AAUP–Penn joins colleagues across the profession in protesting Linfield University’s firing of Professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner. All reporting on this decision suggests a clear violation of due process. Professor Pollack-Pelzner’s firing is especially troubling as it appears to be the institution’s response to his speaking out about multiple student and faculty allegations of sexual misconduct by Board Members and about antisemitic comments made to him by the University President and by the Chair of the Board when he attempted to raise these concerns internally as a faculty trustee.

Linfield University’s statement of April 27th, 2021, which characterizes this abrupt firing of a tenured faculty member as the result of his “insubordinate” conduct toward administrators, only adds to the appearance of retaliation against a whistleblower speaking up for students and colleagues. Inside Higher Education reported on April 27th that the University shut down its faculty listserv to prevent discussion of this action, a disturbing development in itself. No university can be permitted simply to terminate the employment of a faculty critic without a hearing and then to silence all further discussion of the matter.

We invite those who share our concern to sign this letter in support of Pollack-Pelzner against the Linfield University administration’s decision to fire him.

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In the past week it has come to light that the University of Pennsylvania Museum has for over 35 years held, studied, and at times displayed the human remains of a child named Tree Africa, a member of West Philadelphia’s MOVE organization. The bones of 14-year-old Tree Africa, and possibly also 12-year-old Delisha Africa, were reportedly handed over by the medical examiner’s office to Penn and Princeton anthropologists for forensic study in the 1980s after the May 13, 1985 killing of eleven West Philadelphia residents, when Philadelphia Police dropped an aerial bomb on the MOVE residence and let fires destroy over 60 homes in the Cobbs Creek neighborhood adjacent to our university. 

For decades, neither Penn nor Princeton contacted the MOVE organization and the Africa family about the existence of these remains. Instead, the bones were in the possession of two anthropology professors, Princeton emeritus professor Alan Mann (who worked at Penn until 2001) and Penn adjunct professor and museum curator Janet Monge. The Penn Museum has stated that both anthropologists were attempting to determine the identity of the remains for over three decades. During this time the bones were used for student research, as in the case of at least one Penn undergraduate senior thesis. Recently Monge has been using them as teaching props in a public online course, “REAL BONES: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology,” hosted by Princeton. While the course has now been removed by the distance learning platform Coursera, just last week over 4,000 students were enrolled. The remains have been repeatedly passed between Penn and Princeton, including Penn Museum Director Christopher Woods’ hasty return of the bones to Dr. Mann on Sunday April 18, 2021.

AAUP–Penn stands with the Africa family as they mourn and absorb this devastating news. From our commitment to community and racial justice, we support their demands, which include the immediate return of their children’s remains. 

AAUP–Penn likewise stands with Princeton faculty who have called for university accountability to the Africa family, and calls on Penn to do better than issue an online apology.

On April 26, 2021 the University of Pennsylvania and the Penn Museum issued an online apology to the Africa family and stated the institution’s intentions of returning the remains and reviewing the Museum’s “practices of collecting, stewarding, displaying, and researching human remains.” This is a first step toward recognizing and repairing the harm done to the Africa family, but the process continues to be flawed, as this apology was communicated to the family via the media at the same time that the family was holding its own live press conference.

Any earnest commitment to community justice begins with showing respect toward and building trust with those who have been harmed. Building trust entails acknowledging the long history of the university’s racism and experimentation on Black and Indigenous bodies by social scientists as well as medical doctors. From Penn Anthropology to Penn Medicine, this history spans from the nineteenth-century Morton cranial collection to the use of the MOVE family remains and the recent medical experimentation conducted by Penn dermatologist Albert Kligman upon the incarcerated people of Holmesburg Prison between 1951-1974, people whose families also remain uncompensated.

Beyond hiring lawyers to investigate how and why the MOVE family remains were used by University researchers, President Amy Gutmann and the Board of Trustees need to commit to a full and transparent process of repair and financial compensation, beginning with direct community involvement in the investigative process. The University, including its senior administrators and the Board of Trustees, cannot move forward from decades, even centuries, of disavowal via closed-door investigations. A transparent process is integral to any just outcome. It is not only faculty who are to blame for such a travesty of scholarly procedure and social justice; that responsibility must be shared across the hierarchy of “overseers” and administrators.

