Skip to main content

American Association of University Professors. Northwestern University Chapter



The National Organization of the American Association of University Professors

The American Association of University Professors was organized in 1915. John Dewey, the renowned Columbia University educator, presided over its first meetings, held in New York City on January 1 and 2, 1915.

Throughout its existence, the AAUP has concerned itself primarily with three fundamental issues: academic freedom, academic tenure and faculty salaries. Political and economic trends created significant problems which threatened to curtail rights to academic freedom and guarantees of tenure and have required much of the AAUP's attention since its inception. These trends fostered efforts throughout the teaching profession to establish salary scales and raises independent of the demands of the market and comparable to non-academic fields, such as business, industry and government in order to maintain high standards in teaching and scholarly research.

In 1915, the AAUP declared its principles regarding academic freedom. In the process, it indicated the position it would be most likely to take in cases of alleged infringement of academic freedom. The AAUP agreed on the following broad definition of academic freedom: that it ought to include freedom of inquiry and research, freedom of teaching within the university or college, and freedom of extra-mural utterance and action. It also outlined steps it would be prepared to take to safeguard academic freedom and tenure by providing judicial bodies composed of members of the academic profession to investigate and determine the nature and validity of dismissal charges. The AAUP has periodically reasserted and clarified its principles regarding these matters in 1926, 1929, 1941, and 1952.

No sooner had the AAUP been established than it had to deal with reports on numerous charges of violations of academic freedom. Notable examples during the AAUP's first year were those at the University of Colorado and at Wesleyan University, quickly followed by the case of Professor Scott Nearing of the University of Pennsylvania.

Although these examples are only three of numerous similar cases, some of which may have been even more important, they do illustrate the lengths to which a university or college might go to secure a dismissal or to prevent the granting of tenure. The first two examples were cases of dismissal or non-reappointment for no apparent or legitimate reason. In the case of Professor Nearing, his discontinued appointment was justified on the basis of his opinions on the economy and his remarks on social questions. The satisfactory teaching records of these professors had little or no bearing on the determination of the universities to approve the dismissals.

Certainly the publicity given these cases by the AAUP's Bulletin, through the choice of topics its editors included, helped bring the cases and their implications to the attention of members of the teaching profession. What were the results of the publicity in terms of unified action taken by the AAUP? How did the AAUP's action, if any, affect university administration with respect to job security and intellectual freedom? How much could the AAUP really hope to influence university policies on academic freedom and tenure, especially given later general decreases in the number of academic positions available and increases in applicants for each position? Answers to these questions and those like them are necessary in order to measure the influence and power of the AAUP.

The material in this collection and, to some extent, the articles listed in the AAUP Bulletin offer only a very broad outline of the responses to these issues. The reactions of the Northwestern chapter are more accessible. The following describes the chapter's reaction to one important issue.

On December 13, 1957 the chapter's committee on the Economic Status of the Profession prepared and distributed a questionnaire designed to collect information from individual schools and departments of the university regarding problems of the salary structure. The objective of this study was to establish and maintain a close relationship between the university's faculty and administration based on mutual interests. Part of the questionnaire dealt with Northwestern's ability to attract and hold highly qualified teachers and scholars. Another dealt with the general ability and need of universities to make academic careers intellectually and financially attractive to highly qualified teachers and scholars.

The summary of the responses of Northwestern's various schools and departments appears in this collection. While they agreed that the university could not ignore the competitive market, they appeared reluctant to take any decisive action. It is impossible to determine what effect this and their other conclusions had on faculty-administration relations or on faculty salaries without checking the university's financial reports or yearly budgets. The material in this collection suffers generally in that there is a lack of evidence of any concrete university actions or policies resulting from the chapter's activities.

