AAUP Says Northern Iowa Used Dishonesty and Duress to Shed Professors

January 01, 2013

The American Association of University Professors has accused the University of Northern Iowa of unduly pressuring professors to resign as part of a controversial cost-cutting effort.

In a report issued last month, an AAUP investigative committee argues that the university's administration used a dishonest academic-program-review process, with little faculty involvement, to put professors' jobs on the chopping block last year. As part of the process, the report says, the administration defined academic program areas in ways that served no academic purpose, and instead appeared intended to provide an excuse to declare that the programs had low enrollments and should be eliminated.

The review resulted in plans to discontinue nearly a fifth of Northern Iowa's academic programs, leaving more than 50 faculty positions threatened, the report says. The administration then suggested to professors in the affected programs that they faced layoffs if they did not accept buyout offers or agreements to retire over two years, prompting the AAUP's investigators to conclude that those who had agreed to leave did so under duress. The university never actually laid off any faculty members, and the AAUP report does not provide a count of how many faculty members agreed to leave.

Benjamin J. Allen, president of Northern Iowa, last month issued a statement challenging the findings of the AAUP report, which accuses his administration of violating the association's standards on academic freedom, tenure, due process, and shared governance. He argued that faculty members had been consulted through the program-review process, and he disputed the report's assertion that faculty members had been unduly pressured to quit. "Offering severance to employees facing layoff is not coercive," he said.

Mr. Allen also said the AAUP report had failed to take into account the severity of the financial crisis Northern Iowa faced when it took such actions. At the time, he said, his university faced a $5-million budget deficit and did not know if it would be receiving any increase in its state support.

"University leadership is obligated to not only consider the best interests of the faculty, but also the taxpayers, staff, alumni, and most importantly our students," Mr. Allen said. "The program changes," he said, "were made with all of those stakeholders in mind."

The AAUP, which began its investigation of Northern Iowa last March, recently cited the developments there as having helped inspire an association effort to revise its guidelines for colleges considering faculty layoffs in response to financial pressures.