relevant parties (when they are willing to participate), as well as reviews of documents and other evidence, the committee prepares a preliminary report with assistance from the AAUP staff. The institution’s administration is provided an opportunity to comment on the report before final publication in the AAUP’s primary official outlet (from 1916 to 1955, the American Association of University Professors Bulletin; from 1955 to 1978, the Bulletin of the AAUP; and from 1979 to the present, Academe). Reports, which in the modern era are only issued when violations are found, are now also published online to speed dissemination.

For this analysis, I first read the 190 Committee A investigatory and supplemental reports from 1970 through 2019 to identify all that contained references to union-related issues. To ensure that I had not neglected reports that should be included, I then went back through all 190 reports and word-searched [End Page 63] them for mentions of relevant terms and word roots (e.g., collective, bargain, union, labor, agent, contract, organiz*, federation), as well as of national organizations active in bargaining during the time of the case. This process yielded a total of 47 Committee A reports (24.7 % of the total) that referenced unionization, collective bargaining, a group that served as a bargaining agent, or other closely related issues. They became the basis for this specific analysis.

After identifying the 47 relevant reports, I closely re-read each them to familiarize myself with the data (Braun & Clarke, 2006) and to initially identify any passages that contained explicit or implicit connections to unionization or collective bargaining. Based on Saldaña’s (2016) ideas of “pre-coding” (p. 20), I further marked specific passages and quotes that were particularly relevant or striking. My first wave of formal coding emphasized attribute coding to identify key details of the cases and descriptive coding to capture the relevant topics (Saldaña, 2016). It was informed by the concerns about potential effects of endorsing bargaining as a major AAUP role discussed above (e.g., challenges to Committee A work) and the initial impressions gleaned as I familiarized myself with the material. I also allowed new codes to emerge throughout the process. As Braun and Clarke (2006) suggested, I ordered and reordered the initial codes to search for patterns and develop themes, including by visually considering the codes and potential themes through the creation and revision of tables and thematic mapping. As the phases of the process overlapped, I also returned to the reports to reconsider codes and look for additional connections. I ultimately came to the themes and subthemes identified below as the best way to represent and interpret the relationships between unionization and academic bargaining as evidenced in Committee A reports. As Nowell et al. (2017) advised, throughout the process I journaled about my developing findings and undertook peer debriefing to improve the trustworthiness of the study. The public availability of the data further aids confirmability.

As with other studies based on analyses of Committee A reports, this study is confined by the nature of AAUP investigations. As noted, only a small portion of cases with prima facia evidence of violations are investigated, so this study considers extreme, intractable, or especially noteworthy events (Nails, 2015). Also, while document-based research has significant strengths, there can be difficulties when documents were produced for purposes other than those of the study (Merriam, 2009). In this instance, union issues may have been present but not included in the report or might have developed after the report had been completed (e.g., a faculty may have organized because of case events but not in time to be included in the report). An additional consideration is that this examination cannot consider what would have happened if the AAUP had not entered into collective bargaining. Some of [End Page 64] the situations described in the reports may have occurred because of the broader changes, regardless of the AAUP’s activities. Moreover, the analysis and sourcing here are necessarily silent on the benefits to the AAUP’s work generally, and Committee A’s specifically, that were derived from the shift to bargaining.


This study explored the relationship between academic freedom and collective bargaining, including how unionization affected the AAUP’s ability to undertake one of its historically most important endeavors: investigating alleged violations of academic freedom and tenure. Based on the analysis of Committee A reports published from the beginning of 1970 to the end of 2019, four main themes were determined: (a) Committee A findings on contracts and the 1940 Statement; (b) campus reactions to Committee A; (c) unions as a cause or result of an academic freedom case; and (d) union as context, content, or footnote (see Table 1). Taken together, they demonstrate that unionization (both writ large and by the AAUP) affected the experience and pursuit of academic freedom in the years of mass collective bargaining in U.S. higher education, though with a temporal dimension—issues involving unionization were far more prevalent in AAUP reports in the early part of this period, when collective bargaining was less established and seemed radical, than in the later. Indeed, there were fewer case reports mentioning union issues in the 2000s and 2010s combined than in any of the previous three decades alone, and there were three times as many in the 1970s than in either the 2000s or 2010s. As might be expected, the vast majority of cases occurred in states that allow collective bargaining by public sector employees, predominantly but not exclusively in the Northeast, Midwest, and West (see Table 2). Two of the institutions involved were Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and one of those had the least reference to unionization of any in the study.

