Making an unpopular decision and accepting the ensuing criticism is part of the job of a university leader. Whether the topic is research priorities, academic freedom, athletics, or, as it turns out, snow days, there is always a range of opinion on a college campus. And there should be, provided the campus nurtures an environment where everyone feels safe entering into the debate.
When those opinions move from civil and respectful discourse into vitriolic attacks on an individual it can be discouraging and damaging – personally and institutionally. On Monday, about a dozen students, upset that classes were not canceled because of cold weather, took to social media to criticize the decision and to attack me – in comments that were vulgar, crude and in some instances racist and sexist.
People have asked me whether the attacks disturbed me.
Not necessarily on a personal level, because many of the comments could be dismissed as juvenile, notwithstanding the offensive language.
Not because the comments truly reflect my university. The outpouring of support from our students, my colleagues and others – including heartfelt apologies from several of those who posted comments – has shown our true nature.
What was most disturbing was witnessing social media drive a discussion quickly into the abyss of hateful comments and even threats of violence. I shudder to think what might happen if that type of vitriol were directed at a vulnerable member of our student body or university community.
The negative comments, as offensive as they were, are protected speech. But what is protected expression and what is the level of discourse we as educators expect from our students can be very different things. And the size of that gap – so evident this week – is what has been most disappointing. Racist, intimidating or culturally derogatory epithets have no place in any debate in any circumstance. Of all places, a university should be home to diverse ideas and differing perspectives, where robust – and even intense – debate and disagreement are welcomed.
How do we foster such an atmosphere? Only through an unwavering and unrelenting commitment to building truly diverse communities of students and scholars. One dinner with someone who doesn’t look like you and doesn’t sound like you can open new worlds of ideas. You can sit in a classroom and discuss situations in Egypt or in Syria based on academic readings. But, to hear these issues explained by a classmate from that country, from her or his personal experience, in his or her voice – this is when an academic exercise can become a moment of personal transformation. That is why we say diversity is the route to excellence.
And, in fact, we are a diverse campus at Illinois, with students, faculty and staff from every state and more than 100 nations. They are a key part of what makes our university special, a community of cultures and ideas that generate original thought, outstanding research and the excitement that comes with working with the top people in their fields. But this incident shows that we still have work to do.
On Monday, Jan. 27, we held classes, as usual, at the University of Illinois. And, I hope, we all learned something.
Phyllis M. Wise is chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Larry James, a former Army psychologist and associate vice president for military affairs at Wright State University, won't be invited to campus to interview for a position at Northern Arizona University, a spokesman said late Tuesday. The announcement came after a week of protest from students and faculty over the fact that James was in the running to become the new dean of the College Social and behavioral sciences. Protesters raised concerns about his role as a process evaluator for interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq War and at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Many of their concerns came from James's own book, Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts AbuGhraib. In that book, and in various interviews, including one last year with Inside Higher Ed, James says he witnessed abusive behaviors by both prisoners and U.S. military personnel, but that he worked to make the situation better. James was assigned to the prison only after the initial revelations about the abuses at Abu Ghraib and his job was to assess and recommend procedures to prevent future abuses. But some critics said his association with the prison is enough to make his appointment to an academic post inappropriate, and others challenged his explanation and the findings of several independent investigations that James was not party to the abuses at Abu Ghraib. They point to a 2010 complaint filed with the Ohio State Board of Psychology by the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School alleging that human rights violations continued after James arrived.
Protesters called for university to block James from coming to campus to interview. In an open letter to students and faculty posted on the university website this week, Laura Huenneke, provost, and Dan Kain, vice provost for academic personnel at Northern Arizona said: "Sadly, some individuals (including students) are seeking to prevent his interview and visit. Intimidating flyers are being posted anonymously, and messages have been flying around campus urging people to 'check out' the person via Google or other quick web searches. This behavior is inconsistent with the university’s commitment to civil discourse and fair evaluation of individuals. Indeed, our search process has consistently instructed committee members NOT to search the Internet to learn about candidates, both because of the inaccuracies promulgated on the web and because of the potential for discrimination. Our process is built around our deep respect for giving everyone a fair chance in the hiring process."
In response, Romand Coles, professor of community, culture and environment, posted his own letter, saying: "The concern for evidence-based investigation, accurate representation of what we know, and our best efforts at reasoned deliberation are values I too hold to be absolutely vital to the scholarly enterprise and democratic discourse. Yet based on these standards I come to a very different conclusion about the character of the conversation and work that has been conducted around this search thus far."
