American Association of University Professors (AAUP)

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) was formed in 1915 following a protest over the firing of a faculty member at Stanford University. Noted economist Edward Ross lost his job at Stanford in 1900 because the founder’s wife did not agree with his position on economic reform. Arthur O. Lovejoy and six other faculty members resigned in protest over the dismissal of Ross. In 1913, Lovejoy, who by this time had standing in the profession and was working at Johns Hopkins, convinced 17 other full professors to join him in sending a letter of invitation to other professors of equal rank in nine leading universities to discuss an association of professors from all fields of study. John Dewey became the first president at the founding meeting in 1915 to lead an organization that would ensure academic freedom for faculty members. Thus, the AAUP, which has significant legal implications for the professional lives of faculty members and institutions of higher learning, particularly with regard to tenure, promotion, and academic freedom, was formed. Early members of the organization were primarily interested in developing a code of ethics, protecting academic freedom, and developing standards for promotion. Today, the AAUP represents the vast interest, needs, and issues of faculty in higher education. Its purposes are to promote, protect, and advance academic freedom and shared governance, and to define and promote essential standards to ensure quality higher education.

Structure of AAUP

The AAUP is an organization of college and university faculty members with four classes of membership: active, graduate students, retired, and associate members. The association is organized and operated as a nonprofit, charitable educational organization. As stated in the organization’s constitution, no part of its assets or profits may benefit an individual except in services rendered (AAUP, 2006). 

The governance structure of the AAUP consists of a president, a first vice president, a second vice president, a secretary-treasurer, and a council. The council, as stated in the AAUP’s constitution, consists of the president, the vice presidents, the secretary- treasurer, the chair and immediate past-chair of the AAUP’s Assembly of State Conferences, the chair and immediate past-chair of the AAUP’s Collective Bargaining Congress, former presidents, and 30 council members elected by AAUP members. Former presidents continue to serve on the council for a period of three years immediately following their terms as president. 

The council, which meets at least twice each year, is the elected body charged with executing the AAUP’s functions and acts on its behalf as defined in its constitution. From the council membership comes the executive committee, which exercises powers delegated to it and acts on behalf of the association between meetings of the council. The executive committee also meets at least two times per year. 

The AAUP has a strong committee structure that reflects its purposes and the issues facing its membership. The standing committees listed on the AAUP Web site are those on academic freedom and tenure; academic professionals; accreditation; college and university governance; economic status of the profession; government relations; graduate and professional students; historically Black institutions and scholars of color; professional ethics; retirement; sexual diversity and gender identity; teaching, research, and publication; and women in the academic profession. Three committees govern special funds, namely, those addressing academic freedom, contingent faculty, and legal defenses, that provide financial support, counseling assistance, and other services to support the AAUP’s purposes and policies. 

There are two advisory committees in the AAUP. The Academe committee advises on matters of the association’s magazine, while the litigation committee offers advice on the merits of AAUP amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” briefs that are submitted incident to litigation. In addition, AAUP business committees help to guide the organization’s business in areas involving investments, audits, nominations, elections, grievances, conferences, sanctions, and interorganizational relationships.

In 2008, the AAUP approved restructuring the organization into three entities to be known as the AAUP, the AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress (AAUP-CBC), and the AAUP Foundation (AAUP, 2008c). According to the AAUP Web site, this changes AAUP’s legal existence from a simple 501(C)(3) charitable organization to three conjoined legal entities: a Section 501(C)(3) public charity, a Section 501(C)(6) professional organization, and a Section 501(C)(5) union. In essence, this restructuring allows the AAUP to engage in moreintensive fund-raising, lobbying at all levels, program development, and union-related activities.

In its restructuring, the AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress became a separate entity with the purposes of developing and disseminating information and resources in support of collective bargaining (AAUP, 2008b). The AAUP-CBC promotes faculty governance, fair grievance procedures, and economic status of faculty and advances the standards that ensure the quality of American higher education.

As part of the restructuring, the AAUP established a nonprofit foundation for the purpose of accepting donations of money, property, or any other thing of value. Foundation monies are to be spent for educational and charitable purposes including, but not limited to, establishing and supporting principles of academic freedom and quality higher education (AAUP, 2008a).

Activities and Impact of the AAUP

From the beginning, the AAUP focused on the protection of academic freedom and tenure rights. In 1915, the year of its founding, Dewey appointed a committee of 15 to report on academic tenure and freedom. This was the first of 16 committees, with each given an alphabetical designation. Committee A was the committee on academic freedom and tenure. During its first year, five investigations of alleged violations of unjust dismissals were conducted under the purview of Committee A. The first investigations took place at the University of Utah, the University of Colorado, Wesleyan University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Montana. The policy report of Committee A included a general declaration of principles and a set of practical proposals. These investigations brought forth the issues of academic freedom, due process, tenure to protect freedom of inquiry and teaching, and the rights of professors to speak as citizens and as experts in the field, thus setting the future agenda for the fledging organization (Pollitt & Kurland, 1998).

