U. of Texas Cancer Center Intensifies Its Challenge of AAUP

The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, affiliated with the University of Texas, has escalated its challenge to the American Association of University Professors by rejecting the group’s assurance that any investigation of the center’s tenure practices will be fair.

Having turned the tables on the AAUP in July by demanding that the association answer a long list of questions justifying its authority in such matters, the cancer center last week made clear that it is dissatisfied with the answers provided by the association. As a result, Anderson officials said, they were reluctant to cooperate with the group’s investigation of the center’s dismissal of two professors.

Dan Fontaine, the center’s executive chief of staff, argued in a letter last week to Gregory F. Scholtz, director of the AAUP’s department of academic freedom, tenure, and governance, that the association “has apparently rejected well-recognized fundamental requirements of a fair investigation” as inapplicable to it on the grounds that it is neither an accrediting agency nor a formal governing body.

Mr. Fontaine also disputed the AAUP’s claim to represent college faculty members throughout the United States. He pounced on what he called the association’s “surprising concession” that its authority to investigate higher-education institutions is based in part on that authority’s having not been seriously challenged before.

His letter characterized an AAUP censure of the cancer center as inevitable given that the center’s longstanding practice of appointing professors to seven-year terms does not comport with AAUP standards requiring that professors be allowed to earn indefinite tenure.

The AAUP has previously gone ahead with examinations of colleges that did not cooperate with its investigators, but the Texas cancer center stands out in terms of the intensity of its challenge to the association’s authority.

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