The Role of the Faculty, Academic Freedom, and Unions in Universities


Outline For A Presentation To Dr. Akens’ EDH 6066 Contemporary Issues


In Higher Education Class on May 28, 2014


     Copyright © 2014 Bruce W. Hauptli


I. An Overview:

I have had the opportunity to serve in a number of different capacities at FIU and I have spent a good deal reflecting on core topics in Higher Education.  While I have not published my reflections in this area in journals, my web statements have drawn some attention, and I asked you to review several of them for today’s class. 


            My views are hardly unique (or original), and I do not believe they are absolute truths or the only available alternatives.  I have been interacting for years with students, professors, administrators, university personnel, trustees, university supporters, legislators, and others; and I always seek to engage them on core issues regarding higher education.  Many of these statements were written to further clarify my views, and in hopes of influencing the thoughts of such individuals as they think on and develop their own critical views. 


            My View of the Nature of a Liberal Arts Education,” provides both my general “philosophy of education,” and my characterization of what an undergraduate education should focus upon: the development of reasonablenessthat is, reflective critical thinkers empowered to think critically, write clearly, and speak effectively whether they confront a mathematical problem, a scientific theory, a political argument, or a musical composition.  Such an education is important both for individuals (as it facilitates living well) and for society (as it empowers democracy).  I have endeavored to facilitate such an education both in my teaching and in my other activities in the University. 

            Hopefully you will be encouraged to develop your own views regarding your role in the higher educational enterprise as you pursue your degree program, and to facilitate this long-run project, I want to talk today about the role of the faculty, academic freedom, and unions in universities. 


            It is a lamentable fact that in our educational systems today there is very little interaction between faculty members and student affairs professionals—since we work together in a community which is centrally concerned with the development and education of our students, and since we jointly participate in this activity, there should be much more interaction (and, of course, far more intentional and coordinated interaction).  It may be because I believe this that I have been asked to interact with you today.  Of course faculty members are not a mystery to you—you have been students after all!  But oftentimes “within the workplace” it seems as if the faculty and the student affairs professionals inhabit different worlds—with, of course, the clear exception of the faculty members generally teaching in this higher education program! 


II. What, then, is the Role of the Faculty? 


Widest and longest in the institution (instruction, curriculum (degrees, courses, majors); research, scholarship, and creative activities; and service (to institution, professions, and society). 


They play a constitutive role—they particularize the institution, and through their involvement in all these areas they provide for the continuance of the institution over time.  Theirs is, generally a life-long commitment. 

Contrast this with the roles of students, staff, professional staff, administrators, trustees, alumni, and benefactors. 


            These characterizations are not about power, authority, or entitlement—instead they point to the role faculty members must and should play.  Imagine an institution where the faculty instruct, but do not determine the curriculum; where they don’t engage in research or scholarly endeavors; or fulfill any service responsibilities.  [Restaurant Example]. 

Now you can’t have a university without students either—you can have a research lab, think-tank, or service institution, of course but…. 

What about professional employees, staff, and others—we’ll come to that! 


            It is important to note, that I was not talking just about individualsa university is a community not a mere collection of individuals.  In fact this takes us to the second of the things I asked you to read: “My View of the Relation of Academic Administration and Collegial Governance” which focuses attention upon the need to maintain the academic community if a university is to be the sort of institution which can fulfill its mission and responsibilities.  Of course it isn’t just up to administrators to maintain the community.  Faculty members must also make this a priority, and together with administrators they should seek to actively include and embrace others in the community—especially student affairs professionals! 


            Focusing on the role of the faculty, however, leads us to the importance of Academic Freedom, and another of the readings.  What is it, why is it important, and why is it most commonly associated with the faculty? 

Imagine a university without it…. 

Is it only for the faculty?  


This also leads us to a discussion of tenure, and why it is important.  


See my “Why Tenure Is Important for Colleges and Universities


Is it (/Should it be) restricted to faculty members? 


And to the importance of faculty unions, and the reading: “Why I Belong To An Academic Union.” 


            Turning back to the importance of the academic community, let’s turn to the other employee members of the academic community: professional staff and staff generally.  Here, I hope, two of the readings (“Business Models Are Inappropriate For University Communities,” and “Why Non-Faculty Senates Are Important to Universities”) are relevant.  Too many these days think of universities as businesses, and this radically misconstrues their nature, and the model for employee relations within universities.  This may, perhaps, most easily be seen in the case of the professional staff.  While they do not have the breadth of participation or play the constitutive role that faculty members play, they are centrally involved in the core missions of the institution.  They don’t simply administrate, they educate, engage in and facilitate research, scholarly and creative activities, and participate more broadly in the mission of the institution than do the other staff members. 


I’ve been talking about the role of the faculty, and it is, indeed, important that you understand what that is (and, surely, you shouldn’t blindly adopt and accept what I’ve said here), but all of this pales into insignificance as you come to address what your role(s) are within the academic community.  I intend my remarks to stimulate you to critically consider the nature of your (current and future) roles in higher educational institutions. 



Please review these web materials prior to class:


  My View of the Nature of a Liberal Arts Education,”


  My View of the Relation of Academic Administration and Collegial Governance,


  “Education, Indoctrination, and Academic Freedom,”


  “Why Tenure is Important For Colleges and Universities”


  Why I Belong To An Academic Union,”


  Business Models Are Inappropriate For University Communities,” and


  Why Non-Faculty Senates Are Important to Universities?


There are many redundancies as these were written at differing times in response to differing situations or inquiries regarding my “take” on the topics.  Together they cover the core elements of my philosophy of education and my views regarding the nature of the university, the roles faculty play, the importance of academic freedom and collegial governance, the importance of tenure, and why I think and unions are important for universities.  


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Last revised: 08/24/2023