Academic freedom gives librarians independence to curate materials, pursue research as seen fit
UC librarians are advocating to extend the academic freedom of their positions in new labor contract negotiations with the University of California Office of the President (UCOP).
Contract negotiations have been ongoing since April. On July 26, UC librarians discovered the rights of academic freedom do not extend to their positions as they previously assumed it had.
“It gives us the right as professionals and as members of the academic community, the same freedom as students and faculty, to pursue research — not guided by what an administrator tells us to do but by our own search for knowledge and our right to advise on how the libraries are run, the best way to handle collection, the best way to serve students and faculty,” said Adam Siegel, a humanities and social sciences librarian in the research support services department.
Without academic freedom, Siegal added, “we can’t properly serve the academic mission of the university.”
UC librarians are unionized under the University Council-American Federation of Teachers Unit 17 (UC-AFT). The bargaining team is composed of librarians across the UC, excluding UC Merced and UC San Francisco.
The librarians’ previous five-year contract expired on Sep. 30 and negotiations will continue until a consensus is reached.
According to the University of California Academic Personnel Manual, “the principles of academic freedom protect freedom of inquiry and research, freedom of teaching, and freedom of expression and publication. These freedoms enable the University to advance knowledge and to transmit it effectively to its students and to the public.”
As the definition stands in the context of the classroom, academic freedom allows instructors to draft lessons and content to their liking and to the knowledge of their field of study without fear of retaliation by university administration. Academic freedom permits the pursuit of research as instructors see fit and shared governance in spaces that provide input in the running of the university.
“The librarians decided that it was time to clarify all this and how all that applied to librarians explicitly,” said Dan Goldstein, a subject specialist librarian in the research support services department.
The bargaining team presented a proposal of language to define academic freedom’s extension to UC librarians.
“The University recognizes librarians as academic employees, and further recognizes that they possess specialized expertise and independent professional judgment, and employ both in service to the mission of the University,” the proposal said. “The University recognizes that all librarians are entitled to academic freedom, as their primary responsibility to their institution and profession is to seek, state, and act according to the truth as they see it.”
At the fourth contract bargaining session on July 26 at UCLA, the proposal was denied.
Claire Doan, the director of media relations for the UCOP, delivered a statement to The Aggie via email in response to the office’s rejection.
“The University of California is establishing a systemwide work group to carefully examine UC policy on academic freedom and the possibility of extending the associated privileges and responsibilities not only to librarians, but also other non-faculty academics,” Doan said. “That work group, led by Chancellor George Blumenthal, will make recommendations in the summer of 2019.”
A petition on GoPetition.com written by UC-AFT Unit 17 in support of the right to academic freedom began to circulate on Aug. 21. The petition urges “UC President Napolitano to instruct UC negotiators to grant academic freedom to university librarians as they rightly deserve and have requested.”
To date, the petition has acquired 2,430 signatures. The signatures are composed of library staff across UC campuses and faculty and staff from other universities.
“Librarians are busy people and the fact that we are devoting so much energy and effort to this topic shows you how deeply important it is to all of us,” Goldstein said. “It’s not just some, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be nice,’ thing. This really gets to the heart of what it means to be a librarian.”
The UCOP’s statement asserted that the extension of academic freedom would need to take place outside of contract negotiations.
“In consultation with the Academic Senate, any extension of the privileges and responsibilities associated with academic freedom to non-faculty academic appointees will be made appropriately through establishing UC policy, rather than through collective bargaining,” the statement said. “While the university appreciates the pursuit of academic freedom by UC-AFT, the union represents neither all UC librarians nor the other UC non-faculty academic appointees, including academic researchers, who will also be impacted.”
The 11th bargaining session is scheduled for Nov. 9 at the UCOP office in Oakland.
Written by: Elizabeth Mercado — firstname.lastname@example.org