Committee Findings on Contracts and the 1940 Statement

In multiple cases considered in this study, the investigating committees found violations of AAUP principles in the presence of collectively bargained contracts. Most often, findings highlighted what an investigating committee viewed as deficiencies in contracted provisions. Examples include the lack of a set probationary period before tenure at Polytechnic Institute of New York (Academic freedom, 1974), inadequate protection of faculty rights during retrenchment at the State University of New York (SUNY; Davis et al., 1977), and the lack of a contracted right to a faculty hearing before a dismissal due to program elimination at the University of Southern Maine (USM; Bérubé et al., 2015). Frequently, committees critiqued administrations for adhering [End Page 65]

Table 1. W W B/U A C A R
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Table 1.

Ways in Which Bargaining/Unionism Appeared in Committee A Reports

[End Page 66]

Table 2. R M B/U D R C
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Table 2.

Reports Mentioning Bargaining/Unionism by Decade, Region, and Control

narrowly to bargained terms, including in the last of these cases. Bérubé et al. (2015) wrote, “It is not surprising that these procedures were ignored by the USM administration, since its position is that USM needs to abide only by the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement and not by AAUP-supported standards that have been widely observed in American higher education” (p. 70). In the Camden County College report, the committee warned that the administration’s “reluctance to go beyond the letter of an agreement can be an unhappy by-product of the ‘contract focus’ of collective bargaining in higher education” (Gorman & Zemel, 1974, p. 362).

Although, as is detailed below, institutions would contest this point, the association argued that the existence of a contract had no bearing on the applicability of its principles. In their report on a case involving the lack of due process protections for non-tenure-line faculty at the City University of New York (CUNY), Finkin et al. (2004) asserted: the AAUP “considers the standards its supports to be equally applicable in the presence or absence of a collective bargaining agreement” (p. 48). Similarly, Koster et al. (1985) wrote that the AAUP “judged actions bearing on issues of academic freedom and tenure in terms of their compliance with the 1940 Statement of Principles and derivative Association-supported standards, not merely their compliance with a collective bargaining agreement” (p. 20). Although most reports focused on administrators; actions, at times they also included commentary [End Page 67] on union activities. At Macomb County Community College (MCCC; Heywood & Laughner, 1976) and Saint Leo College (Collins & Wilhelm, 1989), for example, the committees critiqued both the administration and union for focusing solely on the bargained provisions. At the latter, the committee argued, “The faculty union, in not pressing for an appropriate internal review, shares some responsibility in this regard” (p. 39). The report on conditions at the SUNY was even more critical, claiming that the agreement was unprecedented in confirming centralized administrative power. As such, the committee similarly concluded, “the faculty must share some responsibility for these actions” (Davis et al., 1977, p. 258). At times, investigative reports also addressed the complicated nature of bargaining and acknowledged the difficult position of a union even when bargained provisions fell short of AAUP principles (e.g., Findlay & Bennett, 1981).

In several cases, including some that also included insufficient contracted protections, the committee found that an institution’s administration or other authority had or may have violated provisions in a contract in ways that also violated 1940 Statement provisions. At San Diego State University, contracted procedures for retrenchment were designed to protect seniority by mandating that dismissals take place in reverse order of hiring within academic units. Although the act was rescinded, the committee found that the administration had attempted to manipulate the situation to eliminate whole departments so that it could dismiss more senior faculty (Finkin et al., 1993). Amid widespread restructuring and downsizing at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), early retirement plans appeared to violate the contract and the committee was concerned that faculty may have been coerced into accepting them (Bérubé et al., 2013). In a very different case that received significant national attention due to its ties to terrorism investigations, the committee disagreed with the claim of the administration of the University of South Florida that Sami Al-Arian violated the collective bargaining agreement by not consistently indicating that he was speaking on his own behalf, not as a representative of the institution (Van Alstyne et al., 2003). A variant involved the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority, appointed as an oversight authority amid severe citywide financial stress. It unilaterally altered the contract at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) to allow for dismissals that otherwise would have been much more difficult and costly (Steiner et al., 1998).

