Simpsonian file photo
Simpsonian file photo

AAUP urges Simpson to reverse eliminations of two tenured faculty

April 24, 2019

The American Association of University Professors has again intervened in regards to Simpson College’s eliminations of tenured faculty members.

The organization wrote to President Jay Simmons on April 8 urging the college to rescind its decision to lay off associate professor of history Judy Walden and professor of sports science and health education Mike Hadden, whose positions were recently cut.

The AAUP is a nonprofit organization that develops standards and procedures to “maintain quality in education and academic freedom in this country’s colleges and universities,” according to the AAUP website.

The letter said the terminations of Walden and Hadden do not comply with AAUP standards.

It was similar to letters the AAUP sent to President Jay Simmons last spring regarding the eliminations of Associate Professor of Music Kimberly Roberts and Professor of Management and Marketing Mark Green.

In those emails, Gregory Scholtz, director of the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance, said the termination of Roberts and Green also did not comply with AAUP standards, according to previous reporting by The Simpsonian.

In the April 8 letter, which Scholtz also wrote, he said the AAUP has regulations that specifically intended to “prevent an administration from terminating tenured appointments-under the guise of ‘financial problems,’ ‘low enrollments,’ and the like-for reasons that violate a faculty member’s academic freedom.”

His letter also spoke of concerns arising from “the Association’s longstanding commitment to fundamental tenets of academic freedom and tenure.”

Hadden was informed on March 4 that his position would be terminated by May 27, 2020, due to the elimination of the clinical health science program. Walden was also terminated, but due to “reduction in funding,” not elimination of the history department.

Both professors were told they would have the opportunity to appeal the terminations to the college’s board of trustees. However, the letter the college sent to Hadden on March 4 did not say he is afforded the right to a faculty hearing, according to the April 8 letter.

The AAUP’s letter also expressed the organization’s disappointment that the college’s board of trustees rejected revisions to the Simpson faculty handbook that faculty voted to approve last December. Those revisions would have restricted the administration’s ability to eliminate tenured positions, putting the handbook in better alignment with AAUP guidelines.

The AAUP reviewed the provisions of the faculty handbook and confirmed they are inconsistent with other provisions of the faculty handbook and AAUP guidelines.

“We were therefore disappointed to learn that in February 2019 the college’s board of trustees rejected, on your recommendation, faculty-proposed revisions to this section that would have made it no longer possible to terminate tenured appointments merely on the basis of funding reductions,” the April 8 letter said.

Hadden sought advice from the AAUP after professors had previously contacted the organization and advocated for the clinical health sciences program.

“I felt strongly that eliminating a program that, according to our department data had 42 students, would be a mistake. This was a program that prepared students for graduate studies in health-related careers,” Hadden said in an email to The Simpsonian. “By most measures, health occupations rank at the top of the careers of the future.”

The clinical health sciences program was one of four programs to be eliminated.

“What was unique about the CHS measure was that it was unlike any other program in the country. It offered critical hands on skills and the most contemporary medical topics facing healthcare professionals of the future,” Hadden said.

He said it was unfortunate the Educational Policies and Curriculum Committee didn’t recommend an approval to appeal the decision to eliminate the CHS program.

The sport science department offers four majors—clinical health science, exercise science, sport administration, and physical education—and will be offering a new major next year. Since most of the courses in the CHS program will still be offered, Scholtz said the program is more accurately being repackaged, not eliminated.

“If this description is accurate, the action against Professor Hadden would not conform to the AAUP’s understanding of program discontinuance, as described above, but would instead constitute yet another example of program reduction, an illegitimate basis for terminating appointments under standards supported by the AAUP,” the April 8 letter said.

“If what has occurred can more accurately be described as reduction, then eliminating the appointment of the most senior tenured member of the department in this manner can be regarded as a direct assault on tenure and academic freedom, especially if impermissible considerations entered into the decision to eliminate Professor Hadden’s position,” the letter continued.

The AAUP recommended institutions make “every effort” to find a suitable position for a faculty member within the institution. It also noted that, since Hadden is qualified to teach all the courses offered in the department, there remains opportunities for him to continue to teach at Simpson.

Hadden said he hopes the administration will consider an effort to recall the clinical health sciences major.

“Our department just completed a revision of both the CHS and Exercise Science majors, which looked quite strong and very competitive. Schools all over the country are having financial difficulties and adapting to the needs of the marketplace will be paramount for those to survive,” Hadden said.

Walden’s position was also eliminated last semester, even though the history department as a whole was not marked for elimination. The letter Walden received from the college also did not mention the right to a hearing before the faculty.

The stated reason for eliminating Walden was “reduction of program funding.”

However, the AAUP did not view that reason as legitimate under the organization’s standards, which hold that “program reductions resulting in the termination of tenured appointments can occur only when an institution declares a state of financial exigency,” the April 8 letter said.

Walden declined a request to comment regarding the elimination of her position.

As it did in the cases of Green and Roberts, the AAUP urged the “rescission of the termination notices issued to Professors Hadden and Walden and, failing that, affordance of a procedure consistent in essential respects with Regulation 4(d)(4) of the Recommended Institutional Regulations,” according to the April 8 letter.

“As we stated in our March 23, 2018, letter, until substantive revisions are made to the faculty handbook, academic freedom and tenure stand on an insecure foundation at Simpson College,” the letter added.

The AAUP said it will continue to monitor the situation regarding the tenured professors at Simpson whose positions have been inappropriately terminated.

 

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