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Watch now: Illinois Wesleyan sanctioned by U.S. professor group

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The American Association of University Professors announced on Monday that it was sanctioning Illinois Wesleyan University after a report published by the association in May alleged there were governance problems around the elimination of four programs and subsequent changes to faculty positions.

BLOOMINGTON — The American Association of University Professors has sanctioned Illinois Wesleyan University over how it handled faculty changes after the school ended four humanities programs last year.

The sanctions come after the association delayed official action over the summer after issuing a report on the alleged problems in May. 

The special report prepared by the American Association of University Professors that led to the sanction by that organization against Illinois Wesleyan University.

The university disagrees with the sanction, saying it adhered to the AAUP's guidelines and provided detailed responses to the investigation, President Georgia Nugent said in an emailed statement to The Pantagraph.

“We regret that there is disagreement over the university’s efforts to respond appropriately to the changing environment of high education,” she said.

In May, AAUP issued a special report on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on academic governance. The report featured eight case studies of universities and colleges across the country, including IWU, as examples. The report concluded that the pandemic represented a significant threat to the norms of academic governance.

Illinois Wesleyan

Illinois Wesleyan University professor Mike Theune presents student speakers who appealed for preservation of the humanities at the school during a public rally under a large tent on the quad Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.

Wesleyan’s board voted in July, 2020, to eliminate the anthropology, religious studies, French and Italian programs. It had voted to eliminate the American culture studies; design, technology and entrepreneurship; Greek and Roman studies; and international business programs in May 2020.

The moves prompted widespread backlash from faculty and students, especially those in the humanities. 

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Nine tenured faculty members faced potential termination due to the second set of cuts. All but one professor had agreed either to move to tenured positions in other departments or to retirement or separation agreements by the time the report was published.

Over the summer the last faculty member whose situation had not been resolved reached an agreement with the university to retire as a professor emeritus, university spokesperson Ann Aubry said.

The American Association of University Professors sent a letter to Illinois Wesleyan University seeking more information on the process that led to the elimination of some programs and terminal contracts for some faculty.

Earlier this school year, music professor Seyeon Ahn also voiced concerns about how the university was handling her potential dismissal after she refused to teach instrumental music classes in person, citing the dangers posed by the pandemic and what she said were inadequate safety precautions.

Cuts to humanities programs are also a wider trend the report's writers had noticed, said Greg Scholtz, Director of AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance. 

Sanctions are the association’s response to problems of shared governance, while censures are for alleged infringement of academic freedom. However, it is hard to separate problems of governance from problems of academic freedom, Scholtz said.

Standing Up for the Liberal Arts

A sign is held by an attendee to "Standing Up for the Liberal Arts" on Illinois Wesleyan University's campus in Bloomington, on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. The event was held in response to proposed cuts to programs at IWU, which led to a sanction on the school by the American Association of University Professors.

Institutions which receive sanctions have shown problems either with bad policies or with the existing policies not being implemented with proper respect for all parties involved, he said.

In its press release, AAUP cited multiple alleged violations of shared governance principles in the decisions around the ending of the four programs. The process showed a disregard for faculty voices, Scholtz said. 

“The process that we’re looking for is one in which the faculty is taken seriously,” he said.

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The university has maintained that it did not violate norms and guidelines in its process.

“Illinois Wesleyan remains committed to continuing collaborative efforts with our campus community to enhance the vitality of liberal arts education. The AAUP’s decision carries no material consequences for the university,” Nugent said.

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AAUP staff members reach out to the sanctioned universities about once a year, Scholtz said. Improvements in policies or the atmosphere between faculty and administrators can lead to a vote to take the school off the list. 

“We’d like that list to be small, we are very eager to get institutions off these lists,” he said.

Contact Connor Wood at (309)820-3240. Follow Connor on Twitter: @connorkwood


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