The Community College of Aurora was censured by the nation’s 100-year-old association for college professors Saturday for “serious departures from principles and standards of academic freedom” over the firing of a part-time philosophy instructor last year.
The American Association of University Professors, based in Washington, D.C., investigated the firing of Nathanial Bork, who was terminated by the Aurora college as he was about to expose inadequate academic standards to the institution’s accrediting agency.
Bork had drafted a letter to the Higher Learning Commission, reporting that the college had lowered its standards in order to improve course completion rates. He was fired without due-process rights and in violation of academic freedom, the AAUP said Saturday.
A “censure” puts CCA on a list of 56 colleges that have violated the principles of academic freedom, which includes professors’ ability to express ideas in teaching and research without retaliation.
“Being forced to lower my standards to increase my pass rates was horrible,” Bork said Saturday. “Being fired for drawing attention to the plan out of concern for students’ well-being was worse.”
A spokeswoman for CCA did not respond to a request for comment Saturday.
The instructor was let go in the fourth week of the fall 2016 semester. His termination was attributed by college leaders to failing to impose changes in curriculum designed to improve pass rates in entry-level courses, the AAUP said. One week before his firing, Bork had told college administrators that he planned to send a letter to the Higher Learning Commission that criticized the new curriculum, which he considered an attempt by the college to lower its standards.
The college refused to give Bork a faculty hearing upon his firing, according to the AAUP.
“The administration’s stated rationale for dismissal did little to dispel the impression that its action violated basic tenets of academic freedom,” the AAUP said. And an investigating committee determined that instructors at the college felt they had academic freedom “only as long as they retained the favor of their administrative superiors.”
Bork said he hopes the case “inspires others to stand up for their profession and their students” and to push back against some administrators’ “complete and utter disregard for the well-being of the very people they put in front of their students.”
Part-time adjunct faculty at community colleges in Colorado are paid on average $20,828 annually, Bork said, thanking AAUP for its investigation and for sticking up for community college faculty.
The association also censured Spalding University in Kentucky over the firing of tenured social work professor Erlene Grise-Owens, who was terminated after criticizing the way the administration dealt with a report of an armed student with a history of making racially charged comments. The group lifted previously imposed censures on the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas.