TAFC urges addition of ‘academic freedom’ to Pitt’s mission statement | University time

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By SHANNON O. WELLS

Pitt’s Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee (TAFC) approved a resolution at its June 1 meeting aimed at increasing the visibility and inclusiveness of Pitt’s academic freedom policy and related statements.

Described as a “call to action,” the document asks the Faculty Assembly this fall to recommend that the administration add Pitt’s academic freedom policy to the University’s mission statement and to specify that its rights extend beyond the mere tenured faculty. The resolution, which TAFC members passed after heated discussion, arose out of concerns about the visibility of Pitt’s 2003 statement on academic freedom, which Provost Ann Cudd reaffirmed and the Faculty Assembly voted against. approved in April.

“While we endorsed the provost’s statement – and we were very happy to see that – we kind of felt as a committee that this concept didn’t have enough visibility,” said Marika Kovacs, co-chair of the TAFC and Professor of Psychiatry.

The idea prompted co-chair Abbe de Vallejo, a faculty member at the medical school, to research the extent to which other universities are visibly enforcing academic freedom policies, Kovacs said. “It was clear to us that other universities had very strong statements about academic freedom and also incorporated that as a core value in mission statements,” she noted, citing Carnegie Mellon University as an example. . “(Pitt) missed that.”

The TAFC argues that Pitt’s position on academic freedom expressed in its statutes:

  • Is “neither prominent nor easily evident” on the University’s website.

  • “Fails to define academic freedom, the conditions necessary to maintain it, and the policy and procedure to guarantee it.”

  • “Does not include university scholars other than tenured or tenure-track faculty.”

De Vallejo sees the resolution as a “call to action” for the Faculty Assembly and administration to reinforce Pitt’s commitment to “increase the visibility” and accessibility of the academic freedom policy and related provisions. It asks the Faculty Assembly to recommend:

  • Pitt’s administration and board include academic freedom in the university’s mission statement.

  • The administration develops specific policies and procedures on academic freedom as it applies to all scholars and the actions necessary to maintain it; and administration protect academic freedom against any threat, whether from within or without.

Explaining the basis of the committee’s concerns, de Vallejo said, “If one were to just do a simple Google search, what comes up is really a statement of academic freedom by the then provost (one from the TAFC). And it is very difficult to find academic freedom as it exists for the University of Pittsburgh.

Carey Balaban, TAFC member and professor of otolaryngology, however, pointed out that “if you read the reports, the academic freedom statements going back historically to the University, they are on display. It has a very comprehensive definition,” he said. “Everything is displayed. It’s just a matter of reformatting it.

De Vallejo countered that while Pitt’s board webpage states academic freedom as a “fundamental principle” of Pitt, it does not include an actual definition, or “who has rights and responsibilities to it. , how it can be defended and whether some of the options can be taken if there have been breaches in their exercise.

“And if we look at the University’s six-point mission statement, there’s no mention of academic freedom,” he said. “Something is missing there, which is necessary to accomplish this particular mission. And all the universities I researched state on their webpage that academic freedom is the instrument by which they accomplish their academic mission.

De Vallejo cited Penn State University, whose policy he says even includes “addressing academic freedom grievances,” as well as Washington University in St. Louis, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Columbia University and Johns Hopkins University among institutions that “have clear and codified statements” of their commitments to academic freedom.

Kovacs developed the perception of exclusivity into the current academic freedom policy.

“We realized that wherever the statements are available at the University, they seem to only apply to tenured professors,” she noted. “And the fact that it’s really important to emphasize that academic freedom – however it is conceived or defined – should also apply to faculty and non-tenured students. That’s why we (included) the word “academic researchers”, because we felt that it covers everyone who has some kind of academic appointment or academic task at the university.

While seven members voted to forward the resolution to the Faculty Assembly, not everyone at the TAFC meeting was clear on the functional purposes of the resolution or favored the call to add academic freedom in Pitt’s mission statement.

Noting that academic freedom is a “means to an end,” Kristin Kanthak, vice president of the Faculty Assembly, cited the American Association of University Teachers’ Statement on Academic Freedom. He says universities serve the “common good” – something that cannot be achieved without academic freedom.

“If you open up the mission statement to the means to achieve the goals, including academic freedom, you’re going to get other kinds of requirements for other means to achieve the goals that are as important as academic freedom. . that should go into the mission statement as well,” she said, including issues like social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion. “And I could kind of go on and on and on. again, right?”

She also expressed concerns about specificity regarding the development of policies and procedures, and that the resolution may appear to run counter to the TAFC’s endorsement of the provost’s academic freedom statement.

“Those are sort of the issues that I would think about that are likely to come up in the Faculty Assembly,” she said. “And it will create an environment that’s going to do the opposite of what you want (and) make it look like there’s all kinds of controversy around academic freedom when there really isn’t.”

Robin Kear, president of the University Senate, said the statement could be more specific regarding the inclusion of faculty members and agreed with Kanthak that adding academic freedom to the mission statement could open a Pandora’s box.

“The board might say, well, we delegate academic freedom to our senior vice chancellor and our senior academic officer, who is the provost,” she said. “And the provost, as you saw in 2003 and you saw in 2022, endorsed the statement. If more clarification is needed, I think we can discuss it. But I worry about giving the impression that it’s not a value, and giving the impression that it’s not enough, which is there.

Saying he understands the concerns expressed, de Vallejo explained that the resolution is simply a way to “codify” the TAFC’s commitment to academic freedom through policies and procedures. “The provost’s statement of the reaffirmation of the 2003 statement of (former provost James Maher) is just that: it speaks to us again about academic freedom, but there really is no direction. This is insufficient guidance as to how academic freedom could be defended or could be exercised at the university.

Shannon O. Wells is a staff writer for the University Times. Join it at shannonw@pitt.edu.

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