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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

UC, Librarians, and Academic Freedom

As part of their negotiations with the university, UC librarians requested that the University formally acknowledge their claim to academic freedom.  UC-AFT reports that UC refused, indicating that "Academic freedom is not a good fit for your unit."  They furthermore report that the university negotiators claimed that the right was tied to the instructor of record for faculty and for students when they were in the classroom. I have been told that the University has also indicated that they had conferred with both senate faculty and the AAUP about their position.  I haven't been able to find any indication that there was formal Academic Senate discussion of this issue and both CUCFA and CA-AAUP have explicitly rejected the University's position in a joint statement.

The University negotiators' position is foolish at best and absurd at worst.  The AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (to which all UC campuses aside from UCSF belong) have explicitly stated that librarians are entitled to academic freedom.  As the "Joint Statement on Faculty Status of College and University Librarians" (2013) puts it:
College and university librarians share the professional concerns of faculty members. Academic freedom is indispensable to librarians in their roles as teachers and researchers. Critically, they are trustees of knowledge with the responsibility of ensuring the intellectual freedom of the academic community through the availability of information and ideas, no matter how controversial, so that teachers may freely teach and students may freely learn. Moreover, as members of the academic community, librarians should have latitude in the exercise of their professional judgment within the library, a share in shaping policy within the institution, and adequate opportunities for professional development and appropriate reward.
Now it is true that at UC most librarians do not have formal faculty status.  But as the Association of College and Research Libraries argues, even librarians without faculty status are entitled to academic freedom.

If you think about it there are many reasons why librarians should hold academic freedom.  For one thing, university librarians are research professionals often engaged in their own research.  This research can take many forms--from more conventional academic work, to understanding both the trends in library science, onto the latest issues in digital technology.  Beyond that, librarians are constantly engaged in precisely the sort of academic and intellectual judgment about which materials to purchase for libraries, how they should be organized and presented, developing and organizing exhibits and conferences that pull them into precisely the sort of controversial decisions that academic freedom is designed to make possible.   Moreover, between digitalization and efforts by faculty to increase opportunities for students to participate in research based inquiry, librarians have become even more central to the basic educational mission of the university as key mediators of resources and knowledge to students and faculty.

Finally, I probably don't need to mention that in our age of increased surveillance librarians have been at the forefront of protecting the privacy rights of borrowers.  Or that in the age of social media we would want our librarians to have universities recognize the academic freedom rights of librarians as the very act of choosing which books to purchase and recommend can lead you into controversy.

There really are no good principled reasons for university negotiators to deny that academic freedom applies to professional librarians. In fact, it is difficult to understand how university negotiators could think that librarians should not possess academic freedom.  After mulling this issue over for a while I have come up with a few possibilities:

1) This is simply another example of a problem that Chris and I have noted repeatedly over the years: the gap between what high-level management (especially at UCOP) thinks and what front line people actually do.  I suppose it is possible that whoever made the decision to declare that academic freedom wasn't a "good fit" for librarians simply doesn't know what librarians actually do in the university.  In some ways, this supposition would be the most positive spin one could make.

2) This is an effort on the part of the University to deny or diminish the professional status of the system's librarians.  In fact, the previous MOU already acknowledged that librarians are "academic employees" (1) and that librarians should be credited for their research activity:
Research by practicing librarians has a growing importance as library, bibliographic, and information management activities become more demanding and complex. Librarian engagement in academic research enhances their ability to relate their functions to the more general goals of the university. It is therefore appropriate to take research into account in measuring a librarian’s professional development. The evaluation of such research or other creative activity should be qualitative and not merely quantitative and should be made in comparison with the activity and quality appropriate to the candidate’s areas of expertise. Note should be taken of continued and effective endeavor. This may include authoring, editing, reviewing or compiling books, articles, reports, handbooks, manuals, and/or similar products which are submitted or published during the period under review. (3

The University may be attempting to restrict the professional claims and status of librarians in order to gain greater control over their activities.

3) The University may think that it can use the recognition of librarian's academic freedom as a bargaining chip.  If this is the case then OP should be ashamed of themselves.  Academic Freedom is a fundamental aspect of the modern university and one that UC insists that it believes in deeply.  To treat it as a bargaining chip in negotiations debases its meaning at the same time as it diminishes the academic work of the university's librarians. I hope that this is not the case.  UC could affirm its principles by correcting its negotiating position quickly.

The UC-AFT has asked that people who support their case for Academic Freedom sign their petition.


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