Do University librarians have academic freedom?


Librarians in the University of California system are represented by the American Federation of Teachers.  They are currently engaged in bargaining a new contract.  In the course of that process the UC-AFT proposed that the following underlined language be added to Article 1, Recognition, in the new contract:

The University recognizes librarians as academic employees, and further recognizes that they possess specialized expertise and independent, professional judgment, and employ both in service to the mission of the University.  The University recognizes that all librarians are entitled to academic freedom, as their primary responsibility to their institution and profession is to seek, state, and act according to the truth as they see it.

On July 26, UC negotiators rejected the proposal.  Although they declined to put the rejection in writing, UC-AFT reports that they argued that academic freedom “is tied to faculty and students alone; more specifically, Instructors of Record and students are granted AF, to enable free expression in the classroom and related research.  They further asserted that AF arises only from this classroom need.”

At the following bargaining session, on August 8, the UC-AFT responded by appealing to Section 10 of the university’s Academic Procedures Manual, which reads: The University of California is committed to upholding and preserving principles of academic freedom. These principles reflect the University’s fundamental mission, which is to discover knowledge and to disseminate it to its students and to society at large. The principles of academic freedom protect freedom of inquiry and research, freedom of teaching, and freedom of expression and publication. These freedoms enable the University to advance knowledge and to transmit it effectively to its students and to the public.”

In addition, the union pointed out, the manual specifically states the following: “Although this new policy applies to the University’s faculty, its issuance does nothing to diminish the rights and responsibilities enjoyed by other academic appointees.” So, the union concluded, there is nothing in the policy that binds these rights exclusively to faculty and students; in fact, it specifies the exact opposite.

According to the UC-AFT report, university negotiators claimed that their position is consistent with AAUP’s stance on academic freedom.  “They steadfastly claim that AAUP says that AF is explicitly tied to faculty status.”

The UC negotiators are wrong.  Moreover, it is the position of the AAUP, as well as that of the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, that college and university librarians should have faculty status.

In 1972, the Joint Committee on College Library Problems, a national committee representing the Association of College and Research Libraries, the Association of American Colleges (now the Association of American Colleges and Universities), and the American Association of University Professors issued the Joint Statement on Faculty Status of College and University Librarians. The statement was endorsed by the board and annual meeting of the Association of College and Research Libraries in 1972. It was reaffirmed by the ACRL board in June 2001 and 2007. It was adopted by the Council of the AAUP in April 1973 and endorsed by the Fifty-ninth Annual Meeting.  Additional revisions were made by a joint subcommittee of the ACRL and the AAUP in June 2012; the revised text was adopted by the AAUP’s Council and the ACRL in 2012.

The main thrust of that statement is that the role of college and university librarians “requires them to function essentially as part of the faculty. . . .  Neither administrative responsibilities nor professional degrees, titles, or skills, per se, qualify members of the academic community for faculty status. The function of the librarian as participant in the processes of teaching, research, and service is the essential criterion of faculty status.”  Hence, the Statement continues,

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.

The language proposed by UC-AFT is, therefore, totally consistent with long-accepted principles in the academic and library communities, including with the principles of academic freedom as defined for over a century by the AAUP.  The University of California is well-advised to accept this sensible proposal.