On Tuesday, a spokesman said via email: "Dr. James’ leadership skills and record of accomplishments in higher education made him a strong candidate for this position. In searching for a dean, NAU's goals include finding the right match between a candidate’s skills and the college’s needs. After extensive discussions on campus, Dr. James’ candidacy will not be pursued and he will not be visiting campus."
James also sparked student protests and raised faculty concerns last year during his candidacy for division executive director in the College of Education at the University of Missouri at Columbia. He did not get the job, but neither did the other finalist. The post went unfilled.
James did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Coles did not offer additional comment.
Tom Snyder, president of Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, was among several business leaders and policy experts to testify before the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee Tuesday on the effects of the Affordable Care Act's so-called employer mandate. The law requires large employers to provide health insurance to employees working 30 or more hours per week, or face fines. Snyder said that the college already had reduced some adjuncts' hours and had to compensate by hiring others in anticipation of the law taking effect in January. Many other colleges and universities have done the same during the past 18 months, capping adjuncts' maximum course loads to ensure that aren't full-time, benefits-eligible employees under the law.
"Because of the unique role of the adjunct in the community college, the end result may be less access for the students and the inability of faculty to stay with one college,” Snyder said, noting that adjuncts' hours include not only contact time with students but also preparation time outside of class. The president said Ivy Tech supported the idea of expanding access to health care, but that it would cost the college system up to $12 million annually to provide all its employees working 30 hours or more weekly with health insurance.
Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy group, testified in November to the House Education and the Workforce Committee about how institutions' responses to the law were hurting adjuncts. She was not invited to Tuesday's hearing.
Via email, she said: "The problem with colleges like Ivy Tech doing it is that they are not putting the mission of education first. The mission of higher education is not to figure out ways to cut costs by cutting faculty-associated costs; the mission of higher ed is to invest in the people who make education happen -- the teachers and the students."
Northeastern Illinois University has settled for an undisclosed amount with Loretta Capeheart, the tenured professor of justice studies who sued the institution for defamation after she said it accused her of “stalking” a student. Capeheart has claimed the university made that allegation in retaliation for her activism on campus, including protesting the Central Intelligence Agency. Previously, the university had tried to kill Capeheart’s suit by citing state anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) laws. But an appeals court sided against the university in September, saying that the institution did not refute any major aspect of Capeheart’s claim. The news of the settlement comes just weeks after the American Association of University Professors released a report accusing the institution of denying tenure to second professor in retaliation for his department’s involvement in a no-confidence vote in the president. Capeheart, whose legal battle began six years ago, said via email that the September ruling most helped her case, but the recent AAUP report also likely encouraged the university to settle, in that it “publicly exposed the university’s willingness to override basic faculty and citizens’ rights.”
She added: “It is incomprehensible to me that a university that is supposed to be the place for vigorous debate and discussion, the very basis of democracy, chose to engage in a legal battle intent on silencing faculty and others who work at the university.”
A university spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Don Matthews, the professor of religious studies who was suspended from teaching at Naropa University after taking an indefinite vow of silence, has been reinstated, the Daily Camera reported. Matthews was suspended in December after refusing to speak in class, in protest of what he said was institutional racism at Naropa. Administrators said they had logged dozens of students complaints against Matthews, including that he told students they needed to seek mental health services and had threatened to sue others for defamation. The vow of silence in the classroom was a kind of last straw, they said, although President Charles Lief said the institution was devoted to working with Matthews to ensure he returned to teaching. Matthews denied those claims, and said he was unaware of student complaints against him prior to his suspension. Lief said he'd been offered multiple opportunities for professional development. Naropa, a Buddhist university, does not offer tenure to professors. Matthews said he had hired legal representation and had filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board to see if the suspension had violated his civil rights. A board spokesman on Monday confirmed that his case was being investigated by a regional board, but had no further information.
West Virginia, like many states, provides college presidents with charge cards. But unlike other states, West Virginia exempts the presidents from rules about what they can charge, The Gazette-Mail reported. As examples of what a president can charge (but other state officials could not), the article noted these charges by Brian Hemphill, president of West Virginia State University: Chicago Bears football tickets, a $416 dinner and multiple alcohol and room service charges. A university official defended the charges, as related to "donor cultivation."