AAUP Blasts Climate for Academic Freedom at Savannah College of Art and Design

October 20, 2011

A new report by the American Association of University Professors details a series of negative events and a stifling climate for academic freedom at Savannah College of Art and Design that ultimately derailed the institution's recent efforts to end a nearly 20-year stint on the association's censure list.

Discussions between the AAUP and officials at the Georgia college, known as SCAD, about its efforts to be removed from the list had stalled for many years until last spring, when new SCAD administrators decided to work to resolve the issues the AAUP had raised, the report says. The censure, handed down in 1993, was in response to the college's dismissal of two faculty members without demonstrating cause and for what the AAUP said were academic-freedom violations against six faculty members whose reappointments the college denied.

Although the new administrators expressed a willingness to respond to the AAUP's recommendations—among them, agreeing to offer settlements to the faculty members whose cases had brought on the censure—the association's plan to visit SCAD in April to determine the status of academic freedom there appeared to trigger mistrust of the AAUP by SCAD administrators.

According to the report, which was released on Thursday, the administrators rescheduled the visit for the following month because of a scheduling conflict that involved SCAD's president, Paula S. Wallace. But days before the rescheduled visit was to take place, SCAD's provost, Tom Fischer, contacted the AAUP to relay Ms. Wallace's concerns that details of the visit would be made public, the report says. The college, on the advice of its general counsel, drafted an agreement for the AAUP staff's review that was "replete with conditions that the association could not possibly accept" so that the visit could take place, the report says.

The document called for the association to first remove SCAD from its censure list and take down the 1993 report on the institution's censure that is still available on the AAUP's Web site. The college also requested that it have "sole discretion" in setting the itinerary for the visitor from the AAUP, a proposal that was particularly troubling to the AAUP.

SCAD officials, according to the AAUP report, wanted to dictate where the AAUP visitor could go on the campus and whom he could interview for a report about the visit. Anything the visitor might write that fell outside of the topics for discussion that SCAD approved "was to have no effect on removing the censure," the association's report says.

The AAUP, in its report, says: "The administration's apparent zeal to control the content of a visitor's report about academic freedom ironically provided abundant evidence that the current climate at SCAD for academic freedom is sorely deficient."

Mr. Fischer explained to the AAUP that Ms. Wallace had sought such conditions because she still had bitter feelings about the student riots that took place at the institution 20 years ago, after the faculty members lost their jobs. According to the AAUP report, Mr. Fischer said Ms. Wallace believes the faculty members instigated students to commit acts of violence and she feared what those same faculty might do now.

After viewing a copy of the report before it was published, SCAD officials submitted a response to the AAUP that makes a resolution of the dispute seem unlikely. SCAD's vice president for academic services, Gokhan Ozaysin, wrote that the AAUP's report is "a one-sided and incomplete recitation of what occurred" and expressed disappointment that the new report had been made public.

"While we would have preferred to settle this matter," Mr. Ozaysin wrote, "we find that we can no longer engage in negotiations with your organization."