As the culmination of all previous efforts by government or institution officials to restrain the academic freedom of teachers with the threat of dismissal and of subsequent undesirability for future employment, the renewed loyalty investigations of the late 1940s and the early 1950s, the attempts to use legislation to identify and guarantee a loyal citizenry, and the Army-McCarthy hearings threatened the members of the teaching profession and the quality and kind of instruction. The extent to which the teaching profession reacted against these measures is evident from the variety of written protests and organized action that emerged. The plight of those professors who either lost their jobs or were in danger of losing them often received local, regional and sometimes national attention in popular and scholarly publications or in newspapers. Some professors personally made statements to state government or national Congressional investigating committees regarding the dangers of setting limits on academic freedom according to any arbitrary, narrow definition of loyalty. Community and religious leaders, professional people of all kinds and other concerned citizens organized numerous groups, such as the Chicago Committee to Repeal the McCarran Act, to serve as bases from which to speak against these measures, to raise funds to cover court costs, or to testify in Washington. The issues of academic freedom and tenure are complex, and the varieties of questions they raise continue to occupy the academic community.

However while the AAUP did spend much time and effort addressing grievances concerning academic freedom and tenure, it also periodically reviewed a variety of other issues that might significantly affect the teaching profession. The following is only a small sample: pensions and insurance policies, proposals for a national university, degree requirements for the Ph.D., promotion of research, patriotic service, international cooperation and education, curricula, the obligation of universities and colleges in society, grading standards, faculty relationships with university administration, faculty role in university government, and faculty salaries and the general economic status of the profession. Of course when considered in terms of inflated economies, diminished college enrollments and interest in higher education, reductions in Federal funds, and rising tuition rates, the questions of faculty salaries, promotions and hiring have posed further chronic problems requiring the AAUP's attention.

The Northwestern Chapter

Note: A list of NU Chapter officers, 1915-1973, precedes the Container List

Northwestern University was one of the fifty-nine charter members of the AAUP. Among Northwestern's representatives, John H. Wigmore of the Northwestern School of law served as one of the AAUP's twenty-nine Members of the Council. Fifteen other professors formed Northwestern's membership in 1915. They were Olin H. Basquin, Arthur C.L. Brown, George P. Costigan Jr., Henry Crew, D.R. Curtiss, F.S. Deibler, Ulysses Sherman Grant, Thomas F. Holgate, Willard E. Hotchkiss, J.H. Lane, William A. Locy, John Harper Long, Edward Leroy Schaub, John A. Scott, and Walter Dill Scott. Northwestern's membership rose from 16 in 1916 to about 301 in 1959.

There are several readily distinguishable trends in the NU chapter's activities. A chronological description of its most outstanding activities is the most straightforward approach because those activities fairly accurately reflect some of the changing interests and needs of American society as a whole.

During the 1920s as the AAUP was establishing itself as a national organization, the NU chapter concerned itself primarily with questions of membership. Payment of membership dues, energetic recruitment campaigns, settling of clerical errors and oversights, and the election of chapter officers and committee members were some of the tedious but necessary chores that occupied the chapter. Recommendations and nominations for membership, discussions of membership requirements and disputes over membership eligibility dominated chapter meetings and correspondence. The chapter frequently held lengthy deliberations over definitions of requirements and eligibility.

The questionable eligibility of Paul Haensel is a good example. Haensel had been nominated for full, active membership in the AAUP, but his teaching experience was questioned. Prior to teaching at Northwestern, Haensel had taught at the University of Moscow for the required number of years to make him eligible for membership in the AAUP. However the AAUP rules and regulations defining the terms of membership make no provisions for measuring the status of foreign universities or teachers against those in America. After a long debate, the national organization agreed to admit Haensel to junior membership for one year after which he would become a full member. Haensel decided to wait until the following year to enter the NU chapter as a full member.