The AAUP publishes Policy Documents and Reports (known as the Redbook), which contains the major policy statements of the association. The policy statements support the purposes of the organization and the issues confronting higher education, and they are highly regarded as respected sources on academic practice. The Redbook includes sections on academic freedom, tenure, and due process; college and university government; professional ethics; research and teaching; distance education and intellectual property; work and family; discrimination; retirement and leaves of absence; collective bargaining; college and university accreditation; and student rights and freedoms. These policy documents have been shown to have influence on college and university rules and procedures. An example is the language developed in the AAUP’s 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Trower (2005) reviewed 217 institutions’ employment policies in comparison to the recommended institutional regulations of the AAUP, which include the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure (AAUP, 2008e).This study found that 92% of the institutions have statements regarding academic freedom, and 48% of the institutions explicitly cite or quote the 1940 Statement (p. 34).

On the legislative front, the AAUP’s government relations office is active in monitoring legislation that challenges the academic freedom of faculty and the intrusion of government control of higher education. One particular issue criticized by the AAUP is the Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) proposed in nearly two dozen states since 2004. The AAUP’s position, as stated on the government relations portion of the association’s Web site, is that the ABOR is unnecessary, will compromise rather than enhance academic freedom, and at its core places academic content and faculty appointments with political officials. Currently, advocates of the ABOR are advancing intellectual diversity bills that are similar in context. Other areas of legislative priority for the AAUP are access and affordability of higher education, employee rights and employment conditions, international scholarship and national security, and funding for research.

Turning to the AAUP’s legal program, the organization monitors legal developments nationwide pertaining to higher education, presents workshops, and provides resources on areas such as affirmative action, faculty workload, defamation, intellectual property, tenure, educational malpractice, and grading, to name a few. Although the AAUP does not represent individual members, the organization does submit amicus briefs in keyappellate court cases. The cases for which the AAUP submits briefs generally involve issues of academic freedom, teaching, collective bargaining, faculty speech, institutional matters, publications, affirmative action, discrimination, and Internet and computer use. The AAUP has submitted amicus briefs in many notable cases, including University of Pennsylvania v. EEOC (1990), Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth (1972), Perry v. Sindermann (1972), Gratz v. Bollinger (2003), and Grutter v. Bollinger (2003).

Annually, individuals make more than 1,000 inquiries to the AAUP (2008d). Many of these grievances are resolved without the necessity of formal complaints. In extreme cases, the members of the AAUP’s professional staff may recommend the institutional officials conduct a formal investigation. Investigations are carried out by appointed members of faculties. Investigative reports from 1999 onward can be found on the AAUP’s Web site. If the AAUP’s membership is convinced that violations are flagrant and that an administration is not open to resolving the issues, they may vote at the annual meeting to censure an institution’s administration, not the institution as a whole. Censured administrations are listed by the AAUP on their Web site, and the list is published annually in Academe. Institutions may be removed from the censured list only by vote of the membership at the annual meeting. Members of the AAUP are encouraged to seek information on the conditions of academic freedom and tenure prior to accepting appointments at institutions with censured administrations.

The AAUP is recognized as the voice of higher education faculty and has a long history of advocacy. The association relies on its professional staff and the dedication and capacity of volunteer members to promote, protect, and advance academic freedom and shared governance and to define and promote essential standards to ensure quality higher education.

Darlene Y. Bruner

See also Unions on Campus; University of Pennsylvania v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Further Readings

  • AAUP. (2006). Constitution of the association. Retrieved November 13, 2008, from http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/about/bus/constitution.htm
  • AAUP. (2008a). Constitution of the AAUP Foundation. Academe, 94(2), 126–129.
  • AAUP. (2008b). Constitution of the Collective Bargaining Congress. Academe, 94(2), 120–125.
  • AAUP. (2008c). Information on restructuring. Retrieved November 14, 2008, from http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/about/Restruct
  • AAUP. (2008d). Protecting your rights. Retrieved November 3, 2008, from http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/protect 
  • AAUP. (2008e). 1940 statement of principles on academic freedom and tenure. Retrieved December 1, 2008, from http://www.aaup.org/NR/rdonlyres/EBB1B330- 33D3-4A51-B534-CEE0C7A90DAB/0/1940Statement ofPrinciplesonAcademicFreedomandTenure.pdf 
  • Pollitt, D. H., & Kurland, J. E. (1998). The AAUP’s first year. Academe, 84(4), 45–52. 
  • Trower, C. A. (2005). What is current policy? In R. P. Chait (Ed.), The questions of tenure (pp. 33–68). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Legal Citations

  • Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564 (1972).
  • Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244 (2003).
  • Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003).
  • Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593 (1972). 
  • University of Pennsylvania v. EEOC, 493 U.S. 182 (1990)