4. Academic freedom, faculty compensation, and sabbaticals (1952-1978)

by Timothy V. Kaufman-Osborn
August 13, 2016

Table of Contents

  1. Founding and early decades (1916-1949)
  2. “The Tenure War” (1949-1952)
  3. The aftermath of “The Tenure War”
  4. >> Academic freedom, faculty compensation, and sabbaticals (1952-1978)
  5. Reviving the Whitman chapter (2016-present)

Beyond questions of tenure, faculty evaluation, and dismissal, the two and a half decades immediately following “The Tenure War” represented the most active in the chapter’s history.

Indeed, in 1965, of 81 faculty members on the College’s payroll, 45 names were submitted to the national office as chapter members. Of particular note during this period is the chapter’s work in the areas of academic freedom, faculty compensation, and sabbatical leaves.

With respect to academic freedom, in 1964, on behalf of the Washington State Conference of the AAUP, the Whitman chapter submitted the following statement to the Faculty Council for its consideration and endorsement:

A university by its very nature cannot pay lip service to the concept of freedom of expression and then deny persons with whom it is in sharp disagreement the opportunity of giving expression to their views. In order that members of the college or university community may participate meaningfully in the affairs and problems of society at all levels, they should be allowed to hear all significant points of view. It should be remembered that a policy which extends the right of freedom of expression to some and denies it to others puts an institution in the positon of endorsing the views and past records of those who are permitted so speak. Therefore, the Washington State Conference of the American Association of University Professors makes these statements:

  1. Any faculty or recognized student group may invite to its campus any speaker the group would like to hear.
  2. The appearance of an invited speaker on the campus does not involve an endorsement, either implicit or explicit, of his views by the institution, its faculty, its administration, or its governing board.

Later that year, the Council voted to recommend this statement to the entire faculty and, once approved by that body, to the Board of Trustees.

At its December 4, 1964 meeting, the Board endorsed these two principles, but, in doing so, it stated that its dedication to academic freedom is qualified by belief that “this freedom implies the concept of responsibility in the exercise thereof.” This linkage of academic freedom to the category of responsibility was also apparent in the Faculty Handbook at the time. In a communication to the national office of the AAUP, in his capacity as chapter president, Howells quoted the 1964 edition as follows:

The subject of academic freedom always has been one of concern in education. The fact that its advocates universally have not been concerned with academic responsibility does not diminish the validity of the concept of academic freedom.

Academic freedom relates to the exercise of the scholar’s competence. It does not extend to all other acts and opinions of those engaged in scholarly activities. In non-scholarly areas the same civil liberties as well as moral and legal standards of the environment apply to those engaged in academic pursuits as to the general population.

With the above in mind it is important to state that Whitman College stands firmly for the free search for truth and its free exposition, believing that the common good thereby is best served. Academic freedom in its teaching, research and publication aspects is fundamental in the accomplishment of the aims of this institution. It is therefore expected that those engaged in academic activities will conduct themselves in ways that will promote the achievement of the purposes for which academic freedom exists, for in so doing they will be furthering the goals of the College and its obligations toward its students.

In his letter to the national office, Howells expressed his view that this policy is “out of date,” although, in this context, he did not indicate the reason for that judgment.

The basis for Howell’s conclusion can be inferred from a carefully-reasoned resolution he advanced for consideration by the campus chapter at its meeting on January 20, 1965. The resolution’s express purpose was to address the contention that the protections of academic freedom are contingent on its “responsible” exercise. It begins by affirming that within the context of a college or university academic freedom “is the freedom of the person engaged in academic pursuits to engage autonomously in them within the limits of his own conscience.” Granted, this entails a “decent respect” for the legitimate standards of professional academic inquiry. But, the resolution continues, such respect is not to be confused with the scholar’s “deference to the opinions of his colleagues in these pursuits.” This same distinction between respect and deference applies to all “academic affairs,” which, according to the resolution, encompasses not just scholarship and publication of its results, but also teaching as well as “issues and concerns of educational policy and the general conduct of academic institutions.” By thus extending this distinction’s scope, the resolution makes clear that academic freedom encompasses the freedom to question and criticize institutional policy as well as decisions made by college officials at any level.

