Academic Freedom and UC Librarians: It’s a perfect fit.

For those just jumping into this debate, it’s important to read the statement delivered with our initial proposal: it lays out our arguments, includes widely recognized definitions of academic freedom, and points to ACRL and AAUP statements explicitly stating the need for academic librarians to have Academic Freedom (AF). It may also be helpful read our summary of the UC administration’s denial of our proposal.

If you had asked any UC Librarian if we had AF rights before this started, they probably would have said, “yes.” It seemed hard to fathom that we would not. The mandate for AF is rooted in California’s state law known as HEERA (the Higher Education Employer- Employee Relations Act) which states, “It is the policy of the State of California to encourage the pursuit of excellence in teaching, research, and learning through the free exchange of ideas among the faculty, students, and staff of the University of California… All parties subject to this chapter shall respect and endeavor to preserve academic freedom in the University of California” (HEERA sec. 3561(c). Section 10 of the UC Academic Personnel Manual (aka APM-010)) defines AF and explicitly details those rights for faculty and students and explicitly states it “does nothing to diminish the rights and responsibilities enjoyed by other academic appointees.”

Current policy enumerates AF-related rights and responsibilities for faculty and students and does not restrict others from having AF — in fact it states the opposite.  And HEERA calls on all of us at the UCs to “respect and endeavor to preserve” academic freedom.

We wrote an AF article to amend the librarian contract because we learned from membership about uneven application at the campus level.  We thought that administration would immediately recognize this as a problem and would be eager to firm up these rights and were surprised when management said “no” — you don’t have Academic Freedom.

We need to address the fallacies in UC administration’s stance about the nature of academic freedom, the purpose it serves in the academic community, and the need for academic librarians to share those rights in order to perform their duties.  So, here are a few of UC administration’s arguments that Academic Freedom (AF) is “not a good fit for [our] unit.”

UC Administration claimed that AF is tied to faculty and students alone; more specifically, to Instructors of Record and students, to enable free expression in the classroom and related research.  They clarified on 8/8 that while they still believe that AF “started with the classroom dynamic,” they acknowledge that freedom of teaching is no more important a concept than it is in freedom of inquiry and research, and freedom of expression and publication. However, despite repeatedly standing by this assertion, they were never able to point to any UC policy that specifies that only those with Instructor of Record status are granted AF.

As they explained, Librarians only have AF when they are granted Instructor of Record status (which does occasionally happen). At all other times, they do not. If a librarian’s teaching is challenged while they are Instructor of Record, the challenge would be weighed against the protections provided through APM-010 and APM-015 by the Academic Senate.  In other instances, the challenge and any necessary discipline would be handled by library administration, and by their own admission, there is currently no policy on that situation.

They further clarified that no one involved in teaching has AF unless they have Instructor of Record status.  They clarified that Teaching Assistants, for example, only have AF as the result of their status as students.  This would lead to the befuddling situation in which a librarian given Instructor of Record status for a credit bearing course would be defended by the Academic Senate, but once outside the classroom they would no longer have AF.

We are still waiting for UC administration to point to the specific UC policy that states that the “Instructor of Record” designation is the clear dividing line between those UC employees with AF, and those without. HEERA and the APM contain no such language that we could find. But even if they come up with an existing policy document that gives that definition, it’s an odd point to draw the dividing line. So many UC employees who do not have the Instructor of Record designation contribute to teaching, research and governance, with clear academic responsibilities in our job descriptions, and often with the word “academic” actually in our titles.

UC administration also claimed that AF is a professional standard established by faculty, for faculty; that it is a community principle, and that community is the faculty. The university does not set this standard, the faculty does.

Faculty very likely had significant input on the APM, but the administration’s claim is factually incorrect. As the Academic Personnel Manual (APM) Policy Development Process Guide states:

The Office of Academic Personnel at the University of California Office of the President manages the Academic Personnel Manual (APM) policy development process from inception to issuance on behalf of the Provost and Executive Vice President.  The policy development process reflects the University of California’s shared governance structure and its commitment to accountability and transparency.

The process is complex, and certainly the Academic Senate must have had considerable input into the formation of both APM-010 and APM-015 (The Faculty Code of Conduct).  But the Guide explains the final approval process:

Regental review and approval is required to revise certain policies, for example, The Faculty Code of Conduct (APM – 015), University Policy on Faculty Conduct and the Administration of Discipline (APM – 016), and the Health Sciences Compensation Plan (APM – 670).  For all other policies within the APM, the Provost and Executive Vice President may approve and issue the policy immediately, revise as necessary and issue, or instruct the Office of Academic Personnel to circulate new draft language for comment if substantial revisions are required.

Their response is inconsistent with their own guidelines for policy formation.  Besides, we still maintain that according to HEERA and APM 010, librarians should already have AF.  Moreover, since this UC denial was aired, in hallway conversations across the state, we’ve received overwhelming support from Senate Faculty on the issue. We are left wondering: why is UC administration interested in taking those rights away?

We will have more to say on their justifications for denial; stay tuned.

In Solidarity,

Your UC-AFT Librarians’ Table Team:

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