UNI investigation should be taken seriously for all Regent universities

BY GUEST COLUMN | MAY 01, 2012 6:30 AM

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We take the recent decision of the national American Association of University Professors to undertake a formal investigation of the University of Northern Iowa and the possibility of censure for our sister institution extremely seriously.

Public and private reports raise the concern that in dealing with the current budget situation, the UNI administration may have improperly terminated tenured faculty and/or improperly pressured others to retire. If this is indeed the case, these actions would constitute serious violations of the principles of the professors' association — principles that UNI, Iowa State University, and the University of Iowa, as do most colleges and universities nationwide, have freely and publicly promised to uphold.

For 100 years, the association's principles and policies have provided American colleges and universities with a framework for academic freedom and shared governance within which they have thrived. These principles and policies have helped make the American system of higher education the envy of the world and an engine of creativity and economic development. American society and the state of Iowa have greatly benefited.

Without those principles, our university system could not function. The association recognizes and endorses the shared governance responsibilities of faculty. Faculty do much of the work of creating and managing university teaching, research, and extension or service programs. Only the faculty have the professional expertise to do this.

Shared governance recognizes this role of the faculty and the importance of that work. Appropriate recognition of the faculty responsibilities must be part of the decision-making process for an institution of higher education to maintain its academic integrity.

Difficult budget times have placed enormous stress on the Iowa Board of Regents' institutions. State support has been cut by 25 percent in the last three years. No institution can be unaffected by cuts of this magnitude: The question is how to respond. Successful institutions of all kinds, both public and private, in business and in government, understand that to survive difficult times they need the best efforts from all members of the institution.

They need creativity, energy, new ideas, and new proposals, and they can only get them from individuals who are involved, who care for the institution, and who feel that they were included properly in the decision-making process.

The questions are: In difficult times, does an institution draw together through shared effort and shared governance, or does the institution draw apart by artificially and inappropriately separating faculty from the decision-making process?

The success of all three regent universities in Iowa depends on the quality and reputation of the faculty. UNI, like UI and ISU, must compete to recruit and retain quality faculty in a national and international market for talent.

The best young faculty candidates always have a choice of where they wish to work. Top senior faculty with records of success can leave for more welcoming academic environments.

A professors' association censure of UNI because of the administration's failure to follow accepted principles of shared governance would harm not only that institution's ability to recruit and retain talented faculty, it could also disadvantage all of Iowa's regents' universities in the competition for the best and the brightest.

The regents' universities brought in more than $800 million in research funding last year. They also launch thousands of young Iowans into professional careers every year. Destroying or ignoring the principles of shared governance and academic freedom effectively guarantees the decay of higher education in, and a great loss to, the state of Iowa.

Mack Shelley
ISU American Association of University Professors president

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