These investigative reports, then, highlighted that despite the benefits derived from bargaining, it is not always sufficient to secure academic freedom. In short, faculty were dismissed in violation of 1940 Statement principles either because contracts lacked adequate provisions (including for faculty roles in dismissal or retrenchment proceedings) or because bargained provisions were breached. Moreover, administrations could and did use the existence of a contract as an excuse to ignore broader, long-standing principles. [End Page 68]

Campus Reactions to Committee A

Among the key considerations of AAUP leaders as the association weighed committing to collective bargaining were whether doing so would diminish its standing as a professional association and change relationships in ways that could impede its academic freedom work. Evidence from Committee A reports indicates that such concerns were warranted; in almost half of the cases considered here there was explicit discussion of how the AAUP’s bargaining was viewed in relation to Committee A’s work. The effects can be seen in the extent to which administrations participated in Committee A investigations both in the presence of a collective bargaining agent and not, how campus unions viewed AAUP investigations, reactions to Committee A reports, and broader critiques of the AAUP’s decision to bargain.

Administrative Responses to Committee A Investigations

The AAUP’s shift to unionism raised challenges for Committee A even before the June 1973 endorsement of bargaining as a major part of the association’s activities. Early that year, officials at both Cornell University and Rider College expressed confusion over whether speaking with Committee A investigators would amount to recognizing the association as a bargaining agent for their faculty (Gottschalk et al., 1973; Wagner & London, 1973). Both were eventually convinced to meet with investigators, but other administrations pointed to the AAUP’s move into representation when denying Committee A access to their institution. Loma Linda University’s president, for example, conflated a Committee A investigation with the AAUP’s bargaining work. He wrote,

The individuals who invited you here obviously neglected to tell you that membership in a union like the AAUP violates the tenets of the Seventh-day Adventist Church which sponsors Loma Linda University . . . . Your organization is not welcome on university premises.

These difficulties could be more pronounced when the faculty of an institution were engaged in organizing efforts or were already represented by a union. Repeatedly, institutional leaders refused to participate in a Committee A investigation because of the existence of either a collectively bargained contract or an in-process organizing campaign. They claimed that meeting with investigators could violate labor laws and bargained contracts. At CUNY, for example, the acting president pointed to the institution’s contract with the United Federation of College Teachers (AFT) and noted that the AAUP had “no legal status in the matter” (Yost et al., 1974, p. 79). The MCCC administration would not meet as it was afraid that doing so would “risk a complaint of unfair labor practice or contract violation” (Heywood & Laughner, 1976, p. 370). Amid a city takeover and institutional restructuring, [End Page 69] the president of UDC replied to AAUP correspondence by noting that the campus’s NEA affiliate was “the exclusive representative of the faculty, and that the University cannot negotiate or otherwise deal with any other employee organization in regard to matters that are subject to collective bargaining, including reductions in force” (Steiner, et al., 1998, p. 50). Leaders at Bridgewater State College, Camden County College, Saint Leo College, and elsewhere made similar claims (e.g., Collins & Wilhelm, 1989; Gorman & Zemel, 1974; Findlay & Bennett, 1981). At Sonoma State University, the president refused to meet with Committee A investigators due to ongoing organizing campaigns, even though the two groups competing to represent the faculty supported the investigation and viewed it as separate from bargaining. The administration then filed an Unfair Practice Charge against the union that was elected, alleging that “by its tacit approval or inaction” it was “causing or attempting to cause the employer to consult with an academic or professional group regarding a matter within the scope of representation, in violation” of state law (Mason & Schatzki, 1983, p. 3).

Even when administrators agreed to meet, the existence of organizing campaigns and of bargained contracts shaped the nature of their participation. The president of Eastern Oregon State College cooperated with the investigation, but the investigating committee noted that he was “suspicious” of their intent as the local AAUP chapter had previously sought to represent the faculty for bargaining purposes. He worried about a “hidden agenda” and whether the association was taking advantage of the aggrieved faculty member (Cunningham & Alexander, 1982, p. 8a). The president of the USM agreed to meet as a courtesy but was explicit that AAUP principles had no force or effect at the University of Southern Maine.