AAUP–Penn further supports efforts to account for the University’s broader effects on and its responsibility to West Philadelphia’s Black communities, including the payment of PILOTs to the public school system. 

AAUP–Penn also calls for a thorough review of all the holdings of the Penn Museum, and transparency around past and current pedagogical, curatorial, and research practices. A commitment to anti-racism requires more than simply teaching about medical ethics or the federally mandated Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. It involves collaborative decision-making in consultation with affected community members around the Museum’s and the University’s legacies of slavery and colonial violence.

NYU’s Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC) is going on strike starting today, 4/26/21. AAUP–Penn supports the rights of grad student employees at NYU and everywhere to organize, collectively bargain for a living wage and a fair contract, and strike when the university refuses to bargain. You can join their virtual picket line here, and materially support those on strike by contributing to the hardship fund here.

We are glad that AAUP–Penn’s petition objecting to the extension of teaching time under the unilaterally decided course schedule change has pressured the central administration to state directly that the new schedule will not require instructors to teach the ten additional minutes per class session. The Associate Vice Provost’s response, however, does not specify that the length of each class period should remain as it is at present (despite being officially extended to all appearances) and ostensibly leaves it up to instructors whether to use the extra ten minutes per class. This does not resolve the concern that some instructors—particularly lecturers with heavier teaching loads and grad instructors—may be pressured to teach longer by their departments and programs in the absence of formal guidelines on the length of class sessions. AAUP–Penn is therefore proposing a set of best practices on course stopping times that we recommend all departments and programs follow, in the interest of faculty and students alike.

Read our 4/20/21 guest column in the Daily Pennsylvanian here:

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Please join us on Friday, April 23, 2021 at 5:30pm for
Community Justice & The Ivory Tower: A Conversation with Davarian L. Baldwin
(register here): tinyurl.com/community-justice-423 

This remote panel discussion will focus on the university’s role in gentrifying and policing neighborhoods in cities across the country, with a focus on Penn and West Philly. The event will feature the new book of scholar Davarian Baldwin, In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities are Plundering our Cities (Bold Type Books, 2021). Professor Baldwin will be in conversation with Penn faculty and community activists. All university members and Philadelphia residents are invited to attend.

Davarian L. Baldwin is the Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies and founding director of the Smart Cities Lab at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut

Abdul-Aliy A. Muhammad is a Philadelphia-born organizer, writer, and co-founder of the Black and Brown Workers Co-op

Jolyon Baraka Thomas is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at UPenn and an organizer with Penn for PILOTS

Krystal Strong is Assistant Professor of Education at UPenn and an organizer with BLM Philly

Organized by AAUP–Penn, the University of Pennsylvania chapter of the American Association of University Professors

Sponsors: Civic House, Wolf Humanities Center, SNF Paideia

Penn Co-sponsors: Penn for PILOTS; Police Free Penn; Fossil Free Penn; Latinx Coalition; Asian Pacific Student Coalition; Penn Association for Gender Equity; Lambda Alliance; United Minorities Council; UMOJA Coalition; Penn Community for Justice; GET-UP; University of Pennsylvania YDSA

Community Co-sponsors: The Paul Robeson House; Scribe Video Center; Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture; People’s Emergency Center

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On March 16, 2021, a 21-year-old white man murdered eight people at three Atlanta-area massage parlors, six of whom were Asian immigrant women: Daoyou Feng, Hyun J. Grant, Suncha Kim, Soon C. Park, Xiaojie Tan, and Yong A. Yue. AAUP-Penn condemns anti-Asian violence and all forms of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, and it stands in solidarity with Asian and Asian American communities at Penn and everywhere. The white supremacist rhetoric and policies of the former Trump administration have incited a torrent of intimidation, bullying, assault, and murder of countless Asian American women and men. At the same time, these attacks are grounded in long histories of anti-immigration discrimination, scapegoating, and hate. To make things worse, racial violence against Asian Americans is systematically rendered invisible: mainstream society consistently refuses to acknowledge racism against Asian Americans even when it is in plain sight to see.