The resolution then takes up the thorny issue of what the AAUP, in its 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, labeled “extramural utterance and action,” i.e., speech and expressive conduct outside the academy about matters of public concern. On this matter, the resolution states: “In the realm of public affairs as distinguished from specifically academic affairs, the academic person should have the full liberty and the full responsibility of the citizen, without carrying into his activity in this realm either the special privilege of academic freedom or the special burden of academic responsibility.” In other words, within the public arena, the academic speaks as nothing more than but also nothing less than any other citizen. Indeed, the belief that faculty members, in addressing matters of public concern, are somehow specially constrained in virtue of their status as academics will not advance the common good, for this will leave the arena “of public discussion open to the less inhibited and less restrained conduct of citizens who are under no such special obligation.” Within this realm, as within the academy, “a decent respect for the opinions of others should be the ideal,” but “responsibility in this area of citizenship should not be equated with conformity to the views of either majorities or minorities.” (Here the resolution echoes the AAUP’s 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which defends extramural utterance as an articulation of academic freedom, but encourages faculty members to “show respect for the opinions of others” and “make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”)

Turning next to the question of what sort of discipline or sanction, if any, academics should be subject to in response to “extramural utterances,” the resolution draws another important distinction. Specifically, when addressing “concerns of citizenship,” if a faculty member “is subjected to undue coercion or unwarranted reprisal by non-academic authorities or agencies, it is not his academic freedom but his civil liberty which has been affected.” Here, the protections but also the constitutionally-permissible limits on the liberties affirmed in the First Amendment and relevant Supreme Court rulings obtain; and so, in this regard, the principle of academic freedom provides faculty members no special privileges in the exercise of civil liberties. However, if a faculty member is subject to unjustified coercion or reprisal by college or university officials in response to statements made as a citizen, “then his academic freedom has been violated to the extent that his academic status has been affected by a violation of academic due process by academic authorities.” In this regard, the principle of academic freedom immunizes faculty from disciplinary action imposed by administrative officials or governing bodies in response to words spoken and deeds undertaken as citizens. Although not as fully- elaborated as it might be, the implicit claim here appears to anticipate the AAUP’s definitive interpretation of the 1940 Statement. As formulated in 1970, that interpretation declares that “a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness for his or her position,” and, equally important, that respect for academic due process entails that assessments of competence should be rendered by one’s peers on the basis of appropriate professional criteria.

Archival records do not indicate the fate of this resolution. However, the College’s adherence to academic freedom, and specifically the AAUP’s understanding of this principle, was effectively affirmed in 1970 when President Donald Sheehan wrote a letter in order to correct preliminary results generated by the AAUP’s nationally-distributed Questionnaire on Faculty Participation in College and University Governance. Responses to that survey had led the Washington, D.C. office to conclude that Whitman was not fully committed to the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Explaining why that conclusion was mistaken, Sheehan wrote:

Whitman College has a long history of action in support of academic freedom, as well as the promulgation of statements in support of academic freedom. The College has welcomed speakers of the most varied persuasions, defended the freedom of the student newspaper, defended the freedom of Faculty to participate as they see fit in community and national affairs, has hired Faculty members during the 1950s who refused to testify before the Senate investigating committee [i.e., the subcommittee that conducted hearings on alleged Communist infiltration in the United States], et. cetera. I, myself, in the last two years have made public statements in the context of these earlier positions on such matters as freedom of the student press, and freedom of students and faculty to invite guest speakers to the campus. The Board of Trustees has gone on record in support of academic freedom on a number of occasions over the years.

Absent the work of the Whitman chapter, it is unlikely that Sheehan would have been in a positon to make this claim, and it is virtually certain that the current Faculty Code would not include, as it does, the following statement: “All members of the faculty, whether on appointment with continuous tenure or not, are entitled to academic freedom as set forth in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure and additions and amendments thereto formulated by the American Association of University Professors.”

