The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) on Monday announced it will investigate seven colleges over decisions made amid the pandemic that the organization says may have weakened academic governance.
The seven institutions are Canisius, Keuka, Medaille colleges and Illinois Wesleyan, Marian, National and Wittenberg universities. AAUP will release the results of the investigation in early 2021.
Faculty members at several schools say administrators are making unilateral decisions during the pandemic, and some instructors are suing or protesting institutions.
Colleges have been scrambling over the past several months to figure out whether and when to reopen campuses, as well as how to adjust their budgets to make up for steep revenue declines. Some administrators, in their haste to make these decisions, haven't sought faculty members' input, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last month.
Since March, several faculty members have complained to AAUP that their colleges' governing boards and administrations have taken "unilateral actions" on several issues, including course formats, department and program closures, and layoffs, according to the news release. "In most cases, the stated basis for the actions was the need to deal with pandemic-related financial shortfalls," it reads.
Some of the colleges under investigation have recently caught flak for layoffs and other cuts.
Canisius, in western New York, announced in July that it planned to cut nearly 100 positions and nix several majors — including entrepreneurship, classics and physics — to make up for an estimated $20 million budget shortfall.
A Change.org petition to prevent faculty layoffs, oust the president and audit leadership roles garnered more than 5,900 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon. Tanya Loughead, a professor at Canisius and president of its AAUP chapter, did not respond to Education Dive's request for an interview Tuesday by publication time.
Wittenberg, in Ohio, announced in May that it was suspending provisions in the university's faculty manual that could delay decision-making by the administration. "This is an indication of the seriousness of our financial situation," said Jonathan Eilert, then Wittenberg's board chair, in the announcement.
The board voted in June to discontinue several academic programs — including geology and Japanese — and to eliminate two tenured faculty positions in those fields.
Correction: The headline of this story has been updated to correct AAUP's description. It is an association.