Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas – June 17, 2017

West Helena, AR

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) voted to remove Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas from its list of universities censured for “violating principles and standards of academic freedom,” according to a media release on its website. The college had been on the AAUP’s censure list since 1978.

Key Players

Marion Hickingbottom previously served as a professor of history at Phillips Community College. Starting in 1966, he received nine one-year contracts from the university up until the 1976 academic year. According to a report released by the AAUP, Hickingbottom was a “demanding history teacher,” a “supportive colleague,” and helped found the faculty senate, of which he once served as president. He was also reportedly known for being outspoken about certain sensitive matters; The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Hickingbottom was “a gadfly and a whistleblower.” The AAUP’s report explains that in February 1976 Hickingbottom noticed an illegal leasing arrangement between Phillips College and a local car dealership. He wrote a letter to the Arkansas Motor Vehicle Division informing them of the arrangement and requesting that his letter be kept confidential. Less than a month later, however, the president of Phillips College was informed of the letter and asked Hickingbottom to resign. Hickingbottom refused. The College then decided not to renew his contract for a tenth year.

Further Details

According to the AAUP’s report on the incident, Jimason A. Daggett, Phillips Community College’s attorney at the time of Hickingbottom’s firing, justified the professor’s dismissal by claiming that he “is not ‘on the team,’ that he does not have the best interests of the college at heart.” Other reasoning provided by the college’s administration posited that Hickingbottom had not utilized proper channels when he noticed the leasing issue. The two parties eventually resolved the situation, but the AAUP voted to censure the college in 1978 over the incident.

In 2017, the AAUP said in a statement on its website that the college had adopted a policy that assured faculty “with more than six years of full-time service would be retained indefinitely unless the administration demonstrated cause for termination in a faculty hearing.”

Donald R. Bobbitt, president of the University of Arkansas system, said in a statement that he “expressed his sincere appreciation” to the AAUP.

According to Campus-Watch’s reporting on the AAUP’s censure process, when an individual makes a complaint concerning a violation of academic freedom, the association reviews the situation and then makes a recommendation to the college to rectify the situation. Dr. Greg Scholtz, director of the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance for the AAUP, explained to Campus-Watch that colleges typically resolve the violation. In the event that a college does not, the AAUP executive director can push forward an investigation that goes deeper into the situation, and then the AAUP can censure the college if it deems censuring necessary.

Outcome

AAUP Lifts Censure of Phillips Community College

In 2017, the AAUP announced that it would remove Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas from their censure list, upon the college’s adoption of a new faculty retention policy. The AAUP simultaneously removed the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

External References

History of the AAUP

About the AAUP

AAUP Removes Two from Academic Freedom Censure List, Adds Two, AAUP

AAUP Adds Two Institutions, Removes Two From Censure List [incl. Steven Salaita], Campus-Watch

Off and On the Censure List, Inside Higher Ed

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

Academic Freedom and Tenure: Phillips County Community College (Arkansas), AAUP

Prepared by Graham Piro ‘18

December 1, 2017