We can only reasonably be measured against our own properly adopted policies and our faculty contract. Our faculty are represented by a union with whom we have negotiated a collective bargaining contract in good faith. They are not represented by the AAUP.

As such, even when the AAUP was not the agent, bargaining could affect its efforts.

Union Local Responses to Committee A Investigations

In many, but not all, of these cases, the local bargaining agent welcomed Committee A’s investigating committee to campus. Locals such as the NEA-affiliated Massachusetts Teachers Association at Bridgewater State vouched for the AAUP. Its leaders wrote a letter to the administration stating that the investigation did not “constitute unlawful interference with our exclusive bargaining status” and indicating that it would not make a claim if the administration participated in the investigation (Findlay & Bennett, 1981, p. 89). [End Page 70] The AFT-affiliated union that was organizing faculty at the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery in Iowa likewise wanted Committee A involved (Dyer-Benet & Goldberg, 1977) and it was the AAUP local at the UNI that invited Committee A to campus (Bérubé et al., 2013). Both the California Faculty Association at San Diego State and the Professional Staff Congress (AFT) at CUNY helped with the investigating committee’s logistics (Finkin et al., 1993; Finkin et al., 2004). Others likewise participated in the process and met with investigating committees, recognizing that the investigatory and bargaining functions of the AAUP were distinct.

While most campus locals participated in the Committee A investigations, a small group rejected Committee A’s efforts outright or accepted them with stipulations. The AFT-affiliated United University Professions (UUP) at the SUNY, for example, argued that it was “inappropriate” for the AAUP to talk alone with administrators so all meetings with presidents in the system included a UUP representative (Davis et al., 1977, p. 240). At Northeastern Illinois University, the union local referred all Committee A enquiries to the president of its statewide association (Williams et al., 2014). At UDC, the union joined the administration and board in refusing to participate, thereby impeding the committee’s ability to clarify discrepancies in reports (Steiner et al., 1998).

The Macomb County Community College Faculty Organization (MCCCFO), which unsuccessfully grieved the suspension of a member, stands out for the extremity of its resistance to the Committee A investigation. Not only did the leaders refuse to participate, but the union threatened to charge the college’s president with unfair labor practices if he “bargained” with the AAUP (Heywood & Laughner, 1976, p. 375). The MCCCFO’s Senate passed a resolution declaring that neither they nor members of the faculty would cooperate with the investigation, an act that the investigating committee viewed as stifling its ability to speak with relevant informants. Most jarring to the committee, at the direction of the MCCCFO Senate, the union’s president warned the aggrieved party in the case that he had violated MCCCFO’s code of ethics by contacting the AAUP. He informed him that “continuing his activities detrimental to the best interests of the union, particularly bringing in another union and interfering with MCCCFO prerogatives and interests, may lead to censure and expulsion” (Heywood & Laughner, 1976, p. 375). The AAUP found such union-sponsored restrictions a threat to academic freedom.

Reactions to Committee A Findings

Institutional rejection of adverse Committee A reports is not uncommon but, in a number of these cases, it further revealed the complications of enforcing AAUP principles in the presence of bargained contracts. As noted, institutions frequently claimed that its contract, not the 1940 Statement, was [End Page 71] the only thing that mattered. The Committee A report on Saint Leo College, for example, noted

The president of the college and the faculty union president have taken the position that Professor [Eileen] Stenzel was afforded all the procedural protections to which she was entitled under the collective bargaining agreement at the college, and that the Association has no warrant to insist that they do more.

SUNY Acting Chancellor Hames F. Kelly argued that the university was “obligated to operate in accordance with this agreement and to respect UUP’s legal authority as the exclusive representative on matters relating to terms and conditions of employment” (Davis et al., 1977, p. 260).

