Mills College and Academic Freedom

Mills Hall, Mills College, Oakland, CA

Sadly, the Mills College board of Trustees is scheduled to ratify its Financial Stabilization Plan, which includes terminating the Philosophy and Journalism Departments. It will also terminate tenured professors in those departments. In response, a petition has been started to preserve these departments in the name of academic freedom.

I found this confusing. Although I think philosophy (and not journalism—lol) is “a cornerstone of a liberal arts education”, and I don’t want to see it cut, it’s hard to see how this is a case where academic freedom is being violated. There is no evidence that a faculty member is being targeted for his or her work or views. As it turns out, what makes this an academic freedom case turns on a technicality. In the judgment of those who wrote the petition, Mills College is in a state of financial emergency as defined by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), rather than a state of financial exigencyFinancial Exigency is defined as,

A severe financial crisis that fundamentally compromises the academic integrity of the institution as a whole and that cannot be alleviated by less drastic means than the termination of tenured faculty appointments (Recommended Institutional Regulations 4c).

Tenure, according the the AAUP, is

…an indefinite appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency and program discontinuation.

Wouldn’t the Mill’s College case just a case of program discontinuation? What am I missing here?

Another thing to keep in mind is the vagueness in the definition of financial exigency. What would be an example of less drastic means? Is firing a tenured professor always more drastic than other cuts? I’m pretty sure it’s not. If anyone else has any insight into these matters, I’d be interested in hearing about them here.


Former feminist turned conservative. PhD. Proud helpmeet. Teaches at a liberal arts school somewhere in the Midwest. Enjoys hunting and eating animals. Favorite musician: Hank Williams Jr.

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