A.A.U.P. Illinois Letter to National A.A.U.P.: Mehrene Larudee Tenure Case

A.A.U.P.  ILL carefully researched the Mehrene Larudee tenure case and sent this letter to the national office of the American Association of University Professors. They responded with a decision not to convoke a Committee A investigation of DePaul University’s denial of tenure to Mehrene Larudee.

Professor Larudee was denied tenure, along with the courageous scholar and humanitarian Doctor Norman Finkelstein, at DePaul University in 2007. There were a series of due process violations that were egregiously inconsistent with national standards of transparency and review. Also it appeared to many that Dr Larudee was denied tenure due to a vengeful retribution for her support of Dr Finkelstein’s academic freedom and application for promotion and tenure.  Dr Larudee’s appointment as chair of the International Studies Department had been approved and was abruptly aborted just days before assuming that position when she was denied tenure in an academic auto-da-fé .

Professor Mehrene Larudee

It is essential that national organisations devoted to academic freedom and due process in promotion and tenure cases assert themselves in a manner that protects the persecuted and not exercise undue caution when careers and explicit A.A.U.P. policies and documents are being violated indiscriminately. If A.A.U.P. is to reverse its slide into both financial and policy decline, it should investigate cases particularly when one of its largest and most active state conferences presents a recommendation. An investigation does not preclude a finding in favour of a university’s decision; the absence of an investigation altogether is suggestive of an inconsistent pro-faculty advocacy and a lack of sensitivity to the academic freedom and academic due process crises at DePaul University which gripped the nation last year and has yet to receive formal A.A.U.P. investigatory intervention. 

Professor Kirstein is Vice President of the American Association of University Professors, Illinois Conference. If this post, or any excerpt, is carried by a third party, kindly cite  or link its source:

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Dr. Ernie Benjamin, General Secretary
AAUP  Suite 500
1012 14th St., NW
Washington, D.C. 20005

 11/4/08

Dear General Secretary Benjamin:

The Illinois Conference of the American Association of University Professors would like to comment further on recent correspondence between a conference Committee A member, you, and Robert Kreiser. The full Council has given this matter much thought. We have been round and round as to how best to handle the situation. We feel strongly that the treatment of Professor Mehrene Larudee has been inconsistent with  DePaul’s own policies, and raises troublesome questions about both due process and academic freedom.   As you will remember from our past correspondence with Mr. Kreiser, the Illinois State AAUP Council requested to have AAUP National initiate a Committee A investigation on behalf of Professor Mehrene Larudee to address her June 2007 tenure denial. It is our understanding that it has been concluded that further action on Larudee’s case is not appropriate because your office “did not find sufficient grounds under [its] policies for [it] to reopen the matter.”

Because we feel strongly that the matter is so egregious and charged we are asking you to review this letter and reconsider your conclusion that DePaul’s University Board on Promotion and Tenure (UBPT) is not required to provide the candidate or anyone with an explanation in those cases where it exercises an independent judgment, and in the process ignores or overrules the decision of the lower levels of review (department, college personnel committee, and dean). It appears to us that the AAUP National Office is overlooking a serious discrepancy in due process in Professor Larudee’s case, a discrepancy which diminishes faculty governance, and ultimately threatens academic freedom. We are here focusing on “departmental review.”

As we read the applicable documents the necessity of preserving the primacy of departmental review is clearly articulated on p. 3 of the Evaluation section of DePaul’s faculty handbook:

Decisions subsequent to that made at the initial level shall consider the method and care of  application of the approved standards by the lower level unit(s), including matters of stringency, consistency, and fairness, in addition to any unusual implications the decision may have at the college/school or university level. Only in cases where lower level decisions are judged to be deficient in significant respects shall upper level units make their own application of the substantive criteria of the candidate’s scholarly or artistic area. {Emphasis added.}

Section V of DePaul University’s Faculty Handbook (“Evaluation of Faculty”) affirms the primacy of the faculty in the home unit (i.e., department, program, college) with respect to developing guidelines and criteria for faculty peer review. As this section explains:

The determination that an individual meets these criteria is made primarily on the basis of guidelines promulgated by the candidate’s department or – in the absence of departmental structures – by the college or school, which state what is to be expected of faculty with regard to the above areas. These guidelines are to be informed by criteria specific to that unit’s professional discipline, field or interdisciplinary area. The academic unit employs these guidelines only after they have been approved as being consistent with the general university criteria stated in this Faculty Handbook (following section). The University Board on Faculty Promotion and Tenure, consisting of representatives from the colleges or schools appointed by the Faculty Council, shall be responsible for making these determinations (3).