Adverse findings further led university administrators to question the AAUP’s objectivity and claim that it was using its academic freedom role in an effort to renegotiate contracts. Kelly, for example, criticized the investigating committee’s tactics as “remarkable breaks with the judicious procedures AAUP has followed in the past; so much so, that the investigation and report seem more in line with your organizational work than with your professional activities” (Davis et al., 1977, p. 260). At UNI, the president’s response to the prepublication version of the report included, “Moreover, the CBA was negotiated by an AAUP-affiliated union, which secured transfer and certain other rights but did not provide for severance in any amounts. The committee’s position is an inappropriate end-run around negotiation” (Bérubé, et al., 2013, p. 15–16). Finkin et al. (2004) reported that the counsel for CUNY:

asserted that were we to fault the rules contained in the collective bargaining agreement, to which the administration strictly adhered (the arbitrator determined), we would in effect, be attempting to “get more” for the faculty than the union had been able to secure at the bargaining table. This effort would, reveal to the world that Committee A was, by way of investigative process, merely a labor union by another name. Such a revelation would, in turn, debase the Association’s image and erode its effectiveness.

(p. 48)

This was a position that the committee rejected but revealed the challenges posed to investigating academic freedom in a bargaining environment.

Broad Critiques of the AAUP’s Decision

Embedded within refusals to participate in AAUP investigations and rejections of the reports were broader criticisms of the AAUP. The Temple president “questioned whether the Association could meet its traditional responsibilities for defining and preserving principles of academic freedom and tenure while engaged . . . in collective bargaining” (Koster et al., 1985, p. 19). At Wesley College, the president told a local newspaper that the AAUP was “an instrument of unionism” and warned that a “small cadre, cabal” of [End Page 72] local members were “using classic union tactics” to take over the institution (Heywood & Delano, 1992, p. 28). Clarkson College president Fay Bower, in encouraging her faculty not to participate in an investigation, wrote that the AAUP was a “labor union” that “operates under the guise of being a crusader for the cause of academic freedom and tenure” (Heywood & Schare, 1993, p. 48). Instead, she claimed, the AAUP’s aim was to garner financial settlements for former faculty. At Southwestern Adventist, the president would not allow an aggrieved professor to be joined by a “representative of that labor union” at a hearing regarding the future of her position (Kliever & Barr, 1985, p. 3a).

President Merle F. Allshouse of New Jersey’s Bloomfield College represented an extreme form of this position. He wrote to his governing board that “the AAUP, through its decision to become the collective bargaining agent on many campuses, has taken on the characteristics of a labor union whose primary aim is the protection of the labor interests of its faculty members.” It was a claim that the AAUP termed “patently false” (Fellman et al., 1974, p. 61). In a lengthy statement to his faculty, which was published as an appendix to the investigatory report, Allshouse cut the very core of the AAUP’s professional identity:

The protection of academic freedom in this country depends upon the existence of a body of professionals whose moral efficacy and judgments are not compromised by special interest pleading. While in past years, especially during and after the McCarthy era, the AAUP served in this capacity, its decision to enter collective bargaining and subject academic freedom to collective bargaining procedures has undercut its ability to serve in the objective and morally efficacious position it once held. The vacuum created by the AAUP’s decision to alter its historic course has produced a new crisis in academic freedom.

Arguing that the AAUP had forfeited its authority, Allshouse proposed the creation of a new association to resume the role that the association had, in his view, abdicated.

Importantly, many reports did not include broader condemnation of the AAUP’s shift, and not all rejection of AAUP standards dealt directly with unionization. Several indicated concern about the tumult of the long-1960s and the broader changes affecting the industry of higher education, including the chair of New York Institute of Technology’s (NYIT) board. He argued that, owing to “turbulent times,” the 1940 Statement “has as little relevancy to the modern-day college as the Dred Scott decision has to desegregation” (Law & Rogers, 1970, p. 397). At Clarkson, Bower critiqued the AAUP for promulgating “theories, which coming from 1940, are 50 years out of date” (Heywood & Delano, 1992, p 48). [End Page 73]

Taken together, these four subthemes highlight the complications for Committee A that came with both the rise of collective bargaining in higher education and the AAUP’s entry into the arena. Administrators used both collective bargaining more broadly and the AAUP’s bargaining as reasons not to cooperate with an investigation. A small number of faculty unions refused to cooperate, as well. Moreover, institutions used collective bargaining to discount negative findings by questioning the role and integrity of the AAUP and by claiming that adhering to a contract negated the need to adhere to professional principles.

