The University Record, March 28, 1994

Metzger: Most academic freedom cases stem from outside the academy

By Mary Jo Frank

The American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) watchdog of academic freedom—Committee A—has stood guard for 79 years.

Committee A’s traditions are still useful, according to Walter P. Metzger, emeritus professor of history at Columbia University, who gave the fourth annual Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom March 21.

Metzger, who has served on Committee A since 1957, said the committee has weathered all kinds of upheavals—including McCarthyism, student rioting and the spread of faculty unionism—since John Dewey, the first AAUP president, established it in 1915.

Out of Committee A grew the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the basic document for discussion of tenure in American universities. The 1940 Statement, promulgated by the AAUP and the

Association of American Colleges, grounds tenure in the need for academic freedom in teaching and research.

Of the 3,500 academic freedom and tenure cases Committee A has dealt with since its inception, only a few cases have involved teaching or research, Metzger noted.

For the majority the combat zone has been outside the academy, such as when professors have run for political office on unpopular party labels or have been cited for public rudeness against a guest speaker.

Citing the three former faculty members who were sanctioned by the U-M for their political views and associations in the 1950s and for whom the lecture is named, Metzger said they weren’t censured for their teaching or their research.

Committee A has provided the professoriate standards of civility, responsibility, tolerance and reasoned discourse, Metzger said. The AAUP has never accepted the notion that anything goes for faculty, he noted. In defining academic freedom, the AAUP has said it is not fair for faculty members to indoctrinate students or to introduce controversial matters not related to the subject.

Over the years Committee A has played a variety of roles that include acting as a disinterested party in investigations, serving as a public tutor when it conducts on-site investigations and publishes findings, acting as mediator, and meting out punishments and rewards through censure and removal of censure from universities. Committee A found that the U-M violated the 1940 Statement of Principles in the McCarthy era. The University was censured by the AAUP. This led to adoption of Regents Bylaw 5.09, which outlines the procedures to be followed before dismissal or demotion of a faculty member. The

U-M subsequently was removed from the AAUP list of censured institutions.

Citing recent attempts to enact speech codes to curb hate speech on college campuses, Metzger said the codes created a firestorm of protest from faculty across the country.

In light of recent court decisions, Metzger said, “Now I don’t think anyone can write a speech code and get away with it constitutionally.” From the beginning, the AAUP has wanted no part of speech codes, he added.

Professors today are struggling to deal with new kinds of issues, to find their voice, Metzger said. Increasingly the courts are making decisions for the academy, and universities are taking their marching orders from law.

“Academic freedom is in better shape today than in 1951,” Metzger said. “But it would be naive to dismiss the tension between law and the [academic] profession. They aren’t always pals.”

The lecture was sponsored by the

Academic Freedom Lecture Fund, the Senate Advisory Committee on Univer-sity Affairs and the U-M AAUP Chapter.