On Friday, the Purdue Board of Trustees (BOT) approved a civics literacy requirement for all undergraduate students at Purdue campuses. For the past two weeks, I’ve worked along side my fellow colleagues in the AAUP to protest this vote. The faculty did not approve this requirement and the branch campuses received no notification or opportunity to provide input. This move is not only a complete overreach of the BOT power, but is politically motivated to serve the whims of a conservative, racist university president. Here is a summary of actions that got us here.
Critics of our protest claim its because we’re against civics literacy. Honestly, I could care less if the university adds another graduation requirement. The university is full of requirements that are, at best, performative. Students will find a work around to this requirement, much in the same way I’ve found a work around to the multiple certifications I have to complete each year (my work around–using the answers I’ve saved from the first certification, because the questions do not change). The issue is not the requirement.
The issue I’m protesting is the complete disregard for the will of the faculty. The history of this decision is clear–the Purdue WL Faculty Senate voted no on this proposal and now the BOT is doing it anyway. Overriding the faculty is insulting and demeaning to the important role we play in the academic and curricular decisions of the university.
It’s also a very dangerous precedent to set. I know some of my colleagues think “it’s just a graduation requirement.” But what happens if the BOT decides to overturn the university’s promotion recommendation? Or decides to remove the very process that protects our academic freedom? Faculty governance has been eroded by state legislatures, boards, and university administration for decades. The goal is clear: allow neoliberalism to destroy the role of education in our society. This ideology harms the important work universities do, and it especially hurts student learning. Universities are not businesses, in the same way that students are not widgets.
The BOT responded to our protest by arguing (I’m paraphrasing broadly here) that the BOT had sole power to enact curriculum decisions, and the number of faculty against this initiative is small. Again, I’m sure many faculty do not see this as inherently problematic–but would their perspective change if we weren’t talking about a civics literacy requirement? Would faculty be on board with a unilateral decision to implement a social justice and equity requirement? Maybe I’ll start a campaign for the BOT to institute this. After all, they have the “exclusive authority to prescribe the curricula.” The BOT is also highly committed to equity as evident by their task force, and the large financial commitment to the task force initiatives. Surely I will have their full support, as they have already done this very thing! Right?
I’m wrapping up my summer class right now and then I planned to go off the grid to write some things I desperately want to write. Instead, I’ll be on the grid more often, to continue fighting for shared governance. While tenure provides me the time and the protection to do this, I’m frustrated that I have to.
I’ll end with this–important things are worth fighting for. So that’s what I’ll do.