Unionization as a Cause and Result of Academic Freedom Cases

Although less prevalent than other findings, some reports provide evidence of a two-sided relationship between academic freedom cases and efforts to unionize. Faculty efforts to organize unions were implicated in several of the dismissals that Committee A reported upon in these decades, including the very first at the NYIT (Law & Rogers, 1970). At the same time, the very institutional restrictions that led Committee A to investigate could also further efforts to organize a faculty. They could provide momentum by highlighting the precarity of faculty roles and bolstering claims that faculty needed to counter administrative power.

In the NYIT case, Committee A initially launched an investigation into the dismissal of a sociology instructor whom administrators charged with fomenting student unrest. It uncovered broader conflict between the administration and its faculty, including allegations that the president of the AAUP chapter of the institution’s Old Westbury campus, Ira Pomerance, was forced into retirement. Although the institution denied wrongdoing, Pomerance claimed that underlying cause was his effort to promote faculty rights and, especially, his work to have the institution’s AAUP chapters become the legal bargaining agents of the faculty. The Old Westbury AAUP chapter claimed that it was “an attempt to by the administration to curtail and hinder the function of this Chapter and, in general, to limit academic freedom on the campus” (Law & Rogers, 1970, p. 396). Similarly, Edward B. Versluis was denied tenure and dismissed from St. Mary’s College in California, contrary to a faculty recommendation. The institution refused to give a reason for its action to either Versluis or the investigating committee, but Versluis was a key player in efforts to form a faculty union on campus (Cunningham & Brodie, 1976). When the faculty at Dean Junior College in Massachusetts attempted to unionize, the president told the student newspaper that “a union would be poison here” and claimed “there are a few faculty leading the march who were looking for things for themselves and ‘whipped up’ other people” (Moon & Collins, 1991, p. 32). When two faculty leaders of the effort were [End Page 74] given terminal contracts, 30 of their peers signed a letter claiming that it was “an act of retaliation” for their union activity (Moon & Collins, 1991, p. 28).

Highlighting the complexity of these cases was a 1979 case at American International College. When the local AAUP chapter petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for recognition as the faculty’s bargain agent, faculty member Paul E. Provost played “an active role in the . . . presentation at the hearing certification” (Young & Kaufman, 1983, p. 43). When, several months later, the institution informed him he would not be renewed, the local AAUP chapter filed charges of unfair labor practices. Following an investigation, the NLRB regional director found the allegation to be justified and filed a complaint against the administration. A hearing before an administrative judge never took place due to a separate NLRB ruling that denied the AAUP chapter’s petition for certification but the AAUP investigating committee found the allegation plausible. Provost had been on the faculty for 13 years with his annual contracts routinely renewed until he tried to organize a union. As in other cases noted above though, the refusal of the administration to participate in the investigation limited what could be known about motivations in the case (Young & Kaufman, 1983)

The flip side of faculty academic freedom cases implicating administrative opposition to unionization is that in at least two cases, alleged violations of academic freedom and shared governance fostered organizing efforts. At New Mexico Highlands University, faculty organizers wrote of “an atmosphere of fear, hostility, and intimidation” (Nails & Baez, 2006, p. 54) that was heightened by administrative decisions to deny tenure despite positive reviews. The successful organizing of an NEA-and AFT-affiliated local in the period between the Committee A visit and the release of its report offered the faculty some hope for change. At Bloomfield College, the retrenchment that led to a Committee A investigation also led the local AAUP chapter to achieve recognition as the faculty’s bargaining agent (Fellman et al., 1974).

Even more revealing of the complicated relationship between organizing and academic freedom was the situation at Bastyr University, where the dismissal of Suzanne Myer led to a quick response by her fellow faculty members. Steven R. Kubacki, an advocate of unionization, called an emergency meeting of the faculty to respond to Myer’s dismissal and the broader challenges that they faced as at-will employees. At the meeting, the faculty voted to form a sub-committee to investigate organizing a union and appointed William Roedel as its chair. The next month, two days before their contracts were set to expire and on the eve of the new academic year, Kubacki and Roedel unexpectedly received notices of nonrenewal and were barred from campus. Both were scheduled for fall classes and Kubacki had received a notice of promotion to full professor effective at the beginning of the fall term. The investigating committee found their dismissals to be caused by [End Page 75] their advocacy of faculty rights and disagreements with the administration, and to be in violation of the 1940 Statement (Gudeman & O’Neill, 2007).

