Women in Higher Education

By W. Todd Furniss; Patricia Albjerg Graham | Go to book overview

ROBERT M. O'NEIL


Autonomy and Mythology: The Need for Neutral Principles

For one sector of the American academic community, the issue of autonomy was centrally implicated in the nonrenewal-nonreappointment cases decided recently by the Supreme Court.1 Numerous organizations and associations--the American Council on Education among them--appeared as amici curiae to caution against judicial intervention in such personnel matters. Court review of nonrenewal decisions would, they maintained, severely hamper internal university decision making, dilute the tenure system, and substitute external decision for campus judgment on vital academic policy questions.

There is at least a superficial validity to the claim that court review of such matters invades institutional autonomy. Yet the American Association of University Professors and other faculty organizations--vigilant guardians of campus autonomy in most contexts--took precisely the opposite view. From the faculty perspective, the extent of judicial review reflected in these cases provided an essential safeguard for other vital academic interests. Recognizing the tension between autonomy on the one hand and due process for nontenured faculty on the other, AAUP, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers resolved the dilemma in favor of the latter concept. Their judgment is not that autonomy of colleges and universities should be lightly sacrificed; rather, the faculty organizations believe that even institutional autonomy must occasionally yield in order to secure other vital interests. The dilemma is critical but must be resolved if real cases are to be decided.

Few cases involving infringement of university autonomy are easily classified. There are the relatively obvious instances of crude

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1
Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, No. 71-162, June 29, 1972; Perry v. Sindermann, No. 70-36, June 29, 1972.

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