The case of Dean Raymond A. Kent's eligibility for AAUP membership is significant in that it was a major instance in which suspicion of a teacher's character on the grounds of spurious objections made by unspecified persons influenced the decision of the AAUP's Admissions Committee. The committee's careless investigation of the objections to Kent's membership prevented Kent from joining the AAUP and prompted many members of the NU chapter to plead Kent's defense. The case that began in December 1926 ended in March 1928, apparently unresolved. Various members of the NU chapter wrote to the AAUP Committee on University Ethics as a last effort to get favorable action for Kent. There is no further reference to the case.

In its attempt to guarantee and to further the academic and financial status of the faculty, the NU chapter strove to establish a firm and influential relationship between the university's faculty and administration. The chapter discussed a variety of issues such as questions of intercollegiate athletics, problems of enlisting and training college teachers, the problems of maintaining high teaching standards, composition of college and university curricula, and the establishment of a university press.

The 1930s brought not only greater stability to the AAUP as a national organization but also the problems of the depression to its members. Jobs and job security, salaries and student enrollment became the most important topics of concern for the AAUP. Not surprisingly, the NU chapter devoted much time to discussing university financial statements, faculty contracts, the general economic status of the teaching profession, salary scales, and the general effects of depression and recovery on higher education. The chapter planned a comparative study for costs of living in typical college communities and created a fund for unemployed university professors. It also investigated faculty dismissals, unfair treatment of faculty and violations of standards of tenure and freedom.

The NU chapter continued to address administrative problems, especially those relating to the proposed chapter constitution, membership qualifications, nominations of chapter and national officers, replies to national chapter letter questionnaires, and academic standards.

Certainly one of the most provocative proposals discussed during the mid-1930s was the merger of Northwestern and the University of Chicago. The discussions began in 1933 and continued vigorously until early 1934. The basic plan envisioned by Robert Hutchins of Chicago and Walter Dill Scott of Northwestern was to create a great university of Chicago combining all the best qualities of each school in distinct communities of students. The undergraduate college was to have been in Evanston, the graduate college in Hyde Park and the professional schools at Northwestern's Chicago campus. In 1934 after only nine months of discussion, the proposed merger was abandoned for complex legal reasons although discussion of the feasibility of cooperation between the two universities continued.

In the early 1940s the NU chapter continued to search for solutions to matters similar to those it had discussed in the 1930s. Standardized salaries and automatic pay increases, promotions and tenure were the most important issues to both Northwestern's General Faculty Committee and AAUP chapter. By 1946 their joint efforts achieved at least selected, but not general, salary increases and two cost of living raises. In this connection, the chapter also discussed the role of the General Faculty Committee within the university, the extent of faculty participation in university government and the place of the AAUP in higher education.

World War II raised additional matters for discussion. An obvious one was military leaves of absence for faculty. Another was a proposal regarding the necessity for constant military readiness. In 1945 the national headquarters of the AAUP circulated among its chapters a questionnaire on post-war conscription and compulsory military training for war. This questionnaire was still under discussion in 1952.

Following a brief interval of calm after the end of the war, another menace reappeared in strengthened form – the threat of subversion, especially from Communist forces. As some members of the United States Congress and several state legislatures perceived Communism, they believed that proper legislation could be enacted that would facilitate the identification and discredit of the promoters of Communism thus safeguarding the integrity and freedom of the United States. Because of their unique position in society and power to influence it, teachers and educational institutions became the foci of searches for subversives.

The University of California seemed to be a hotbed of subversive activity by 1950. What came to be known as the California Oath Controversy resulted from an accumulation of attempts by a handful of state and Federal legislators to identify, control and eliminate activities and ideas that might subvert the ideals and institutions of the United States. These legislators tried to exact a loyalty oath from Berkeley faculty in exchange for academic tenure. Although what happened at the University of California was only one example of similar action at numerous other American universities, the issues and individuals there attracted attention because of the swift, vast and arbitrary nature of the University Regents' action.