Indeed, primary review responsibilities reside with the departmental unit of the candidate. When a higher-level review committee chooses to exercise its independent judgment in a tenure and promotion case, departing from the clear views of a candidate’s department, college personnel committee, and Dean without explanation, then a serious threat is posed to academic freedom and due process. If this higher-level committee is not held accountable for its decision-making and does not provide a written and clear rationale for its decision not to follow the recommendations of the lower levels, a university administration can use this committee as a “gatekeeping” chamber through which to create a pretext for the termination of dissenting scholars or scholars pursuing controversial lines of inquiry.

Furthermore, according to p. 2 of the LA&S Taskforce Report on Academic Freedom and Shared Governance, a candidate’s department is supposed to have “primary authority to develop guidelines and further explicate these criteria that meet university approval.” It must not be National’s position that the UBPT can simply arbitrarily cast aside affirmative recommendations of lower levels of review without explaining how these lower-level assessments were “deficient in significant respects.” The UBPT could conceivably be influenced by the administration to reject the candidacies of those faculty members it does not like, irrespective of their credentials and accomplishments, without having to explain how the primary levels of review were “deficient in significant respects.” Disciplinary expertise and the ability to assess this expertise reside with the candidate’s department with one’s professional peers.

If this is not a guiding assumption of the tenure and promotion process, the concept of shared governance itself is in real jeopardy. It seems utterly inconsistent with basic practices of transparency and due process when a faculty member is not informed of how the lower levels of review were “deficient in significant respects”; essentially denying the candidate an explanation about why she did not meet the requisite standards for tenure and promotion. Indeed, the DePaul LA&S Taskforce on Academic Freedom and Shared Governance states that:

[T]hese upper-level review committees (at the college and university levels) should be required to submit formal reports which indicate the bases for agreement or disagreement with the recommendations of the home unit(s). These reports will also provide the foundation for any rebuttal on the part of the candidate, the home unit, or mid-level review committee (when appropriate) (9).

Indeed, if the candidate is not provided with the UBPT’s rationale for rejecting the recommendations of lower levels of review, she is not being afforded the opportunity to rebut the UBPT’s reasoning in an appeal situation. You will remember that DePaul University initially denied Professor Larudee the opportunity of an appeal in the summer of 2007, but then reversed this position after National got involved.

Professor Larudee received unanimous lower-level support for her tenure and promotion and was shortly to assume the chair of the International Studies Program. A significant event, that may explain DePaul University’s sudden withdrawal of support for Dr. Larudee’s tenure application, was Dr. Larudee’s courageous advocacy for the granting of tenure and promotion to Dr. Norman Finkelstein. After receiving strong departmental and college committee support, Dr. Finkelstein subsequently was not recommended for tenure or promotion by College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Charles Suchar due to his alleged deficiency in “Vincentian Personalism” and a style of scholarly rhetoric “inconsistent with DePaul’s institutional mission.” While recognizing that DePaul and Dr. Finkelstein settled their dispute in 2007, there was a sharp contrast between Dean Suchar’s letter of March 17, 2007, which supported Professor Larudee for tenure, and President Reverend Dennis Holtschneider’s June 8, 2007 denial of tenure letter. Between the writing of the two letters, Professor Mehrene Larudee publicly defended Dr. Finkelstein’s academic freedom and challenged the administration to grant it. We believe this situation is also probative in addition to the due process failings of the UBPT.

The State Council of the Illinois Conference has serious concerns about the lack of due process afforded Dr. Mehrene Larudee in her tenure and promotion process in 2007, and requests that AAUP reassess its decision not to conduct a Committee A investigation. We feel that this situation both procedurally and in the context of what was going on at the University at the time illustrates the kind of context in which tenure and promotion decisions are most likely to be inconsistent with academic freedom. We all know how easy it can be to rationalize away or disguise the real reasons for decisions. We have carefully studied this matter and we feel that closing the book on it without a thorough and complete investigation is to let stand what we believe to be an egregious violation of fair treatment of a faculty member. We hope your further consideration of this will result in further investigation.

Respectfully,

Jerry Kendall

President Illinois Conference

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