The American Association of University Professors is citing the firing of a Colorado adjunct instructor as evidence of a broader lack of academic freedom for part-time faculty members throughout that state’s community-college system.
The case of Nathanial Bork, who lost his job at the Community College of Aurora last fall after he complained to its accreditor about a new curriculum there, “exposes the absence of adequate procedural protections for the adjunct faculty in the regulations of the Community College of Colorado System,” the AAUP says in a report issued on Wednesday.
“Lacking these protections,” the report adds, “adjunct faculty members possess academic freedom only as long they retain the favor of their administrative superiors.” At the Community College of Aurora, it says, Mr. Bork’s firing “has driven this fact home and produced a climate of fear among those who teach part time.”
The report says the college’s president, Elizabeth Oudenhoven, responded to a draft of the AAUP document by denying Mr. Bork’s charge that he had been fired in retaliation for complaining to the institution’s accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission.
Joe Marquez, a spokesman for the Colorado Community College System, did not respond to requests for comment on the AAUP report. Ms. Oudenhoven said in an emailed statement that her institution disagrees with the AAUP’s report and stands by both its handling of Mr. Bork’s case and the curriculum that he had criticized.
Mr. Bork, a philosophy instructor and activist on behalf of adjunct-faculty rights, last summer sent the Higher Learning Commission a letter expressing concern about his college’s recent modification of entry-level liberal-arts courses to improve their pass rates. He argued that the courses had been rendered so easy that they set students up for failure at other colleges to which they might transfer.
On September 13, four weeks into the fall semester, the college fired Mr. Bork, saying that he had failed to effectively teach the new curriculum. He argued that the difficulties his students were experiencing were due to their frustration with changes in the course, not his teaching.
The AAUP report says its investigative committee found that Mr. Bork had been denied due process in the form of a faculty hearing, and that the college thus had never formally rebutted his allegation that it violated his academic freedom by firing him for contacting the accreditor.
Ms. Oudenhoven’s statement said both a department chair and a student-achievement coach had observed Mr. Bork teaching his class and had “discovered general instructional problems as well as difficulties in the implementation of the new curriculum they characterized as severe.” Ms. Oudenhoven said she had not received any report or letter from Mr. Bork complaining about the college to the Higher Learning Commission.