An open letter, this time, to the UC Davis faculty, from our friends Gary Rhoades and Cary Nelson at the AAUP regarding the “shut up if you know what’s good for you” interpretation of faculty speech as regulated by Hong v. Grant and Ceballos. It’s not online, so I’ve asked for the text to reproduce below.

An Open Letter to the Faculty at the University of California-Davis

To members of the University of California community,

We write to you jointly as General Secretary and President of the American Association of University Professors. One of us is a product of the UC system, with all his degrees from UCLA, presently on leave from the University of Arizona as a Professor of Higher Education; the other is Jubilee Professor of Liberal arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Each of us has also written books and articles about higher education for decades.

We have read with interest the communication sent this summer by the Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility to the UC Davis Faculty Senate, with its closing paragraph: “In light of the present deep economic recession and dramatic cuts under discussion at UC Davis, faculty participating in shared governance are in a position in which they may voice strong views and concerns that could lead to lawful but punitive reaction by the administration, including denial of merits and even dismissal. Given the legal and policy realities at hand, we highly recommend that you use caution, restraint, and judgment in your speech and actions in all job-related duties.”

The AAUP will shortly be coming out with a report addressing these matters and including suggested revisions for university handbooks in response to precisely the issues addressed by the UC Davis memo. As you may know, some of your colleagues in Big 10 universities are already revising their handbooks to ensure the academic freedom of faculty members in speech related to institutional governance. Indeed, the University of Minnesota’s faculty senate recently proposed language (now accepted by the board of regents) that effectively protects faculty members’ speech on institutional matters. (see the language at the end of this email)

Historically, the University of California has been exemplary—indeed a national inspiration—in assuring and asserting the faculty’s governance role. We would strongly encourage you, like your colleagues at the University of Minnesota, to build into your handbook language that protects faculty members’ speech with regard to institutional matters.

Faculty speech on institutional matters, whatever its constitutional status at our public universities, can and should be protected by faculty handbooks. Faculty must be free to engage in governance matters without fear of reprisal or discipline. Particularly in these challenging times, when key financial and strategic decisions are being made about our institutions, we should encourage faculty to play an active role in shaping their universities’ future. Collegial governance is a fundamental component of academic freedom and a critical means for faculty to exercise professional responsibility. Through collective action the faculty can enact and enforce their rights and responsibilities. We wish you the best in continuing the proud tradition of collegial governance at the University of California, and we stand ready to provide whatever assistance and guidance we can in that regard.


Gary Rhoades, general secretary, AAUP
Cary Nelson, president, AAUP

Section I. Guiding Principles. The Board of Regents (Board) of the University of Minnesota (University) reaffirms the principles of academic freedom and responsibility. These are rooted in the belief that the mind is ennobled by the pursuit of understanding and the search for truth, and the state well served when instruction is available to all at an institution dedicated to the advancement of learning. These principles are also refreshed by the recollection that there is commune vinculum omnibus artibus, a common bond through all the arts.

Section II. Academic Freedom. Academic freedom is the freedom to discuss all relevant matters in the classroom, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research, and creative expression, and to speak or write without institutional discipline or restraint on matters of public concern as well as on matters related to professional duties and the functioning of the University.

Section III. Academic Responsibility. Academic responsibility implies the faithful performance of professional duties and obligations, the recognition of the demands of the scholarly enterprise, and the candor to make it clear that when one is speaking on matters of public interest, one is not speaking for the institution.