October 16, 2007

AAUP Shuts Down Professor Listserv

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Whoever thinks that all great minds think alike must be unaware of the conflicts among members of the American Association of University Professors.
The AAUP decided to close its listserv because of the malicious tone of the postings and recent “legal concerns” concerning “anonymous messages containing allegations against other members.”
The AAUP is committed to upholding the principles of free speech in all media. A report prepared by a subcommittee of the Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure addressed academic freedom with regard to electronic communication.
The report stated: “Such obvious differences between old and new media as the vastly greater speed of digital communication, and the far wider audiences that electronic messages may reach, would not, for example, warrant any relaxation of the rigorous precepts of academic freedom. The changes in medium, profound though they are, herald what may be even more basic changes, from familiar and tangible physical space to intangible virtual space.”
The recent events have shocked many people including Dean of University Faculty Charles Walcott Ph.D. ’59; he was surprised to hear of the recent problems facing an organization known for its free exchange of ideas.
“The AAUP is a group of faculty concerned about academic freedom and the fair treatment of faculty,” Walcott said.
“The nature of the association is that a faculty member files a complaint and then the group of faculty look for injustice. These recent events are not what I expected,” he said.
Even though the recent events of the AAUP may seem important to Cornell faculty, many professors are not members of the organization and are therefore unaware of the situation.
“AAUP membership has plummeted dramatically in recent years. I would be surprised if there were more than twenty members on the Cornell campus,” Walcott said.
Although a primary purpose of the AAUP has been to promote academic freedom, the focus of the organization has shifted over the years.
Ronald Ehrenberg, I.M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics, is an AAUP member.
“The AAUP grew up as a protector of academic freedom,” he said. “However, many of the things that they fought to protect became protected by the legal system. As a result, the Association got involved in other activities, such as releasing data on salaries of university professors as well as collective bargaining once legalized.”
Christine Liguori ’08 is troubled by the situation.
Not only does she find the AAUP’s actions ironic, but she also sees the main problem with the listserv’s shutdown to be the lack of information given to the association’s members.
“First of all, I believe that free speech should not be hindered, but encouraged,” Ligouri said. “Discontent causes progress. The way organizations improve is through criticism of their mistakes from which they are able to grow. Secondly, it does not seem wise to restrict the main listserv of an organization. Members of the Association from all over the nation use this as a source of information Cornell students have The Daily Sun to stay aware of current school events but the AAUP has blocked off this connection for its members.”
Amidst this scandal, Brandon Ng ’11 finds humor in the situation.
“Professors are some of the smartest people in the world,” Ng said. “I am confident that they will be able to resolve this.”