The American Association of University Professors announced Thursday that it is creating a special committee to review association policies on "financial exigency" and program closure. The AAUP has historically had a very high bar -- a state of financial exigency in which institutions face a threat to their survival -- to permit layoffs of tenured faculty members. In the current economic crisis, however, many colleges have not followed the AAUP's policies. Michael Bérubé, an English professor at Pennsylvania State University and chair of the new AAUP panel, gave the following explanation in the AAUP announcement of the committee: "The AAUP's Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure make provision for program closings and terminations of appointments when universities face 'financial exigency.' 'Exigency,' however, is defined as 'an imminent financial crisis that threatens the survival of the institution as a whole and that cannot be alleviated by less drastic means.' It is becoming increasingly clear that the financial crises faced by many American colleges and universities are not 'imminent' in this sense, and do not threaten 'the survival of the institution as a whole.' Rather, what we are seeing is a series of slow bleeds, crises brought on by austerity and attrition — especially at publicly funded institutions whose public funding has been dwindling for decades." He added that the new panel would focus on "the question of how the AAUP can best respond to program closings and terminations under such conditions, conditions which may not threaten entire institutions with imminent bankruptcy but which do threaten to transform American higher education as a whole."
It is with little pleasure but some hope of making a difference that I report I am a member of this committee. I will seek to ensure that the particular and specific experiences of the Nevada System of Higher Education, and the concerns of its faculty, are well represented and taken into account in the new recommendations that will be produced.