1. Founding and early decades (1916-1949)

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)

At the beginning of the 1967-68 academic year, one of Whitman College’s most esteemed faculty members, Thomas D. Howells (1938-77), invited his colleagues to join the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).  Noting that the AAUP is the “largest and most influential professional association of college and university teachers and researchers,” Howells wrote:

The work of the Whitman Chapter has given a local emphasis to the principles which the Association supports: academic freedom and tenure; acceptable practices in appointments, reappointments, evaluation, and promotion; the improvement of the economic status of the profession; faculty participation in college government; and the assurance of an effective role for the faculty in the determination and pursuit of institutional objectives. At Whitman the Chapter has had an important role in obtaining the tenure system; the procedures used in appointments, reappointments, and promotions; the organization of the faculty; the sabbatical program; tuition grants for children of faculty members; summer study and research grants; allowances for travel; and other programs for the benefit of the profession.

On behalf of his fellow chapter officers, Robert Blumenthal and G. Thomas Edwards, Howells closed his letter by emphasizing that “Whitman has a long and sturdy tradition of academic freedom,” and to “this tradition the Chapter gives its constant support.”

What Howells did not say in this letter was that the AAUP chapter at Whitman was one of the earliest to be formed in the nation. One year after its founding in 1915, guided by its first president, John Dewey, the AAUP initiated a campaign to attract new members. The chair of the committee formed for this purpose, Professor Frederick Padelford at the University of Washington, sent to Professor Louis Anderson at Whitman a letter inviting him to submit his own name as well as that of other colleagues for consideration as members. That letter, dated October 26, 1916, predicted that over time the AAUP “will profoundly influence the cause of higher education.” As evidence of work already accomplished by the fledgling organization, Padelford cited its recent report regarding “the troubles at Utah.” Authored by Dewey, Edwin Seligman, Arthur Lovejoy, Roscoe Pound, and others, this report was prepared following an inquiry into the 1915 dismissal of faculty members at the University of Utah who, in one case, had been charged by its president with speaking disrespectfully about the chair of the board of regents and, in another, with speaking in “a depreciatory manner” about the administration. The AAUP’s detailed inquiry into this matter anticipated and exemplified its subsequent efforts to affirm the institution of tenure and, in doing so, to safeguard faculty from arbitrary dismissal based on grounds unrelated to professional competence.

Acting on Padelford’s invitation, on December 12, 1916, Professor Anderson convened a group of Whitman College faculty members who agreed to submit their names for election as AAUP members and, if approved, to consider formation of a “unit” of the association. Among the 347 nominees listed in the final 1916 issue of the AAUP’s national publication, in addition to Anderson (Greek), other Whitman faculty included Walter Bratton (Mathematics), Howard Brode (Biology), William Lyman (History), and Edward Ruby (Latin).  Their election was formally announced in the January 1917 issue of the AAUP Bulletin in addition to new members from major universities, including Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Cornell, Princeton, Columbia, Chicago, Berkeley, and Wisconsin, as well as other renowned liberal arts colleges, including Amherst, Haverford, Colorado, Bryn Mawr, Lafeyette, Oberlin, Mount Holyoke, Reed, Swarthmore, Union, and Wesleyan.

No official record of a campus chapter appears until 1922 when the May issue of the Bulletin announced the election of officers on several campuses, including, at Whitman, Anderson as president and Brode as secretary. This issue, which includes news from other chapters, indicates the ongoing salience of issues concerning tenure and academic freedom. For example, the Clark University chapter reported on the controversy that erupted when its president, after approving a campus talk by noted economist, Scott Nearing, dismissed those in attendance on the ground that Clark “undergraduates were too immature to be allowed to listen” to his radical views. Similarly, the Dartmouth chapter reported on recent “attacks on the teaching of evolution now being made by members of the Fundamentalist movement” and, in response, its decision “to put itself on record as unalterably opposed to any action by ecclesiastical or other authority, whether duly constituted or not, which shall hinder the search for truth or restrict the freedom of teaching.”

