A commitment from Purdue University faculty

Michael Berghoff, Chair of the Purdue University Board of Trustees

We, the undersigned, are Purdue University faculty. We come from Purdue’s West Lafayette, Northwest and Fort Wayne campuses. We have a variety of job titles -- from instructors and lecturers, to adjunct and visiting faculty, to senior tenured faculty -- but across these titles we are instructors of record in our courses. We are tenured, untenured, and nontenured. We teach lecture courses, laboratory courses, capstone courses, language courses, flipped classes, field work classes, student practicums, clinical courses, and more. We teach in lecture halls, chemistry and biology laboratories, maker spaces, computer labs, libraries, clinics, performance spaces, online spaces, and so many other types of spaces on our campus.

We are professionals, and we are experts in our disciplines.

We assert our right to design our course content and mode of instruction as best meets the needs of our students. Our courses are part of curricula overseen by faculty in our schools, programs, or other formal faculty bodies. Administrations set the times and locations of instruction, and the limits of safety;  faculty are responsible for determining how, within those constraints, to use that time and space.

We understand our collective need to find safe ways to educate students, at exceptionally high quality, to make a residential education valuable in all circumstances, including in a time of COVID-19. We are eager to have our students in our classrooms again, when it is safe to do so. For some of us, it may be safe now, or it will be soon.

But for some of us, we judge that our students will learn better in a time of COVID-19 using online platforms that we select, using tools we have chosen, through designs we have built, and assessed by means we adopt. That decision is ours as the instructor of record. The quality of the teaching that we design is judged by our faculty peers, not by the administration, and is improved year to year through student feedback.

We assert this right to academic freedom here publicly because of our duty to the University. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) describes academic freedom as “essential to these purposes and applies to both teaching and research. Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth. Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning. It carries with it duties correlative with rights.” As such, AAUP states, “[t]eachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject [...].” Purdue’s policy B-48, on “Principles and Policies for Academic Freedom, Responsibilities and Tenure, and Procedures for Termination of Faculty Appointments for Cause” is grounded in this AAUP statement, stating “A faculty member shall have freedom in the classroom in discussing his/her subject [...].”

Our responsibility for determining the content and mode of our teaching is obligated by AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, made jointly with the American Council on Education and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (Purdue University is a member of both). We quote the Statement on Government, with our emphasis:

“The faculty has primary responsibility for such fundamental areas as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process. On these matters the power of review or final decision lodged in the governing board or delegated by it to the president should be exercised adversely only in exceptional circumstances, and for reasons communicated to the faculty. [...] The faculty sets the requirements for the degrees offered in course, determines when the requirements have been met, and authorizes the president and board to grant the degrees thus achieved. [...] The primary responsibility of the faculty for such matters is based upon the fact that its judgment is central to general educational policy.”

Our faculty representative body is the University Senate.  The Senate as a body has not been asked to consider any legislation regarding COVID-19-related modifications. Instead, the Board of Trustees votes on proposals directly brought by Purdue's administration. Such proposals should have involved joint action, requiring formal agreement by the representative body of the faculty, the University Senate, as well as other components of the institution.  

We remind the Board about the limits of their decision-making. The Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities states (with our emphasis):

"The governing board of an institution of higher education, while maintaining a general overview, entrusts the conduct of administration to the administrative officers—the president and the deans—and the conduct of teaching and research to the faculty. The board should undertake appropriate self-limitation."

We write together here to ask the Board to require that Purdue's administration take joint actions with the Senate, rather than relying on weak forms of shared governance of only discussion or consultation with faculty.  We urge Purdue's administration to publicly demonstrate their commitment to shared governance as we move forward with decisions regarding modes of instruction during COVID-19 by formally engaging with the Senate in undertaking joint action at a minimum.

We are committed to protect our students’ learning and well-being in a time of COVID-19 based on our expertise in our discipline and our obligation as instructors of record, within the health requirements set by our University, as part of our commitment to academic freedom. We will act in solidarity to protect these foundational principles on which universities are established.

Petition by
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Purdue University, IN

To: Michael Berghoff, Chair of the Purdue University Board of Trustees
From: [Your Name]

We write to you to publicly assert our duty to determine the content and mode of instruction for our courses. We understand the Board of Trustees has made various authorizations regarding mode of instruction in this time of COVID-19. These authorizations should have been made at least jointly with the University Senate, given that "faculty have primary responsibility for such fundamental areas as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction," as stated in the AAUP Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, jointly formulated with the American Council on Education and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (of each of the latter two organizations Purdue is a member). But these decisions were not taken as joint actions with the University Senate, the representative faculty body.

It is perhaps understandable how decisions back in March were made without formal agreement with the Senate. But this explanation no longer holds for recent decisions, given the comparatively long lead time before the fall semester starts.

We respectfully ask that the Board of Trustees require the administration engage in joint action with the Senate when it comes to matters of teaching and research.