Syracuse University is planning to fire a tenured professor over an affair with a student whom he taught. A memo to faculty members from Chancellor Kent Syverud did not name the faculty member, but described the situation this way: "When completed, the process, as stipulated by the university’s faculty manual, could result in the faculty member’s termination and revocation of tenure. If this were to occur, I believe it would be the first time in decades a tenured professor here has been terminated through this process. Last year, the university brought forth charges based on this faculty member’s alleged violation of the consensual relationships provision of the Policy on Inappropriate Conduct by Faculty Members and the University Code of Ethical Conduct. Specifically, this faculty member allegedly engaged in a consensual romantic relationship with an undergraduate student whom the faculty member taught during the relationship. I just want you to know we are following the established procedure to address this matter. The final step in the process is currently underway and I will update you upon its conclusion."
Reporting on the Senate's confirmation of Theodore Mitchell as the U.S. Department of Education's chief higher education official, Inside Higher Ed quoted a statement from Secretary of Education: “He will lead us through this important time in higher education as we continue to work toward the President’s goal to produce the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world by 2020.” While this brief remark is hardly a major policy statement, its tone and focus are typical of the way Secretary Duncan, President Obama, and many others in politics these days talk about higher education.
This typical rhetoric, in Duncan’s statement and beyond, makes a good point, but it doesn't say enough. To explain why, I will take a leaf from Thucydides. In History of the Peloponnesian War, he explained that his apparent verbatim accounts of speeches by other figures really articulated what he thought they should have said. With due respect for Secretary Duncan and President Obama, here is what the Secretary of Education should have said, on behalf of the President's aims, on the confirmation of a new Under Secretary of Education in charge of higher education affairs:
He will lead us through this important time in higher education as we continue to work toward the president’s goals for higher education in making America a more productive economy, a more just society, a more flourishing democracy, and a richer environment for what the Founders called, in the Declaration of Independence, "the pursuit of happiness," and in the Preamble to the Constitution, "the general welfare."
A part of that economic goal is to produce the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world by 2020. Another part is to ensure that higher education extends broadly the opportunity to develop the ingenuity and creativity that will drive American innovation in the years ahead.
That means working to ensure that higher education regains its function as an engine of socioeconomic advancement, both for the individual and for society as a whole. This means resisting the increasing stratification of curriculums and opportunities, making sure that the advantages of arts and sciences education are extended as far throughout higher education as possible. This is both prudent, to cultivate the nation's human capital, and also just, to mitigate disadvantages of less-privileged starting points.
Everyone knows that democracy depends on America's capacity to maintain a deliberative electorate, capable of making well-informed choices in a political system they understand and in which they actively participate. It is a responsibility of higher education to enhance this investment in America by helping maintain that electorate. It is a responsibility of government to promote that role.
Finally, when the Founders embraced such goals as " the pursuit of happiness," and securing "the general welfare" of the people, they acknowledged that the well-being of individuals and of society as a whole -- difficult as these concepts are to define -- are legitimate objects of government interest. Higher education has crucial responsibilities of exploration and discovery in this broad field of human well-being. It is here that the perennial American question concerning the scope and limits of government itself is to be explored, and given for inquiry to succeeding generations of Americans.
"So on the appointment of a new Under Secretary with responsibilities toward higher education, we celebrate the many contributions of higher education to American flourishing: its role in contributing to a vibrant economy, certainly; and also its role in sustaining and advancing the broad aims of justice and improvement to which the country has always been committed."
That would have been good to hear from Secretary Duncan, and would be good to hear in any of the administration's speeches about higher education. None of us who are committed to this broader vision of higher education can ever, I emphasize, lose sight of its role in propelling the economy forward. But we cannot permit the purposes of higher education in America to be narrowed solely into the goal of workforce production. More is at stake: access to opportunity, cultivation of ingenuity and innovation, and broad contributions to the future of the country. Phi Beta Kappa joins many voices in advocacy of that vision. We invite Theodore Mitchell, Secretary Duncan, and President Obama to join, as well.
John Churchill is secretary of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.
Many faculty members at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign believe that James Kilgore, an adjunct who has been told he will not have his contract renewed, is being treated unfairly. Kilgore had strong reviews, and indications that he would be renewed, but that changed when a local newspaper published an article identifying him as a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, who has served jail time before coming to the university (and informing superiors of his past). Amid the complaints, the university has vowed to review what happened to Kilgore.