By 1947 representatives in the Illinois legislature in Springfield had proposed anti-Communist bills of a nature similar to those proposed by other state legislatures. The NU chapter acted quickly to draw up and publicly announce resolutions of condemnation and to send a delegation to Springfield to oppose passage of the bills. By the end of the decade as the prospect of enacting anti-Communist bills gained popularity in both state and federal legislatures and as state agencies began taking the first steps of enforcing yet unpassed bills (such as the California Regents' dismissal of University of California faculty whose loyalty was questioned), the NU chapter vigorously expanded its opposition. It sent representatives to Springfield to address the committees responsible for the bills. It circulated newsletters among faculty, contacted state representatives and governors and waged a newspaper campaign. This activity, tempered by a relatively passive university administration and the level headedness and forethought of such administrators as Payson Wild, guaranteed fairly stable academic conditions at Northwestern. Thus the NU chapter was able to devote substantial time to decisions on raising and allotting funds for defense and to organizing action to help members of other university chapters.

By 1950 the campaign for academic freedom was well established and dominated the chapter's activities. Professor Ernest Samuels of the English Department chaired the Committee on Academic Freedom which managed this campaign. There was little time or effort spent discussing anything but this and related issues. The chapter actively supported the dismissed University of California faculty at Berkeley who refused to sign loyalty oaths as part of their teaching contracts. Informal pledges of financial aid quickly led to the creation of a formal Faculty Aid Fund. The chapter's Committee on Academic Freedom kept close watch on events at Berkeley and sent substantial financial aid to its faculty.

The NU chapter's arguments against the Broyles' Bills became more heated from 1950 to 1953 as threats of censorship began to approach northern Illinois schools. It organized its opposition with cooperation from local high schools, the Teachers Union and the American Civil Liberties Union. It continued its pressure on Illinois legislators and pursued its newspaper campaign against the bills. Various Northwestern faculty members, including Brunson MacChesney, Robert Strotz and Frank Fetter, made statements or sent depositions to Illinois state senate committees. At the same time, the chapter expanded its financial aid fund to include aid for the defense of a Johns Hopkins University professor, Owen Lattimore, whose wartime activities in China had cast unwarranted doubt on his loyalty.

After 1953 discussions of the Broyles' Bills became more routine as other matters filled the chapter's agendas. By 1955 passage of the Broyles' Bills was still pending, and the chapter's attention shifted noticeably to faculty salary scales and pension benefits, academic advancement, research and publication, generalized discussions of academic freedom and tenure, sabbatical leaves, and the relationship between teaching loads and increasing student enrollment. The question of faculty control of athletics in the Western Conference and especially in the Big Ten became a major theme for the chapter, almost as if it were an antidote to the constant, intense political activity and pressure of the preceding years.

As a whole, the activities of Northwestern's chapter of the AAUP were rewarding to those faculty members who participated. Although the chapter's activities may not always have been rewarding in a practical sense, they were at least enlightening. The amount of pressure the chapter was actually able to exert on the university's administration is debatable, especially in view of frequent complaints about poor attendance at chapter meetings. To measure the success of the chapter's efforts, it is necessary to know its goals. In the chapter's unceasing general discussions of academic freedom and tenure, its proposals outlining guidelines and standards for them are vague. Consequently infringements and other problems such as dismissals were discussed after their occurrence. There was no outline for preventive measures. Perhaps a closer examination of salary scales and raises would reveal clearer goals, firmer action and greater success. Nevertheless it is undeniable that the controversies over academic freedom during the late 1940s and early 1950s brought out the best in the NU chapter and established the chapter as a staunch defender of the principles of academic freedom set by the AAUP.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

American Association of University Professors, Administrative Files of the Northwestern University Chapter

Identifier: 4/6/1

The files of the Northwestern chapter consist of eight boxes of material which span approximately forty years, beginning in 1916 and ending in 1960. These materials reflect the problems, questions and activities of the NU chapter; they outline the organization, operation and management of one segment of the AAUP in its attempt to address the problems of the educational profession at the chapter, regional and national levels.

Dates: 1916-1960