This issue of the Bulletin also indicates that important but less charged issues of academic policy were considered by AAUP chapters around the United States. For example, the group at Harvard announced the university’s adoption of a policy requiring all seniors except those concentrating in mathematics and the natural sciences to pass comprehensive examinations in their major fields of study (a policy that Whitman College was the first in the nation to adopt for all seniors in 1914). The chapter at what was then called the Massachusetts State University reported on the state legislature’s creation of a commission “to report upon the opportunities and provision for technical and higher education within the Commonwealth.” And the University of Minnesota chapter reported on several cost-cutting measures under consideration, including the possible elimination of recently created academic departments.

At Whitman, chapter minutes indicate the fairly regular conduct of monthly meetings, especially following the addition of nine new members in 1925 (including Chester Maxey who, as president of the College from 1948 to 1959, would play an unintended but key role in prompting the chapter’s growth during his term). Typically held in faculty members’ homes and including a social hour, these meetings were most often devoted to discussion of general questions pertaining to higher education in the United States and their implications for Whitman. To cite a few, topics included the value of the lecture as a pedagogical method, intercollegiate athletics, extra-curricular activities, and the admission and retention of students. That at least some of these discussions served as tentative steps toward what would eventually come to be known as “shared governance,” in which faculty oversee the structure of the academic program and play a central role in shaping other elements of college policy that affect that program, is suggested by the chapter’s consideration of the relationship between faculty and the board of trustees, the financial standing of the college, and recommendations advanced by then President Penrose concerning the curriculum and the conduct of student examinations.

Occasionally, though, the Whitman chapter would weigh in on national controversies. For example, throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the AAUP was repeatedly asked to conduct inquiries into alleged violations of academic freedom and due process in sanctioning faculty members. One of the more controversial investigations occurred in 1929 following dismissal of one University of Missouri faculty member and the suspension of a second without pay for their role in distribution of a student-initiated survey that posed questions about divorce, birth control, and infidelity in relation to “the traditional system of marriage in this country.” The AAUP committee formed to review this matter concluded that the disciplinary actions taken by the university violated the principles of freedom of teaching and research as well as the security of tenure, and it argued that prospective faculty members would be well-advised to decline offers of appointment at Missouri. Anticipating what in time would become the AAUP’s censure list, one member of that committee, Louis Thurstone, proposed that Missouri be “stricken from the colleges acceptable to the American Association of University Professors.” Soon after, a second faculty member, R.W. Gerard, proposed that the AAUP establish an academic freedom fund in order to cover on a temporary basis the salaries of faculty members whose dismissals, following an appropriate inquiry, were found unjustified.

Although sympathetic in principle, following extended discussion, the AAUP’s executive council rejected the proposals advanced by Thurstone and Gerard, but concluded that chapters should be invited to comment on them. On March 18, 1930, the Whitman College AAUP chapter met to do so. That meeting’s minutes summarize this discussion as follows:

The members of the chapter were unanimous in their feeling that both of these proposals were unwise. They felt that the Association should stand for permanency of tenure for well qualified men. It cannot defend every man regardless of his fitness for the position. The members feel that the dignified and thorough investigation of the cases, together, with the publication of the results, is as much as we can do at the present time, and that such work will accomplish very much along the line of improving conditions of tenure in the universities and colleges.

In offering this response, the Whitman chapter effectively affirmed tenure as the most effective mechanism for protecting academic freedom, but echoed the executive committee’s concern that recourse to something akin to formal censure might endanger the AAUP’s public stature. Just five years later, however, the AAUP published a document titled Institutions Removed from the Eligible List, and, in 1938, it explained that this list would be issued each year for the “sole purpose of informing Association members, the profession at large, and the public that unsatisfactory conditions of academic freedom have been found to prevail at these institutions.”