English Professor Affirms ALL Universities’ Accountability to the Public Good

THE General Body at Thursday's press conference.

THE General Body at Thursday’s press conference.

Dear Chancellor Syverud,

Moments of challenge to the status quo are the ones that test us.  I realize that you are in a difficult position, having been hired by the Board of Trustees, so you perhaps feel that your primary responsibility is to them, as a CEOs is to a corporate board (and to financial share-holders). This might make you hesitant about affirming student (or faculty or staff) challenges to directives you feel you were given by the Board— including, perhaps, to make “problems” such as student protests go away. But this understanding of governance is a misunderstanding imposed by the way that private universities are structured, not the only way of imagining how chancellors could or should lead.

As the AAUP Centennial Declaration underscores, universities — even private (non-profit) ones –have a primary responsibility to the public good, which means its “shareholders” cannot be understood to be primarily represented by the Board of Trustees.  Even though the Board of Trustees hired you, then, I hope that you will use your position to us to educate them, not to impose their dictates on us.  The values of open-ness, inclusion and transparency the student protesters affirm, after all, are the antithesis of the way the Board operates, and, apparently, what it encourages you to uphold.  In choosing between the two, the demands of eduction, justice and community point overwhelmingly in favor of the values visible in the student protest.

I hope that you will use the challenge offered by the student protest, then, as a chance to learn more about this community that you so recently entered, and take this knowledge to the Board so that SU can finally realize in its structure fully informed and truly shared governance.   I know that I have learned a lot from the students myself and am disappointed that you would use heavy-handed tactics to try to disburse them—such as attempting to ignore them to death, as well as delivering threatening letters to student leaders–rather then welcoming them as part of your own education and the eduction of the larger campus community, which should protect and nourish voices most in danger of marginalization, not seek to silence them.

Crystal Bartolovich

Associate Professor of English

I include the full AAUP Centennial Declaration I refer to above here for your reference:

  1. The university is a public good, not a private profit-making institution, and corporations or business interests should not dictate teaching or research agendas.
  2. The life of a university should reflect all dimensions of human endeavor and be built on the full and open participation of diverse faculty and students.
  3. The main aims of teaching are the dissemination of knowledge and the fostering of creativity; learning is not just about developing “job skills.”
  4. The main aim of research is to create new knowledge, and academic freedom is essential for the free search for truth and its free expression. Research is not just about enhancing the profit margins of corporations.
  5. After teaching and research, the third mission of universities is about engaging communities and addressing social disadvantage, and not just about “enterprise engagement” or “economic development.”
  6. All who work at universities are entitled to a dignified and collegial workplace free of surveillance and authoritarian dictates and to resist the degradation of their working conditions.
  7. Students are the next generation of enlightened and humane citizens, not just revenue streams or the bearers of collateral for unsustainable debt loads.
  8. Information and communications technologies are welcome tools for teaching and research but should not be used to impoverish the quality of education or reduce faculty-student contact time.
  9. University management should resist public education cutbacks and reverse the multiplying of senior management posts, many of which are unnecessary.
  10. Faculty shared governance is the cornerstone of any university that values teaching and research. The authority of faculty in hiring decisions, promotions, and curricular matters should not be compromised by donors, trustees, or administrators. Similarly, the faculty voice in budgeting, institutional planning, and other internal operations should not be marginalized.

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