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Know Your Rights: Protest, Free Speech, Political Speech, and Academic Freedom

April 29, 2024 / PSU-AAUP

Over the past week and weekend, we have seen egregious violations of free speech, protest, political speech, and academic freedom rights at university and college campuses around the country, and these violations have been condemned by AAUP National

At Portland State, peaceful protestors have been present on the Park Blocks since late last week and continued their presence over the weekend. These peaceful protests are anticipated to continue, with demonstrations planned for later today. 

If you are participating in these protests and should the administration make any violations of your rights, PSU-AAUP will vehemently defend you. PSU-AAUP is also present for your questions, concerns, and consultation over these matters. Email us at aaup@psuaaup.netif you would like support.

It is important to understand national definitions and the context of academic freedom. The following are resources from AAUP National:

PSU-AAUP defends (in practice and in the CBA) the definitions of academic freedom offered by AAUP National and our support for members’ rights is based firmly in these statements and on the rights outlined in our CBA. 

In addition to these principles, it is important you are aware of the campus resources and policies regarding your rights in protest, free speech, political speech, and academic freedom in times of protest before exercising them.

Your Rights at PSU

First and foremost, the bedrock of our rights on campus (as employees of the university) can be found in Article 12 of theCollective Bargaining Agreement

Academic Freedom and Governance: 
The University and Association endorse the principles of academic freedom articulated in the American Association of University Professors 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure and defined in University Standard 580-022-0005 the Board of Trustees Policy on the Roles of the Board, President and Faculty, Shared Governance and Academic Freedom, adopted by the Board on June 22, 2017. Faculty are entitled, without institutional discipline or restraint, to discuss all relevant matters in the classroom, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research, and creative expression, and to speak or write on matters of public concern as well as on matters related to professional duties and the functioning  of the University. Academic freedom carries with it certain responsibilities, such as 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. The University affirms its continued commitment to the protection of academic freedom with changes in the political and technological landscape.

This article in the contract, the Professional Standards of Conduct Policy, and the Faculty Code of Conduct policy are the most important for members to understand. In situations involving protest on campus, there are several important prohibitions outlined in both policies that can lead to discipline or even termination. 

Professional Standards of Conduct Policy: 

During the course of this investigation, the appropriate office will attempt to resolve the matter to the satisfaction of all the parties to the complaint. If the complaint cannot be resolved and a violation of this policy is established, the appropriate office will initiate the appropriate disciplinary processes. Failure to comply with this policy will result in disciplinary action(s) up to and including dissolution of any relationship with Portland State University.

Faculty Code of Conduct Policy, which is partly established by law, relevant sections (under the section on sanctions for cause) are:

(A) Obstruction or disruption of teaching, research, administration, disciplinary procedures or other institutional activities, including the institution's public service functions or other authorized activities on institutionally owned or controlled property;

(B) Obstruction or disruption which interferes with the freedom of movement, both pedestrian and vehicular, on institutionally owned or controlled property.

(E) Malicious damage or misuse or theft of institutional property, or the property of any other person where such property is located on institutionally owned or controlled property, or, regardless of location, is in the care, custody, or control of the University.

The university can uphold these policies (and prosecute them internally) without being restrained by the question of whether the actions in question were motivated or occasioned by academic freedom. Likewise, the university can seek external prosecution in ways that conform to law. There are other prohibited acts outlined in that document that also potentially apply to situations of protest. 

If you or your co-workers violate these terms of employment through practices or acts that are prohibited, one can be sanctioned or terminated. However, this is not without due process proceedings. PSU-AAUP provides support and representation for members in these instances. Tenure does not protect employees of the university from being fired for cause, and the Professional Standards of Conduct and the Faculty Code of Conduct documents establish what counts as cause in situations involving discipline or termination.

Your Rights in Context of PSU Resources

The rights outlined in both the Collective Bargaining Agreement and in the Code of Conduct policies exist in relation to several other important policy and academic freedom documents:

  • PSU's Academic Freedom websiteoutlines policies and resources. The Resource Guide is the most important for questions of campus speech issues. (This website was developed by a large committee that included representation from PSU-AAUP. In addition, PSU-AAUP and others in the campus community reviewed the site before its launch.) 
  • Student Life’s Free Speech & Protest Information - This is not a binding document for employees (or AAUP members), but it offers a very useful perspective. 
  • Free Speech Guide - Aimed at students, this page offers a number of resources and FAQs that pertain to situations of protest and the contentions of free speech. 

PSU-AAUP Support

PSU-AAUP is a committed defender of academic freedom for its members and will stand firmly by member rights within the frameworks that are bounded by the CBA, university policy, AAUP national policy, and law. We offer support, representation, and consultation for any members who are concerned about academic freedom matters or for any members who have found themselves under administrative investigation about campus events or situations. Please do not hesitate to contact us and rely on our support— that support for our members is our most important and solemn commitment, and the power of a union resides in our mutual support, trust, and solidarity both in this moment and beyond.

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