During the decades following “The Tenure War,” a second issue on which the Whitman AAUP chapter was more or less continuously heard was that of faculty compensation. As early as 1948, the chapter affirmed that faculty salaries should be “the most important item” in the college’s budget and that most of its members at that time lived on “a marginal level of subsistence.” (This is perhaps not altogether hyperbolic given that for decades, as Edwards reports, faculty members would often supplement their Whitman salaries during the summer months by working the pea and wheat harvests). Especially in the 1960s and early 1970s, using national data collected annually by the AAUP, the chapter regularly issued comparisons of Whitman’s median salaries at different ranks with those at similar colleges. In making the case for more competitive salaries, the chapter cited not just issues of morale, which it argued had a bearing on the faculty’s commitment to the College and so the quality of its instruction, but also on its ability to compete effectively with other institutions in its efforts to “attract and retain a superior faculty.”

In addition, the chapter challenged the discretionary authority of the president who unilaterally determined starting salaries as well as increases for continuing faculty members. That such decisions were often made arbitrarily was effectively acknowledged by President Maxey who, in a 1957 letter, indicated that the basis for his salary determinations relied “almost entirely from hearsay” secured from “students, parents, faculty colleagues, alumni, townspeople, and many others.” It is within this context that one should understand the chapter’s 1965 proposal to adopt a system of “uniform raises on the basis of years of service, rank, and positon within rank, regardless of department.” On this proposal, a “floor” and a “ceiling” would be established at each rank, with a “normal yearly increment” based on number of years within any given rank. Merit increases would be made possible by allowing faculty members to skip one or more gradations within any given rank or, in case of “lack of adequate performance,” to be held at their current rate of compensation. This proposal was advanced to the Overseers-Trustees Committee on Faculty Salaries; and, for a number of years, employing AAUP data as its benchmark, a “step system” was employed at Whitman in determining initial salaries as well as annual increments.

Finally, following several years of discussion, in 1961, the chapter advanced a detailed proposal to create a sabbatical leave program. The need for such a program was justified through reference to the geographical isolation of the College, which “makes the inflow of fresh ideas a very difficult objective to achieve.” In addition, the proposal cited the need of faculty members to participate in disciplinary associations and thereby keep “awake in their own field.” And, lastly, it noted the importance of encouraging Whitman faculty to undertake “creative endeavors in every field of learning,” especially those that are of such scope that they cannot be completed during the academic year or the summer. In addition to suggesting eligibility criteria, a process for reviewing leave requests, and predictions about the number of persons who would utilize this opportunity, the proposal recommended that faculty members be authorized to apply either for a full-year sabbatical at half salary or for a single-semester sabbatical at full pay. With the support of President Perry, a program largely consistent with that advanced by the chapter was approved by the Board of Trustees and first made available to the faculty during the 1962-63 academic year.

Other actions taken during this era included the adoption of resolutions or the advancement of proposals to ensure faculty participation in the selection of Whitman presidents; to establish criteria for the selection of faculty deans; to add faculty representatives to the Board of Trustees; to enable all faculty in their first year of employment to participate in TIAA-CREF; to reduce the teaching load to a maximum of twelve hours per week; to create a tuition exchange program for the children of Whitman faculty; and to require that faculty-approved student organizations remove provisions from their governing documents that denied membership on the basis of race, color, or religion. That the chapter’s influence was considerable during this period is suggested by announcement of its work for several years at regularly-scheduled faculty meetings.

In the Whitman archives, the last document indicating chapter activity during this period is a November 6, 1978 memorandum inviting all faculty members to participate in a discussion of “affirmative action relative to women and minorities on the faculty.” Some have speculated that the chapter’s decline after this time may have been caused by its own success insofar as many of its most important goals, whether with respect to the adoption of a tenure policy, securing appropriate criteria and processes for faculty evaluation, ensuring the College’s commitment to academic freedom, and improving faculty salaries, had been realized. That noted, it was also in 1978 that one of the more emphatic testaments to the AAUP’s role in College affairs was advanced by the chair of the Board of Trustees following final resolution of a difficult faculty termination case. This controversial matter came to a close when the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the College in its actions had conformed to the due process procedures advanced by the AAUP and formally incorporated into the Whitman Faculty Code. In a statement issued shortly after the Court announced its decision, Baker Ferguson acknowledged that, however “expensive in time and effort,” adherence to these procedures is “an inevitable concomitant of a system designed with the deliberate primary objective of affording faculty members extensive protections of due process in such exigencies.” Whitman’s endorsement of that objective, Ferguson closed, “mirrors the devotion of the College to AAUP principles.”