LTE: Northwestern administration’s troubling actions during COVID pandemic

On Monday, Dec. 7, 2020 the American Association of University Professors chapter at Northwestern endorsed a report highlighting alarming discrepancies between AAUP standards and current NU policies. This report is among dozens being drafted across the country by colleagues disturbed by administrators and boards using the pandemic as an excuse to further erode the mission of education and increase precarity on campus in the name of efficiency, branding, and a gargantuan endowment.

We hope that our colleagues will reach out to NU’s leadership and ask them to fully implement AAUP principles and standards, especially those that are already NU’s official policies and that the University is arbitrarily disregarding. Also, we want to encourage faculty and graduate students to join the AAUP, which will make you members in our chapter and among a larger cadre of academics who care about the corporatization of our university.

Among the report’s findings:

– Since March 2020, NU has made three changes in policies for assigning grades without consulting faculty.

– The budget and budget cuts, up to 40 percent in some departments, were implemented without faculty consultation. NU shares budgeting information with McKinsey consultants, but not the Faculty Senate Budget Committee. The unilateral decision-making violates AAUP policies that require faculty participation “both in the preparation of the total institutional budget and (within the framework of the total budget) in decisions relevant to the further apportioning of its specific fiscal divisions.” The AAUP makes no exceptions for so-called financial emergencies: “Faculty consultation and participation in budget matters should simply be part of the ordinary course of business, in good times or in bad…”

– NU has fired or furloughed employees critical to the university’s academic mission, and not performed searches for critical vacant positions. A May 13, 2020 statement by Craig Johnson to the Faculty Senate that layoffs would target those unable to perform their work due to COVID has been shown to be inaccurate.

– In response to the cutbacks, the Economics department laid off all adjuncts for the academic year of 2020-21, reducing course choices for undergraduates.

– Between 2005 and 2015, NU increased its non-tenure eligible faculty by 57.7 percent, while increasing its tenured faculty by just 8.5 percent, according to data NU submitted to the Higher Learning Commission.

– NU and WCAS have disregarded NU-AAUP requests for annual Grade Point Average information, even though AAUP standards for academic oversight require this. Faculty as well as students and the public have an interest in tracking long- and short-term grade inflation by school and department, including the impact of the COVID-era policies, some unique to NU.

In order to redress these problems, we call on the administration to prioritize education and academic integrity by immediately committing to the nine recommendations of our report.

We urge our colleagues and the university community to learn about Northwestern’s troubling actions during the pandemic by reading and supporting our report.

NU-AAUP Executive Committee
Jorge Coronado, President
Alessandra Visconti, Vice President
Jacqueline Stevens, Secretary
Sam Weber, Member-at-Large

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