As these cases highlight, academic freedom and unionization efforts can be intertwined. Attempting to organize a faculty can lead to dismissals and other acts in violation of faculty members’ rights. At the same time, for faculty who are legally able, organizing is one of the potential responses to help challenge administrative overreach.

Union as Context, Content, or Footnote

A portion of the Committee A reports that raised unionization did so in only limited manners, noting them in passing or in reference to previous investigative reports. In a handful, the connection to labor was quite tenuous, such as a faculty member requesting advice or legal support from an external association that was elsewhere involved in collective bargaining (e.g., Adams & Hetherington, 1973). One particularly noteworthy example involved Ye-shiva University in New York. In February 1980, after an investigatory committee had visited the institution’s campus but before its report was finalized, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling declaring faculty at the institution “managerial employees” and therefore not covered by the National Labor Relations Act for purposes of bargaining (National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University, 1980). The Committee A report about the institution’s termination of three tenured faculty members stated that the committee had interviewed union leaders but explicitly noted, “The election for collective bargaining and the subsequent litigation have no particular relationship to the cases that are the subject of this report” (Wines & Halpern, 1981, p. 186). In other cases, an organizing effort or contract was mentioned as context to the dispute the committee had investigated, as evidence that there were larger governance difficulties, or as a development that came to fruition after the event under investigation but without an explicit tie to the case (e.g., Reichman et al., 2017; Lewis & Hammond, 1986).

In numerous cases, issues related to a union local were implicated in the facts of the case beyond those specifically related to violations or processes. Faculty, for example, appealed to their union for assistance or grieved their case through collectively bargained procedures. At times, they were even more central. At the New Community College of Baltimore, the transfer of the institution to state control was used as the justification for stripping the faculty of bargaining rights. Although that was not the focus of the AAUP investigation, it set the stage for the issues that Committee A investigated (Yellowitz & Haig, 1992). In these and other cases, issues related to unionization are useful for understanding institutional context and specifics of stakeholder actions beyond how they affected interactions with the AAUP. [End Page 76]

Discussion and Conclusions

Committee A investigations are undertaken in select instances when a college or university administration’s actions appear to have contravened the 1940 Statement. Published when uncovered violations cannot otherwise be resolved, the resulting reports detail case facts, the larger security of academic freedom and tenure at the institutions, and the ways in which conditions conflict with AAUP principles. I argue that the reports can also elucidate a portion of the relationship between collective bargaining and academic freedom. They demonstrate that the work of Committee A has been, at times, complicated by organizing efforts and collective bargaining undertaken by both the AAUP and other organizations, but they have not been derailed; that contractual provisions can be violated in ways that are detrimental to faculty rights or themselves fall short of larger principles; and that, at least in some cases, entering bargaining changed the perception of the association in the ways that early opponents of the shift feared.

To be clear, I am not arguing that the AAUP’s decision to serve as a bargaining agent negatively affected its overall ability to undertake work for academic freedom, nor that the decision was the wrong one. The decision was complex, made amid shifting educational and societal contexts, and about more than just academic freedom. The very design of this study—focusing on cases where the 1940 Statement was violated—precludes evidence of both broader positive effects of AAUP bargaining and cases where academic freedom has been advanced by collective bargaining and union activism. Further, even in the cases that included organizing efforts or bargained contracts, what the status of academic freedom would have been had they been absent is unknown. While several reports were certainly critical of unions and union contracts, others acknowledged the difficult conditions in which they were negotiated or pointed to potential advances through later union activity.

What these findings do show includes that, in at least some cases, collective bargaining was not enough to establish academic freedom and protect tenure. Committee A reports contended that institutions violated or maneuvered to avoid contact provisions that might have offered more protections than grievants were actually afforded. In even more cases, collective bargaining agreements contained terms that fell short of 1940 Statement principles, including in some negotiated by local AAUP chapters. This fits with previous research indicating that union contracts can provide real benefits for faculty but can also include language that serves to constrain them. Rhoades (1998), for example, argued that despite significant gains, “administrators’ contractual discretion to manage faculty is extensive” (p. 257). More narrowly focused on academic freedom, Dougherty et al. (2018) warned of the dangers posed by contract provisions granting administrators significant authority over faculty performance evaluations. In the cases considered [End Page 77] here, Committee A found the exercise of such administrative authority to be extremely problematic. Institutions’ “contract focus” (Gorman & Zemel, 1974, p. 362) and unwillingness to exceed minimum negotiated protections to attend to larger principles is perhaps the biggest challenge to faculty rights unveiled in these reports. The fact that academic freedom remains contested even in places where faculty have been able to claim a voice in institutional affairs through bargaining points to the significant work that remains to be done. It highlights the ongoing importance of promoting AAUP principles and negotiating stronger contract provisions, especially as higher education enters a new round of financial distress and retrenchment.

