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IWU Faculty Cuts Questioned By National Association

Stone columns at an IWU gateway
WGLT file photo
Illinois Wesleyan University faculty continue to fight a holding action on cuts to staff that trustees approved in July.

The American Association of University Professors said Friday it questions the legitimacy of the process that led to the Illinois Wesleyan University Board of Trustees decision to cancel anthropology, French, Italian, and the religious studies programs.

The AAUP has asked for a response to faculty allegations made in a letter sent to IWU President Georgia Nugent and trustees chair Timothy Szerlong.

The AAUP has a series of rules and policies about academic freedom and shared governance, and defines when a university can cut tenured faculty and when it cannot. Generally speaking, an institution can eliminate tenured faculty in program cut for educational reasons, but not for financial causes, and the program cuts cannot be made simply to shed tenured faculty members.

IWU has signaled it intends to send termination notices to six tenured professors on Monday.

“The information in our possession suggests that the administration and governing board of Illinois Wesleyan University failed to observe key provisions…despite repeated faculty efforts to call attention to these departures and to ask for correction,” states the letter.

Among the faculty accusations:

  • That IWU has characterized the cuts as financial rather than educational
  • That the University Council on University Programs and Policy (CUPP) composed of faculty did not understand its work to be related to program discontinuance for educational reasons, so any recommendation would deal with programs, not termination of faculty
  • That no faculty or administrative body recommended closure of religious studies, and faculty as a whole did not pass a motion recommending discontinuance of the French major
  • That CUPP said the trustees' decisions did not comply with AAUP rules or the IWU handbook and were made unilaterally by the board, despite faculty recommendations.

The AAUP letter also questions the planned issuance of termination letters--that had been postponed earlier--until Monday.
AAUP asserts the university had to make every effort to find suitable positions for the targeted faculty members before issuing termination notices.

Faculty asserted that a July decision and a quick ramp-up to termination did not meet that requirement.

“Absent countervailing information or an appropriate resolution, the evident serious departures from Association-recommended principles and standards will likely result in the staff’s recommending to the AAUP’s executive director that she authorize a formal investigation into the matter,” the AAUP said in the letter.

Earlier this year, the IWU administration said faculty had been appropriately included in the process.

The letter notes that involvement, but said it was “nevertheless marred by repeated departures on the part of the administration and governing board from normative standards of academic governance.”

The AAUP said faculty claim the administration ignored or minimized their concerns.

"We are disappointed but not surprised to receive this letter, said Nugent. "The program review process and actions of the board were taken with careful adherence to AAUP guidelines. The author of the letter notes that the information this organization has received has come entirely from faculty sources, and we appreciate that you may have additional information that would improve our understanding of what has occurred. That is indeed the case, and the university will be providing clarifying information to the organization in a timely fashion."

If an investigation supports faculty allegations, the AAUP could issue a letter of reprimand. An AAUP official said earlier this year that universities generally try to avoid, or resolve those letters, because they send a signal to prospective faculty that the administration does not play fair, and that can hamper recruitment, retention, and eventually an institution's academic quality and standing.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.