press release

Press release: Purdue Board of Trustees ignores faculty vote in ordering civics literacy graduation requirement


Date: June 11, 2021


WEST LAFAYETTE, IN – On Friday, the Purdue University Board of Trustees voted to adopt an undergraduate civics literacy graduation requirement for the Purdue University system starting in Fall 2021, over the objections of the Purdue University Senate and without consulting or notifying faculty senates at Purdue’s regional campuses. In so doing, the Board has overreached its purview as determined by its bylaws, the University Senate’s bylaws, the constitutions of Purdue-Fort Wayne (PFW) and Purdue-Northwest (PNW), and the 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, published by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and jointly formulated with the American Council on Education and the Association of Governing Boards (Purdue is a member of both).

Faculty objections to the requirement have been clear even since President Daniels’s initial proposal from January 2019. After a town hall and faculty survey on the idea conducted on the West Lafayette campus in spring 2019, a working group was tasked to develop a proposal for the West Lafayette campus to consider. In April 2020, the Senate rejected the working group’s proposal by an overwhelming majority. In April 2021, the Board of Trustees announced its intention to adopt the graduation requirement anyway, following the working group’s recommendations, and ignoring the determination of the University Senate. 

Noor O’Neill Borbieva, faculty member at Purdue (Fort Wayne) and president of the AAUP-PFW chapter said, “Rather than finding a way to work collaboratively with faculty, the Purdue leadership, including the Provost and Board, seem to have decided simply to impose their will on the university, which is not how shared governance–or really any deliberative, democratic process–is supposed to work.” 

Almost 200 faculty members have sent letters of objection to the Board of Trustees through a letter campaign hosted by the Purdue-West Lafayette chapter of the American Association of University Professors.  AAUP-Purdue (West Lafayette) also asked to meet with trustees to discuss faculty concerns with the proposal, but the trustees declined to meet.

“Our concerns are threefold: first, the Board’s straying from its job into the area of faculty’s responsibility and expertise; second, the Board’s assertion that it is following norms of shared governance after clearly flaunting them by ignoring the vote of the University Senate; and third, the lack of transparency during this whole process,” said Alice Pawley, faculty member at Purdue (West Lafayette) and president of the American Association of University Professors chapter for Purdue at West Lafayette. “It is particularly ironic that in order to demonstrate their concern for civics literacy, which is about understanding processes of governance, the Board seems eager to sideline procedures of academic governance, and to ignore a literal vote of the representative body in whose purview graduation requirements reside. What is that going to teach students or anyone else about civics literacy?”

As debate around this graduation requirement proposal intensified at the West Lafayette campus, faculty at the other Purdue campuses remained largely unaware of the proposal. However, on June 7, 2021, only days before the Board was to meet to vote, the Purdue community learned that the graduation requirement would apply to the whole Purdue University system, including Purdue-Fort Wayne, Purdue-Northwest, and Purdue’s schools at IUPUI (Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis).  It is not clear whether it will apply to Purdue Global, which has its own Board of Trustees, or the Polytechnic regional campuses.

Upon learning that the Board intended to apply the requirement system-wide, the Fort Wayne and Northwest chapters urged their faculty colleagues to join the letter-writing campaign, and informed their local senates, who then wrote letters to Provost Akridge asserting their constitutional responsibilities for their own curricula.

Borbieva commented, “Faculty at Purdue-Fort Wayne have been completely blind-sided by this vote. The issue of a civics education requirement was not raised at our faculty senate meetings this last academic year, suggesting that even our leadership, including both faculty and administrators, were not aware that the Provost and Board meant to impose this requirement across the system. PFW faculty who knew about the civics proposal at Purdue-West Lafayette were concerned about the violation of shared governance it represented, but we had no reason to believe it would apply to us.” 

Borbieva noted, “In imposing this requirement, the Trustees have not only violated basic principles of shared governance–principles that facilitate educational excellence–they also encroach on the independence of the regional campuses. This independence is a distinctive feature of the Purdue system and has historically allowed the different campuses to be responsive to their unique student bodies.”

David Detmer, professor at Purdue-Northwest and president of the AAUP-Purdue Northwest chapter, said, “In overreaching their authority, the Board of Trustees has further damaged their relationship with faculty and imperiled the educational mission of the institution. The Board is adopting this curricular requirement in full knowledge that faculty through their representative body were not in favor, despite subsequent pushback from faculty across the system including our AAUP chapters, and despite opportunities to follow established, authoritative academic governance procedures. They say it’s their ‘responsibility’ to do so even without consent of the faculty. Given their demonstrated disdain for democratic forms, we question the Board’s own civics literacy and the content of this requirement.”

Detmer added, “Students should know that the Board is doing this against the will of the University Senate, and without consultation with faculty at the Purdue regional campuses. Please don’t take this as an illustration of good governance, or about what good civics literacy can give you.”

With this final vote of the Board, the AAUP chapters at Purdue are considering subsequent actions, particularly as they anticipate future Board overreach on other issues of faculty control, including the academic calendar.

Additional faculty willing to talk with press:

Kim Scipes, Purdue-Northwest Senate chair – [email protected], 773-615-5019

Cara Kinnally, Purdue (West Lafayette)  – [email protected], 812-322-8075