The close adherence to contracts would have posed a challenge regardless of the AAUP’s embrace of bargaining, but that embrace did bring with it concern over how its various roles related to each other. Multiple administrations argued that the AAUP had surrendered its former role as the standard-bearer for academic freedom. In the extreme, they argued that the association was only concerned with achieving monetary gains for faculty and used its former standing to attempt to renegotiate contracts. This new view of the AAUP’s purposes and nature, though not ubiquitous, complicated investigations when it led institutions and individuals to refuse to participate. It also led some administrations to reject the findings as illegitimate. This harkens to Kadish et al.’s (1972) concerns that Committee A’s efforts could be undermined by bargaining. Still, the capacity to “make inquiry or investigation into academic freedom or tenure complaints” (Kadish et al., 1972, p. 58) did not cease either on campuses with a contract or those without. And, even when an institution spurned Committee A findings, the larger claims for academic freedom and publication of institutional conditions retained import for the field. Further, while some union locals rejected Committee A, much more often they cooperated or even sought the investigation. Just as Kemerer and Baldridge’s (1981) classic study found an “unexpected peaceful coexistence” between faculty senates and unions, Committee A and union locals most often interacted similarly. This suggests that recent calls and efforts for greater cooperation among those organizations committed to protecting faculty and other worker rights in higher education could be successful (e.g., Dougherty et al., 2018; Kezar et al., 2019).

In considering the temporal issues relevant to these reports, two things stand out. First, there were no strong discernable patterns to the union issues involved in the cases over time. Relational, contractual, and other issues were spread over the course of the five decades. Cases that only contained ancillary or contextual mentions did appear more frequently in earlier decades than in more recent, though did continue to the most recent case considered. The more striking shift is the clear decline in occurrence of union issues in Committee A reports over time—there were more in each of the 1970s, 1980s, and [End Page 78] 1990s than in the 2000s and 2010s combined. Indeed, there were as many in 1973, the year the association formally embraced bargaining, as there were in 2010s. To the extent that these reports are indicative of larger patterns, this could provide evidence of a normalization of collective bargaining in higher education. The fears captured in early headlines such as “Will the Academy Survive Unionization?” (Crossland, 1976) have been alleviated. Indeed, as Crossland argued, unions are neither a panacea nor a crisis situation, though they can affect conditions and contexts. The disruption and uncertainty of early bargaining was overcome as the pace of unionization stabilized over time.

Even with the normalization of collective bargaining in higher education, much more research on its relationship to academic freedom is needed, including the extent to which it might provide different protections at different institutional types; for members of different employment statuses; and for members of different racial, gender, sexuality, and other demographic groups. Indeed, despite important work in the 1970s and 1980s, there is significant need for research on many issues related to faculty, graduate student, and broader employee unionization in 21st-century higher education. Included among these are causes and effects of unionization in relationship to shared governance, the ownership of intellectual products, and the security of positions for the full range of instructional workers, including as affected by administration-led restructuring and retrenchment.

While this paper cannot pretend to answer the myriad questions on unionization, academic freedom, or the AAUP that scholars should ask, it does point to the ongoing importance of both the work that Committee A undertakes and the association’s efforts to ensure that that work is understood. Especially as the association’s organizational structure has twice shifted in the recent past, transparency about how the association fills its different roles remains essential. While, as Schrecker (2014) argued, collective bargaining is compatible with the AAUP’s advocacy and investigative work, it does affect that work’s context and perception.

Timothy Reese Cain

Timothy Reese Cain is an associate professor at the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education. His work exploring modern and historic issues includes considerations of academic freedom, faculty and graduate student unionization, and student activism. Please send correspondences to Timothy Reese Cain at


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