Free speech

Two professors involved with the American Association of University Professors have been fighting to pass amendments to the Board of Regents bylaws in hopes of defending instructors’ academic freedom.

The proposed amendments to the regents bylaws would help regulate the process by which the university puts faculty on administrative leave, including what actions or situations warrant a suspension. In addition, university administration would be required to attempt to reach a mutual settlement with professional staff members up for immediate suspension, according to the proposed amendments.

Regina Werum, a professor of sociology and president of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln  AAUP chapter, and Matt Cohen, professor of English and vice president of the UNL AAUP chapter, said the faculty effort at UNL and surrounding universities has resulted in the proposal of these amendments that would help protect due process and the academic freedom of instructors. 

In 2017, a graduate student and lecturer was dismissed after protesting against a student-run booth for the nonprofit organization Turning Point USA in the Nebraska Union plaza. 

Werum and Cohen have both played a significant role in advocating for the passing of the revised bylaws.

“We made sure we got as much feedback from as many different sources as possible to make sure [the revisions] would hold water,” Werum said.

In addition, Cohen said these revised bylaws could make progress in UNL getting taken off of the AAUP Censure List. The AAUP placed UNL on this list in 2018. 

Werum said the consequences of being on the censure list are severe to all levels of an institution, however, it is important to address the underlying issues that brought it to the censure list in the first place.

“Getting off the censure list is a means towards an end, and the end goal here is to strengthen the University of Nebraska,” Werum said.

Werum said that it is important to protect the academic freedoms of faculty who are not as highly regarded in the administrations’ eyes, such as graduate instructors, as they are crucial to the educational experience of students.

“Graduate instructors, while they may have less seniority, are also among our most effective and enthusiastic instructors,” Werum said. 

Cohen said that the outcome of the Board of Regents meeting on Friday, Feb. 12, where the revised bylaws were presented, was promising. 

“I’m encouraged by especially the last few months of dialogue with the administration and I think AAUP, in general, is looking forward to the next steps,” Cohen said. “We feel like we are on the same page, and we are going to need to be.” 

Cohen said that passing the revised bylaws will not be enough to remove UNL from the censure list, but is a big step in the right direction. 

Cohen said that he and those in support of the revised bylaws are looking for open communication between faculty and administration across all levels of the institution, and he is seeing steps being taken to meet those needs.

“We still would like to see some improvement in the enriching of the dialogue between the faculty and the administration,” Cohen said.

The final vote for the revised bylaws will be held at the next Board of Regents meeting on April 9.