Faculty Rights Tip of the Week: Academic Freedom, Teaching, and Grading Amid the COVID-19 Crisis

During this unique moment in history, our current experiences as instructors are challenging us to think carefully about how best to nurture learning and well-being within our CSU students, who face a variety of challenges linked to their own changing learning conditions (related to their labor market status, family life, health, citizenship status, and access to technology, space, and resources). As faculty, we are best positioned to know, and to inquire about, our students’ learning needs, as we all navigate remote technologies and differing life circumstances.

A few weeks in, we are all now familiar with the many essays, suggestions, and debates circulating in online higher education platforms (e.g. the Chronicle for Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, the AAUP’s blog, Academe, and others within our disciplines) with regard to learning, evaluation, and grading. These conversations and differing viewpoints are healthy and appropriate. They reflect our diverse pedagogical approaches and the right to academic freedom we university professors enjoy, a right which benefits our students and universities holistically.

The preamble of the Collective Bargaining Agreement summarizes the academic freedom rights of faculty:

It is the purpose of the parties in entering this Agreement to promote high standards of education in the CSU. The CSU shall support the pursuit of excellence and academic freedom in teaching, research, and learning through the free exchange of ideas among the faculty.

The parties recognize that quality education requires an atmosphere of academic freedom and academic responsibility. The parties acknowledge and encourage the continuation of academic freedom while recognizing that the concept of academic freedom is accompanied by a corresponding concept of responsibility to the University and its students.

Our academic freedom, as guaranteed by the CBA, supports our own pedagogical approaches to this new chapter in university teaching and learning, and includes our freedom to assess (and assign grades to) students according to our sense of the responsible and optimal approach in these times. As faculty members, it is our right to modify our assignments and modes of evaluation, and to adopt the grading schemes we deem fair and responsible for the courses we have modified in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

Want to learn more? Become active with your local CFA chapter Faculty Rights team. Find your representative here.