But now faculty leaders question whether that review will be conducted fairly. That's because Christopher Kennedy, the Illinois board chair, gave an interview to The News-Gazette in which he said that the board, while respecting the review process, has strong feelings about what should happen. "The board's position is we don't want to prejudge the process," Kennedy said. "But our general position is clear. We want to be respectful of the fact that we operate on taxpayer's money and tuition ... and people paying tuition who have will have concerns about underwriting this lifestyle." Kennedy also said that because Kilgore is an adjunct, there are not academic freedom issues at stake. "We're not reacting to public pressure. If this was an issue of academic freedom, we would stand up for it. This is an hourly employee who doesn't have tenure. It's completely different," he said. And Kennedy said he has been "very clear" in sharing his views about the issue with university administrators.
Cary Nelson, a professor of English at Illinois, past president of the American Association of University professors, and one of those pushing for Kilgore to be rehired, said via email that Kennedy's statements have made it impossible for Kilgore to be reviewed fairly for renewal. Having "confessed" to sharing his views, Kennedy "is being distinctly disingenuous in declaring that the board doesn't 'want to prejudge the process,'" Nelson said. "Indeed his remark that the board may have a role at the end of the university¹s review process telegraphs a warning that the board may well choose to deny Kilgore a job even if the campus decides otherwise. That may take the campus administration off the hook from the faculty perspective, but it leaves us with academic freedom and shared governance in tatters."
Ball State University has promoted a professor accused last year of proselytizing during a course called "Boundaries of Science," The Star Press of Muncie, Ind., reported. Last year, the university investigated and said it would be working with Eric Hedin, now an associate professor of physics and astronomy, to make sure that his courses were science-based. The news came after First Amendment watchdog groups informed the university that students had reported Hedin was using "Boundaries," an honors science class, to teach Christan values.
The story, along with the university's recent hiring of another science professor known for his support of intelligent design, prompted a statement from President Jo Ann Gora affirming the university's commitment to "academic integrity" in relation to science. She said intelligent design had no place in a science course.
TheStar Press noted that Hedin's promotion followed a letter to the university from conservative state legislators, expressing concern over the “establishment of a speech code restricting faculty speech on intelligent design[.]" Legislators in the letter said Gora's statement and the university's actions toward Hedin raised "troubling" questions, such as whether a professor would be able to answer a question from a student about intelligent design. Ball State administrators met with lawmakers last month. State Sen. Dennis Kruse, chair of the Education Committee, told the newspaper that “Ball State officials were very attentive to our requests and concerns during the April 4 meeting. A majority of issues have been resolved, and I look forward to working more on these matters concerning academic freedom with the university.”
Joan Todd, a university spokeswoman, said: “It was productive meeting, a great opportunity to discuss important issues and at this time we have nothing more to add." Via email, Todd said that Ball State does not automatically award tenure to associate professors, unlike most institutions, and that Hedin, who is four years into his probationary period, is not yet tenured. Hedin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The New York Public Library announced Wednesday that it has abandoned plans to move its stacks out of the iconic library building in midtown Manhattan. A statement from the library said that a review of the proposal identified better ways for the library to grow and expand lending libraries in the area. The plan to move the stacks infuriated scholars who view the main research collection of the library as crucial to research in many fields. Here are twocolumns outlining those concerns, and a response on Inside Higher Ed by the head of the New York Public Library.
Boston College is offering to return to the interview subjects oral history recordings that were made about "the Troubles," a period of intense protest and violence in Northern Ireland from the 1960s until the 1980s. British authorities (with backing from their U.S. counterparts) fought in U.S. federal court to obtain the recordings for use in possible prosecutions, and in the end obtained some recordings that many believe led to a recent detention for questioning. The use of oral history recordings in this way, in violation of confidentiality requirements made by researchers to the participants, has alarmed many scholars.
While Boston College was under court order to turn over some recordings, it currently is not under any such order. So the college issued this statement: "If Interviewees in the Belfast Project express their desire to have their interviews returned to them, Boston College will accommodate their request upon proper identification. Given that the litigation surrounding the subpoenas has concluded, we believe that it is the appropriate course of action to take at this time."
Chris Bray, a historian who written on the case (and criticized Boston College for not protecting the confidentiality of the recordings), said he believed the college's offer was unrealistic. Some of those recorded would be revealing their identities if they come forward to get the tapes, and the college could then be forced to reveal their identities, he said via email. "Since at least some of the interviews can't be safely returned to unidentified interviewees, and since BC can't guarantee that it will refuse to cooperate with future fishing expeditions in the collection, I think the collection should be immediately and entirely destroyed," he said.