For information on how to submit a request for financial assistance, please read the AAUP Legal Defense Fund Application Process (PDF).
Also, read the Legal Defense Fund Operating Guidelines (PDF).
Since its establishment in 1975 by the American Association of University Professors, the Legal Defense Fund has helped professors across the country in lawsuits involving legal issues of national significance in higher education.
The fund supports faculty members in cases at the trial and appellate levels that implicate important legal rights and affect the careers of academics. Since its inception, the fund has disbursed more than $75,000 in aid to faculty members.
To wage a legal battle in support of one’s principles and livelihood is overwhelming and costly, and faculty often cannot do it alone. Generous donors have supported the fund over the years, but society has grown more litigious and the cases more numerous and complicated. Right now, the fund can lend assistance in only a few cases a year.
What kind of cases does the fund support? It helped professors seeking redress against the University System of Georgia for reductions of their salaries and violations of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and contract clauses. The case resulted in a court award of $11 million for all university system faculty in Georgia. The fund assisted a professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, when she alleged that she had been denied tenure because of sex discrimination. Her claim was successfully settled. The fund also helped the Adelphi University AAUP chapter in an effort that ultimately rectified egregious governance problems at the institution. As a result of this effort, the New York State Board of Regents recommended removal of eighteen of the university’s nineteen trustees for serious dereliction of their responsibilities.
There are two fundamental reasons why the Legal Defense Fund is so important. First, individual faculty members, or even organized groups of faculty, find themselves at a decided disadvantage in disputes with universities, corporations, or other bodies that command significant financial and legal resources. Without encouragement and financial support, many faculty members would not have the emotional or monetary wherewithal to fight for the justice they deserve.
Second, as important as this personal dimension of the Legal Defense Fund’s assistance is, even more important is the selection by the fund’s governing board of cases for support that have not only individual merit, but also the potential for setting legal precedent and affecting the law of higher education.
The governing board determines the policies that govern the fund, publicizes the fund, provides for its administration, and approves requests for assistance.