The AAUP’s Ludicrous Declaration

“This isn’t another message about higher education in crisis.This is a message about what higher education should be.” So reads the urgent email that faculty across the country received recently from the American Association of University Professors. A hundred years after the organization’s founding, the AAUP’s leaders are worried that people don’t understand what higher education is for and why it needs to be preserved. Too bad the AAUP don’t seem to understand, either.

The “Centennial Declaration” that they’re asking members to sign begins by noting that “the university is a public good, not a profit-making institution, and corporations or business interests should not dictate teaching or research agendas.” Of course, the idea that the university must remain independent of business interests isn’t new. Some of the earliest fights over academic freedom involved wealthy donors who didn’t want to see professors ranting against them in the classroom or in print. But much has changed since then. For one, there isn’t much daylight between a profit-making institution and a non-profit one that sits on an endowment of hundreds of millions of dollars.

There’s also the matter of the university as a public good. Even as the AAUP demands that universities keep or increase their share of public dollars and demand better working conditions for faculty—“University management should resist public education cutbacks”—professors demean the free enterprise system that makes public support (including private donations) possible. Not only do university faculty regularly indoctrinate their students with the notion that business is, well, a dirty business, they even seem averse to preparing their students for employment.

According to the AAUP leadership, “The main aims of teaching are the dissemination of knowledge and the fostering of creativity; learning is not just about developing ‘job skills.’” God forbid! Perhaps, though, one of the aims of teaching might be developing job skills? And by job skills, we mean not simply the ability to assemble PowerPoint presentations or compile spreadsheets, but the ability to read comprehensively, write coherently and calculate accurately. Because according to employers, plenty of kids don’t seem to be graduating from college with that bare minimum.

And it’s no wonder. Data from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) shows that more than half of seniors at public universities’ so-called flagship campuses do not complete a single extended, comprehensive writing assignment during the entirety of their senior year. About a third of these students spend ten hours or fewer each week studying or doing homework. According to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, over one-third of first-year college students report spending more hours each week under the influence of alcohol than preparing for class.

And let’s be clear: The faculty are responsible. Indeed, the perpetually partying students are all getting fine grades in their classes thanks to professors who’d rather not make waves by failing them.

In some ways, of course, the writers of the AAUP declaration pretend as if nothing has changed in the past century. “The main aim of research,” they write, “is to create new knowledge, and academic freedom is essential for the free search for truth and its free expression.” Similarly, the authors of the original 1915 AAUP Declaration of Principles noted that the original threats to academic freedom were “ecclesiastical” and later came from “vested interests,” that is, the businessmen who funded the universities. They’d didn’t imagine the threats that would come from within the university.

Nowhere in America is speech more stifled than on college campuses these days. As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education aptly explains, “Freedom of speech is under continuous threat at many of America’s campuses, pushed aside in favor of politics, comfort, or simply a desire to avoid controversy. As a result, speech codes dictating what may or may not be said, ‘free speech zones’ confining free speech to tiny areas of campus, and administrative attempts to punish or repress speech on a case-by-case basis are common today in academia.” And professors are just as culpable as administrators.

Meanwhile, universities seem to have strayed further and further from their original missions. While the AAUP still maintains that teaching and research are the primary functions of colleges, it is clear that research has far surpassed teaching in terms of the way it is rewarded in the academy. Moreover, the importance of both is being continuously diminished by other priorities. “After teaching and research, the third mission of universities is about engaging communities and addressing social disadvantage, and not just about ‘enterprise engagement’ or ‘economic development.’” When did addressing social disadvantage become the responsibility of university professors? And why, one might wonder, is that to be praised over (or even separated from) “economic development”?

The truth of the matter is that American professors have gotten themselves into this pickle. They have through their acceptance of lower standards and elimination of general education requirements made college education less rigorous, more obscure, and completely haphazard. The centennial declaration demands that faculty governance continue to be a “cornerstone” of any university. “The authority of faculty in hiring decisions, promotions, and curricular matters should not be compromised by donors, trustees, or administrators.” People might pay more attention to such demands if American professors hadn’t spent the last century squandering that responsibility.


  • James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley

    Mr. Piereson is the director of the Center for the American University at the Manhattan Institute. Ms. Riley is the author of “The Faculty Lounges… And Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Paid For.”

