Community College of Aurora – September 2016

AAUP censures community college over firing of adjunct professor

Aurora, CO

An adjunct professor of philosophy at the Community College of Aurora alleged that he was fired for complaining to the college’s accreditor about changes in the curriculum. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) studied the incident, concluding that administrators had violated the professor’s academic due process. Moreover, AAUP claimed that the professor’s firing reveals shortcomings in the academic protections afforded to adjunct faculty. This incident resulted in the AAUP censuring the Community College of Aurora.

Key Players

Nathanial Bork was an adjunct professor of philosophy at the Community College of Aurora. He was an advocate for adjunct faculty members, having been elected twice to represent them in the college’s faculty senate. Bork taught Introduction to Philosophy during the Fall of 2016.

Elizabeth Oudenhoven is president of the Community College of Aurora. She claims that Bork’s firing had nothing to do with his letter to the accreditor and defends the school’s handling of his case.

Further Details

The firing of Nathanial Bork, an adjunct professor of philosophy at the Community College of Aurora in Colorado, prompted a debate over the academic freedom of adjunct professors. Prior to being fired, Bork had complained to the school’s accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, about the curriculum. His letter to the commission “express[ed] concern about his college’s recent modification of entry-level liberal-arts courses to improve their pass rates,” according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Bork believed that the change would lead to excessively easy courses that would fail to prepare students for transfer to a fpur-year or other institution. The change called for a “20 percent decrease in overall course content; a reduction in writing assignments to an eight-page maximum for the semester; small group activities every other class session,” according to a report by the AAUP.

The letter notifying Bork of his termination mentioned a “lack of effectiveness in implementing the philosophy curriculum redesign,” according to the AAUP’s report. The report further explains that Bork had received two unfavorable evaluations, one issued by “an achievement coach in the College of Liberal Arts” and the other by the chair of the Department of Social Sciences.

Elizabeth Oudenhoven, president of the college, denies that Bork’s firing was related to his complaints. She also defended the curriculum and her administration’s decision to fire Bork, according to the Chronicle. Oudenhoven said that evaluators had “discovered general instructional problems as well as difficulties in the implementation of the new curriculum they characterized as severe,” reports the Chronicle .

AAUP weighed in on the controversy, noting that Bork’s firing “exposes the absence of adequate procedural protections for the adjunct faculty in the regulations of the Community College of Colorado System.” The association’s report on the incident found “a total lack of due-process protections” for Bork, as well as “reason to doubt the administration’s account of the case [lending] significant credibility to the notion that Mr. Bork’s dismissal was based on considerations that violated his academic freedom.” In conclusion, AAUP found that “adjunct faculty members possess academic freedom only as long as they retain the favor of their administrative superiors.”

At its annual meeting in June 2017, AAUP voted to censure the Community College of Aurora in response to Bork’s firing.

Outcome

Professor Fired, Perhaps for Complaining about School’s Curriculum

An adjunct professor of philosophy claimed that he was fired for criticizing a change in the curriculum of the community college where he taught.. The college’s president maintains that he was fired for reasons related to his teaching abilities. The professor had recently received two unfavorable evaluations.

American Association of University Professors Censures the College

AAUP investigated the incident, finding that the professor made “the credible allegation” that his firing was in retaliation for complaints he sent to the school’s accreditor. The report also found that the professor’s academic due process rights had been violated. In June 2017, AAUP censured the Community College of Aurora.

External References:

Academic Freedom and Tenure: Community College of Aurora (Colorado), American Association of University Professors

A Divided AAUP Lifts Censure of U. of Illinois, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Adjuncts at Colorado Community Colleges Lack Academic-Freedom Protections, AAUP Says, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Academic Freedom and Tenure: Community College of Aurora (Colorado), The American Association of University Professors

Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18

August 22, 2017