AAUP Urges Resistance to Confidentiality Demands in Shared Governance

December 12, 2012

The American Association of University Professors plans to urge faculty members to resist being bound by pledges of confidentiality as a condition for involvement in shared governance at their colleges.

In a draft statement released on Wednesday for public comment, the AAUP's Committee on College and University Governance tells faculty members on most college committees to insist that anyone calling for their confidentiality "demonstrate that the need for secrecy outweighs the need for transparency." Except in the case of committees dealing with personnel matters, the statement says, requirements that faculty members pledge confidentiality as a precondition for participation are "incompatible with widely accepted standards of shared governance."

The statement says the association has received an increasing number of complaints from faculty members whose service on institutional governance bodies was conditioned on their pledging confidentiality and, in some cases, signing formal confidentiality agreements. It calls on faculty senates or similar faculty bodies to establish standards of conduct that require faculty representatives on college committees to keep other faculty members informed.

College administrations can make a compelling case for requiring confidentiality in the early stages of searches for new presidents and other chief academic officers, the statement says. But, it argues, such searches should have an open final phase "that allows individual faculty members as well as faculty bodies to review the credentials of finalists, ask questions, and share opinions before a final decision is made."

Ada Meloy, general counsel of the American Council on Education, said on Wednesday she was still reviewing the draft statement. But, Ms. Meloy said, she was left with the impression that the AAUP committee, in making recommendations on presidential searches, was "not giving a lot of attention" to variation among colleges, the state laws they work under, and "the different kinds of scenarios that might be confronted" in an executive search.

On the whole, however, Ms. Meloy said she does not see a need for formal confidentiality agreements "where there is a collegial atmosphere."

The AAUP statement says its arguments against confidentiality agreements do not apply to promotion-and-tenure committees and other bodies to which faculty members are elected to exercise their own professional judgement, rather than serving as representatives of other faculty members.