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The Latest from the PUC Academic Freedom Debate


On Tuesday afternoon, Pacific Union College President Heather Knight sent a message to all the PUC faculty called “Academic Freedom: Continuing to Learn Together,” with an update on the debate over academic freedom at the college, reporting on her meeting to discuss the topic with faculty leaders at the Academic Senate meeting on January 28.

She said that she spoke to the group about academic freedom and its definition at PUC, as defined by the Faculty Handbook. She also talked about the importance of the commitment of all faculty “to supporting the basic tenets of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and to conducting [their lives] in harmony with the church’s policies and doctrines.”

Knight noted that: “Interestingly enough, PUC actually has more Academic Freedom than secular institutions (where I spent the bulk of my career) because we are free to discuss our academic disciplines thoroughly, as well as to integrate our academic disciplines with our faith; this is simply not allowed at all on secular campuses.”

She spoke about the roles of the college board and president.

She ended her report by saying:

“There was then an hour-long period of questions and answers that focused on issues of reconciliation between the administration and select faculty (mutual understandings and commitments have been agreed upon, which have moved us forward), about the “edges” of Academic Freedom and who protects them at a religious institution like PUC, as well as about other procedures, such as taking a case related to Academic Freedom to the Grievance Committee.  While I was prohibited by law from discussing any specific confidential personnel cases, all in all, I felt good about my conversation with the PUC Academic Senate, and I received several positive messages from the membership in the days following our conversation.  I believe that we are moving through these important discussions in a civil and collegial manner as behooves us as a community of Christian believers. . .”

On Sunday, February 2, long-time psychology professor Aubyn Fulton posted an explanation about his lectures that the PUC administration had wanted changed on a Facebook page he set up called AF issues, as a way to respond to the many requests for clarification he had received, and to quell some rumors that he said were untrue.

Fulton said:

“The institution has now withdrawn its attempts to force me to change these lectures, and some may think it is counterproductive to spend time reviewing past conflicts that have now been resolved and may stir up uncomfortable feelings. But these are not really in the past – I will be giving the same lectures in the future, and no doubt these, and other things I say in classes in the future, and things other faculty will say in the future, will generate occasional new complaints. If there is anything positive to come out of the deeply painful and distracting dispute we have just been through, I think it must be a way to discuss differences about the contours of academic freedom more clearly and collegially.”

He then gave specific examples of lectures and teaching points he used that caused controversy, including a lecture on sexual conversations, a survey of sexual behavior, a lecture on sexual orientation and a discussion about LGBT relationships.

He noted that:

“The PUC Academic Freedom statement specifically allows teachers to express views that differ from church beliefs (even from Fundamental Beliefs, which I do not think address the issue of LGBT relationships), as long as two conditions are met: that these views are not “taught as truth” and that the teacher first consults with peers. I have always conformed to both of these conditions when expressing views that differ from church beliefs. Thus, I believe it is a violation of the PUC faculty contract to fire or punish a teacher who expresses difference with a church belief in the way that I have.”

At the end of the post, Fulton reiterated that the administration had withdrawn its demand that he change his lectures.

“As I noted at the outset, the original attempt to narrow academic freedom at PUC by ordering me to stop saying or writing the views described above, or face termination of my contract, has been withdrawn. At no time was I actually fired. I am free to continue teaching as I see fit, within the boundaries of the Academic Freedom Statement contained in the PUC Faculty Handbook, as are all of my faculty colleagues. While I strongly disagree with the way the president went about some parts of this, I do think that the opportunity her letter back in September, 2013 provided us with an opportunity to more clearly explain our views to each other, and for me to apologize for adopting a tone with her that got in the way of a good working relationship, and has given us the possibility of dealing with these issues in more productive ways. I look forward to working with the president and my colleagues on this for as long as I am here.”

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