UC-AFT Open Letter on Academic Freedom

University administration has assembled and charged a Working Group on Privileges, Protections, Obligations and Responsibilities of Non-faculty Academic Appointees, in relation to APM-010 (Academic Freedom) and APM-015 (The Faculty Code of Conduct).  This group has asked representatives from the UC-AFT Unit 17 Librarian Bargaining Team to consult with them this week.  Ahead of that meeting, our table team decided to write an open letter to articulate our major hopes and concerns for the group.  The full text is included below, and you can download the letter in PDF form.

February 20th, 2019

Open Letter to the Working Group on Privileges, Protections, Obligations and Responsibilities of Non-faculty Academic Appointees, in relation to APM-010 (Academic Freedom) and APM-015 (The Faculty Code of Conduct)

Dear Colleagues,

On behalf of the University Council–American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) Unit 17 Librarians, we wish to articulate our perspective on the important work of your group. We appreciate the opportunity to consult with you in our planned discussion on February 21st, where we can address any issues outlined below.

As you know, in 2018 the UC-AFT Librarian Bargaining Team raised the issue of academic freedom at the bargaining table. As we prepared for bargaining we learned of incidents on multiple campuses in which librarians’ academic freedom was being challenged and constrained. These incidents were occurring with increasing frequency so we determined it was necessary to clarify the terms of our academic freedom in the contract.

When the UC-AFT Librarian Bargaining Team asked that academic freedom be included in the contract, we were told by the UCOP bargaining team in July 2018 that academic freedom was “not a good fit for our unit.” We disagreed. After maintaining this position for several bargaining sessions, UCOP negotiators eventually announced UCOP’s decision to form your systemwide working group to address this issue for all academic employees outside the senate faculty.

UC-AFT is encouraged by the formation and overall scope of this working group, as the issue does affect more than Unit 17 librarians, and we would like to see the problem solved for those colleagues as well. We hope that your group continues to encourage open dialogue and transparency around this issue.  While you proceed with your work, we will continue to pursue a concrete statement of academic freedom for our bargaining unit in contract negotiations. It is a fundamental aspect of our working conditions as academics, a core element of the research, teaching, publishing, and governance functions that define our bargaining unit, and thus an essential subject of bargaining. We understand that the two efforts are distinct.

While hopeful, we are troubled by UCOP’s assiduous avoidance of the term academic freedom while forming this group, an intent not merely evident even in the unwieldy name of the group itself, but demonstrated and reinforced by other UCOP actions. In October 2018, letters of endorsement issued by the UC Senate’s Academic Council and the Council of University Librarians (CoUL) contained nearly identical language calling for “clear university policies” providing appointees with “appropriate protections for scholarship, research, and teaching conducted in the context of their appointments, along with attendant obligations and responsibilities” and that these rights should be “analogous to APM-010 (Academic Freedom) and APM-015 (Faculty Code of Conduct), although formulated independently.” [emphasis added.] While we agree with the overall sentiment, it is these last qualifiers that are a cause of concern.

We regard academic freedom as an inalienable feature of any academic position. Whatever applies to one academic position applies to all. If an independent formulation in any emerging policy assigns “analogous” freedoms (such as APM 010’s existing “Student Freedom of Scholarly Inquiry”) it is a grave error. We are encouraged that the CoUL statement clarifies that the group “strongly supports the academic freedom of non-faculty academic appointees, such as the university’s librarians.” We join the University Librarians in that call.  Any resulting policy that assigns these rights and responsibilities without the term academic freedom would be a severe erosion of academic freedom itself.

We recommend a policy approach which requires the UC to go back to the foundational definition of academic freedom and reaffirm it as a principle that is available to, and respected by, everyone in the University.  As California’s Higher Education Employee Employer Relations Act (HEERA) 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.”

As such, we encourage you to consider the Harvard model articulated in their “University-Wide Statement on Rights and Responsibilities.” This 1970 statement heralds wide acceptance and emphatic encouragement of free speech in various forms, including academic freedom, and avoids parsing free speech rights by one’s station in academia. We urge a similar blanket statement that anyone engaged in academic activities—particularly all the aspects of academic engagement articulated in the AAUP definition of academic freedom (inquiry, teaching, publishing, shared governance)—is protected by the principles of academic freedom through UC policy.

Our University is the proud birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, a legacy we all treasure; our official stance on these issues sets a standard for our peers. UC’s reluctance to immediately affirm academic freedom for librarians has already drawn national attention, and however we choose to move forward will reflect upon all involved. The emerging policy derived from your working group’s recommendations will have ramifications far beyond our ten campuses, and we encourage you to seize this opportunity to expand and strengthen academic freedom.

We are optimistic that your working group’s strong support of academic freedom for all UC academic employees will provide an important context for the University’s ongoing approach to the issue. We wish the working group every success, and stand ready to assist you should you require further input and expertise in this vital effort.

Sincerely,

UC-AFT Unit 17 Librarian Bargaining Team

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