Last week, the Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas System unanimously approved a revision to Board Policy 405.1 on “Appointment, Promotion, Tenure, Non-Reappointment, and Dismissal of Faculty.” As FIRE has discussed previously, this version of the policy revision represents an improvement to the one first proposed last fall, yet still has the potential to threaten academic freedom.
As FIRE has discussed previously, this version of the policy revision represents an improvement to the one first proposed last fall, yet still has the potential to threaten academic freedom.
In December of last year, FIRE wrote a letter to the Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas System to urge against the adoption of the original revision. This revision listed a new definition of “cause” for termination: a “pattern of conduct or unwillingness to work productively with colleagues.” FIRE warned at the time that this expectation of willingness to work productively with colleagues could be applied as a de facto collegiality requirement, a practice condemned by the American Association of University Professors as “flatly contrary to elementary principles of academic freedom.”
This February, the president of the University of Arkansas System released a new draft of proposed revisions to the policy, which redefined “cause,” in relevant part, to “a pattern of conduct that is detrimental to the productive and efficient operation of the instructional or work environment.”
FIRE was pleased to see the move away from the subjective “willingness to work productively with colleagues” criterion to a pattern of conduct that is in fact detrimental to the operation of the instructional or work environment. However, we remain concerned that this improved definition could still be applied to penalize faculty members in violation of their academic freedom rights.
Josh Silverstein, a law professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock who has opposed the revision, said he was disappointed at Thursday’s board meeting, telling the board that the policy “can be used to punish people with whom you disagree.”
In addition to the potential punitive danger, the policy as written will have a chilling effect on expression by discouraging current faculty members from expressing dissenting opinions or from addressing controversial subjects in their classrooms, and may discourage prospective faculty members — particularly those who work in more controversial fields of study — from taking a position with a University of Arkansas System institution.
Now that this revised policy has been adopted by the Board of Trustees, FIRE will be monitoring the application of the policy. We encourage University of Arkansas System faculty members, as well as faculty members encountering collegiality criteria for tenure or discipline at any other institution, to contact FIRE if such criteria are applied to restrict academic freedom rights.