We mourn the tragic loss of Asian American lives in Atlanta, even as we celebrate our Asian American activists and leaders who have been at the forefront of anti-racist and revolutionary action. We demand that the Penn Administration support Asian American and ethnic studies through the programmatic hiring of many more faculty and staff in these critical areas of thought. We demand that the Penn administration increase the scarce course offerings in Asian American and ethnic studies at the University at least to match those of our peer institutions. While we appreciate the Administration’s recent statement about being “proud of the myriad contributions of our Asian community” at Penn, words are not enough. Unless the University commits material resources to an anti-racist pedagogy, and unless it offers an equitable curriculum to its underserved Asian American and BIPOC communities, long histories of white supremacy and racism cannot be fully recognized, let alone undone.

AAUP–Penn stands in solidarity with Columbia University’s graduate workers union (GWC-UAW local 2110) and its members’ decision to go on strike, beginning on March 15, 2021. Columbia’s graduate workers voted to unionize in 2016 and still do not have a contract. The American Association of University Professors has long supported the right of graduate workers to unionize—a right reconfirmed in the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) 2016 decision on the Columbia graduate workers’ unionization vote. We call on the Columbia University administration to cease violating its legal obligation to bargain with the union in good faith, to retract its threats to dock past pay for those participating in the strike, and to respect the rights of graduate workers to unionize. To support our colleagues striking at Columbia, you can sign up to join a digital picket line, or contribute to their hardship fund.

As Penn faculty—members and non-members of the AAUP—we object to the proposed university-wide course schedule changes that add to the length of class meeting times. While we recognize the convenience of spacing out course blocks to allow a longer transitional period between classes, the apparent elimination of the existing ten minutes of “passing time” built into our current course blocks makes this schedule change amount to a tacit addition of ten minutes of teaching per class period. When faculty have asked whether the modified schedule indeed extends teaching time, administrators have not provided a decisive answer. This abrupt and unilaterally imposed change concerns us on three major grounds: 1) Its implementation is inconsistent with shared governance principles; 2) it represents a demand for additional instructional time without compensation; and 3) its impact will fall hardest on faculty members who do the most teaching, for instance language lecturers.

1. Shared Governance:  Changes to the manner in which faculty teach courses fall within the purview of those areas of governance in which faculty are meant to have primary responsibility. Yet in this case, as with other policy changes recently announced by the central administration, faculty were largely cut out of the decision-making process.

2. Additional Instructional Time:  The addition of 10 minutes of instructional time per class period for each session of a course is a non-trivial change in work expectations for all faculty. For an instructor teaching two courses per semester, each of which meets twice per week, this adds 40 minutes of classroom time per week, which translates into 9 1/3 hours of additional teaching over a semester (or the equivalent, in instructional time, of seven 80-minute periods added to the semester). We have not seen any indication that instructors will be compensated for this additional work time.

3. Hurting Those Who Teach the Most:  Those most affected, however, will be language lecturers and others who shoulder the highest teaching load at Penn.  A language lecturer who teaches three courses per semester, in five contact hours a week, will end up teaching an additional 35 hours per term. 

For standing faculty, increased teaching time directly detracts from the time available for other work obligations and professional activities, including research, advising, service, and indeed even preparation for the courses we teach. It thus pushes those work obligations further into our own already limited personal time on evenings and weekends. For non-standing faculty who are paid per course, and likewise for graduate instructors and TAs, the addition of instructional time without any change in compensation is, still more unambiguously, a form of wage theft.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), whose chapter at Penn was founded in 2020, is a national organization of faculty and academic professionals that has helped to shape U.S. higher education by developing standards and procedures that maintain quality in education, fair employment conditions, shared governance, and academic freedom. Penn’s AAUP chapter is concerned about a perceived lack of transparency in institutional decision-making at our university (of which this schedule change issue is only one example) and about working conditions for all those who teach at Penn. 

We call on the University of Pennsylvania senior administration, however belatedly, to initiate dialogue with faculty about the effects of these changes and undertake actions to mitigate their impact on faculty, including on those who may be excessively burdened by additional uncompensated teaching hours.