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With an undergraduate enrollment of nearly 25,000, it is not surprising that most of the spotlight here at UT falls upon student events and issues. Many of the efforts and challenges faced by university faculty often go unnoticed, and now, with questions over the future of tenure and job contracts in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and a new policy in Georgia, there is an even greater issue that poses a threat to professors both on a local and national scale.

On Nov. 4, the UT Knoxville Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) welcomed numerous guest speakers to attend a lecture, "AAUP: Does UT Have Your Back?,” and to discuss the current controversy in the education system.

Mary McAlpin, professor of French and president of AAUP at UT, helped sponsor the event.

“AAUP is a vast system made up of local chapters, state-wide organizations and the national organization,” McAlpin said. “This national organization of which we are a part takes on challenges to tenure and academic free speech.”

The virtual meeting first welcomed Anita Levy, senior program officer in the national AAUP Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure & Governance.

Throughout the meeting, Levy helped raise awareness of current tenure policies and educate university faculty on their professional rights in the education system. Opening her lecture, Levy first began discussing the Recommended Institutional Regulations (RIR) on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

As she moved through her presentation, Levy highlighted the appropriate measures required for terminating a faculty member and emphasized that faculty members have rights to a hearing before an elected body, paid suspensions, opportunities to counter the decisions made by the elected faculty hearing body and other guaranteed personal freedoms.

At the conclusion of Levy’s lecture, University of North Georgia professor and state-wide AAUP President Matthew Boedy discussed the controversy surrounding recent tenure policy changes at the University of Georgia.

Under this policy, administration in the University of Georgia system can suspend pay, terminate or withdraw tenure if a faculty member has not met administrative standards following post-tenure review. This review policy also goes against RIR and allows for the dismissal of a tenured employee without a hearing.

Boedy and his peers have since shown active opposition to this policy by enacting a petition that was signed by 10% of faculty, protesting at the Board of Regents meeting and applying for the AAUP Conference Development to fund a digital marketing campaign to influence state legislature and push for policy changes.

Jon Shefner, professor of sociology and member of the UTK AAUP Executive Committee, attended the meeting and responded passionately to Boedy and Levy’s words.

What I hope comes out of this event is a recognition that we are stronger when we stand together for the right to set the curriculum, to teach challenging topics, to stand for science over rumor, to value humanities and social science as much as the STEM disciplines and to support all students in their quest to learn,” Shefner said.

While progress has been made, Boedy argues that professors are still under siege. Little can be done across campus level, so he and fellow members of AAUP champion universities across the nation to continue to contest unfair tenure changes and defend faculty rights in order to ensure a more open work environment and further academic success.

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