When Chester E. Finn Jr., was asked to give a talk at George Mason University two years ago, he had an unusual condition: He didn't want Gerald W. Bracey, who taught part time at the university, in the audience.
Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, is an outspoken defender of many Republican ideas about education reform. Bracey, author of numerous books and articles, is an outspoken critic of many of the policies Finn defends.
The university went along with Finn's request, and asked Bracey to stay away from the lecture. This two-year-old dispute surfaced this week on the Web site of The Washington Post, where columnist Jay Matthews wrote about it -- and about how the university has decided not to renew Bracey's contract.
Bracey provided Inside Higher Ed with a memo he sent university officials after being informed that his contract would not be renewed. In the memo, he said that he is being squelched for criticizing the university's handling of the Finn lecture. The university denies any relationship between the Finn incident and Bracey's contract, but acknowledges that he was asked to stay away from the talk.
According to Bracey's memo, Jeffrey Gorrell, the dean of the education school, took him to lunch after Finn had agreed to appear on campus, and told him about Finn's condition and asked him to abide by it. Bracey wrote that he believed that the university should have responded to Finn with the expletives Vice President Cheney used last year on the Senate floor. But Bracey said that he did not feel it was appropriate as a part-time professor to "deprive" the rest of the faculty from hearing Finn.
What Bracey did do (after considering, and rejecting, the idea of going in disguise) was send his faculty colleagues a list of questions they might ask Finn -- which Bracey says that the dean criticized him for distributing.
The dean told Bracey this spring that budget priorities meant that his contract would not be renewed. Bracey pointed out in his memo that during his time at George Mason, his courses have been popular and he's managed a research output that would put many full-time professors to shame. In three years at the university, he has published 6 books, written 17 scholarly articles, and delivered 45 speeches in 23 states.
"When I think about the record of speaking and publishing and honors received during the past three years, I cannot help but feel that this cancellation [of the teaching contract] goes back to l'affaire Finn," he wrote.
Dan Walsch, a spokesman for George Mason, said that the decision not to renew Bracey's contract was part of the routine, annual evaluations of all part-timers. And he said it had nothing to do with Finn.
In an e-mail message, Finn said: "I'm a pretty thick skinned guy and can tolerate almost anyone but there are 4 or 5 people in the field of education for whom I have utter contempt and will, therefore, not do ANYTHING with: not debate, not appear together on radio or TV shows, and when possible not be in the same room. A VERY short list but life is too short to subject oneself to dreadful folks. I didn't ask to speak at George Mason. They invited me. I said OK. Then I learned that one of the few people on my short list was on their faculty. So I said to the dean, 'if he's going to be present I'd rather not come.' That's the whole story from my end. Someone from GMU later assured me that Bracey wouldn't be there."
Asked whether it was appropriate for George Mason to abide by that request, as it did, Walsch said, "it was a judgment call."