14 thoughts on “The AAUP’s Ludicrous Declaration

  1. “And let’s be clear: The faculty are responsible. Indeed, the perpetually partying students are all getting fine grades in their classes thanks to professors who’d rather not make waves by failing them.”

    I think it’s important not to exaggerate. The problems that Mr. Wilson discusses are real, but over-the-top claims such as that quoted destroy his credibility.

  2. I think one of the justifications for an extensive university system is it provides employment for those who might otherwise be wastrels or,at worst,footpads. Hat tip to Jack Vance(From his Lyonesse trilogy)

  3. “They have through their acceptance of lower standards and elimination of general education requirements…”

    Those steps were taken to accommodate leftist allies who promoted “diversity” and “inclusion” above the original goals of an institution of higher learning. Thus, administrators and professors collaborated in the destruction of the environment that makes a university worthwhile — or possible.

  4. Part of the problem is that in general research universities hire people for the research and teaching ability is not much of a criteria. So you end up with faculty who think their sole job is to do research and actually look down on those who teach, especially those who enjoy it. To get tenure research grants are key resulting in more and more faculty who can not teach, do not want to teach and make it very obvious. Administration just wants the bucks so they are active partners in this rip off of the students

    1. Old Guy:


      Another part of the problem is that a lot of this “research” that research faculty members are judged and promoted on, especially in the humanities, is complete bullsh*t.

      But there’s a tacit agreement to get along: “I won’t criticize your ‘expertise’ if you don’t criticize mind.” It’s a corrupt bargain, part and parcel of the decline in grading standards, since professors who have abandoned standards of scholarship in their own ‘fields’ find it easier not to hold students accountable either.

      1. That’s *Mister* Old Guy to you, young lady.

        And you misspelled “mine” as “mind”.

        Otherwise you are correct.

  5. Not 4 profit? University endowments and investment portfolios r bigger than most countries GDPs. Either b FREE or TAXED. Engage the middle class community by paying all outstanding student debt 4 overcharging. Address social disadvantage by refunding all tuition 4 useless, shoddy products that economically disadvantage the middle class.

    1. Mr. Wilson: I read your essay and the author’s essay and think they have made a much better case than you and without the sneering tone.

      The statistics are clear: Higher Ed’s costs have skyrocketed; the time to get a 4 year degree, if one even gets one, is stretching way beyond 4 years; and the basic job skills levels of the avg college graduate has declined.

      Higher education represents a significant investment of $’s and our student’s time; time that could have been spent working and developing job skills and making money instead of consuming money.

      The debt levels of our students coupled with many not being able to find good work that allows them to live and pay back their loans is a real drag on society, let alone on them.

      We own our country and our kids more. As a former HS math teacher, it pained me to see so much encouragement given to students of modest talent and ambition to go to college.

      As a taxpayer, I feel the # 1 priority of higher ed is to prepare students to be highly productive in the modern world.

      Working with corporations who hire our grads to see they are getting the right job skills should be a stressed. After all, those same skills are needed in just about any solid career, whether in government, the private economy, or academia.

      Disclosure. I have an advanced degree in Engr, have been a HS math teacher but never a member of academia.

    2. Wilson,

      The AAUP’s Centennial Declaration is most certainly not a “thoughtful set of ideals”. It is a white wash used by rapcious and cynical bureaucrats to flee from accountability. Higher education is the mess it is in because of the people who wrote the declaration you think is “thoughtful”. Anyone can write pretty sounding words about principles. However, the true measure of men is when comparing those pretty words to, you know, the actual actions of the people who wrote those pretty words.

      It is obvious that you believe more in sounding like a good person, rather than actually being a good person. It is equally obvious that the crisis in higher education is caused by the morally bankrupt people such as yourself.

    3. Mr. Wilson, I followed your link and read the AAUP Centennial Declaration. It is one of the most hypocritical things I have ever seen. It bears almost no relation to the current state of higher education, which has become highly politicized, opposes free expression, consciously avoids imposing standards, and in many fields denigrates those things that make a person truly educated. I have to assume that the people who wrote it are intelligent and have strong connections to universities, so the only conclusion I can draw is that they are lying and daring the rest of us to call them on it, confident that we won’t.

  6. “And why, one might wonder, is [addressing social disadvantage] to be praised over (or even separated from) “economic development”?”

    Because that’s the pet false dichotomy of the ‘left’ (or progressives or conservatives of communitarian bent &c), i.e. that “the profit motive” and “social justice” are destined to forever be antagonistic, competing concepts.

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