The University of Texas at Austin announced Wednesday that it found no wrongdoing by a professor in his actions in November when a lecture he organized was disrupted by pro-Palestinian students. The students interrupted the start of the lecture, which was on the Israeli military, with speeches of their own in which they criticized the Israeli military. The professor, Ami Pedahzur, then attempted to regain order and criticized the protesters, some of whom filed complaints accusing him of violating their rights and discriminating against them.
The university's announcement Wednesday said that an investigation found the accusations against Pedahzur to be unsubstantiated. The university said policy bars it from releasing full reports on charges found to be unsubstantiated. (Supporters of the students are accusing the university of a biased investigation.)
Gregory L. Fenves, president at UT Austin, issued a statement that suggested the thinking behind the university's finding. "Free discourse is vital to the University of Texas," he said. "As a university committed to knowledge and discovery, UT is steadfast in its support of inquiry and debate. Yet free speech also carries with it responsibility. The expression of free speech is not a license to drown out the speech of others, or to shout down ideas one disagrees with."
UPDATE: The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents voted today to approve the policies referenced below. Inside Higher Ed will have a full report tomorrow. Protests by audience members interrupted the meeting.
The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents votes today on new tenure, posttenure review and faculty layoff policies to close gaps in tenure protections created by a new state law. But some members of the systemwide task force that drafted the policies being considered say they had little input, reported The Cap Times. Bradley Seebach, an associate professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse, told the paper despite assumptions that the draft policies represent the consensus of the 20-person task force, “no [one] can say whether the draft policies represent the common viewpoint of the task force members. This is because the members of the task force were never asked to endorse the policy statements, either as a whole or in individual parts. Like many other task force members, I went into the process assuming that we would be asked to endorse final policy statements.”
Another task force member who did not identify him or herself in responding to an informal poll by the Times said, “Since our input was ultimately ignored, I begrudge every minute wasted” on the task force. The same respondent said the new posttenure review policy “gives too much power to administrators and not enough time to turn around a subpar research program. These points were made very clear by the committee, and they were ignored.” One respondent, meanwhile, supported all three policies, saying they will keep the system competitive with other institutions.
The American Association of University Professors remains opposed to some aspects of the proposed policies. David Vanness, an associate professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and head of its AAUP chapter, said in statement on Facebook Wednesday that the proposed policy on layoffs of tenured faculty members allows the administration “to discontinue programs (and lay off faculty) because other programs may be considered higher priority” because it wrongly conflates educational considerations and financial concerns.
The draft policy says, in part, that "educational considerations are related in part to regular program review, and reflect a long-range judgment that the educational mission of the institution as a whole will be enhanced by program discontinuance. This includes the reallocation of resources to other programs with higher priority based on educational considerations. Such long-range judgments generally will involve the analysis of financial resources and the needs of the program and any related college or school."
Vanness wrote that while the first sentence is fine, the last two “are disasters waiting to happen. If the administration decides, for example, that climate science is a lower priority than petroleum engineering, well -- it could be good-bye, climate science! It need not be so obviously political -- but do we want to work in a climate where we are competing against each other for our own jobs? We're talking Academic Hunger Games here, folks.”
Another “land mine” lurks in the inclusion of "current and predicted comparative cost analysis/effectiveness of the program" in the list of "educational considerations," Vanness said. If program A graduates more majors per dollar spent than program B, then program B could be discontinued, Vanness argues. “What metric will be used to choose? The policy doesn't specify -- and doesn't give faculty the responsibility to decide (assuming that using comparative cost-effectiveness is even an appropriate reason to lay off faculty). … The only acceptable conditions for faculty layoff are either a true institutionwide financial emergency or that a program should be discontinued for bona fide educational considerations, as determined by the faculty (who, after all are supposed to have primary responsibility for curriculum and research)."
The university system has maintained that its proposed standards are on par with peer institutions.
Meanwhile, Madison last semester gave out $726,436 in raises and $8 million in research support to maintain 40 top faculty members being courted by other institutions, the Journal-Sentinel reported, based on information it obtained via an open records request. The number of professors taking outside offers to the central administration has reportedly increased this year, as many expected, since the Wisconsin Legislature changed the state’s tenure law and cut $250 million from the university system’s budget last summer. Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said at a recent Board of Regents meeting, according to the Journal-Sentinel, that in retaining the 40 professors, the university kept $18 million in federal research grants on campus. A half dozen faculty members who received retention offers decided to leave Madison anyway, and several professors who decided to stay reportedly remain worried about a long-term decline in faculty morale and working conditions.
A student at the University of Connecticut has been charged with second-degree forgery and third-degree computer crime for breaking into his professor's computer and changing grades, The Dayreported. The student improved his grades and those of some other students, and dropped the grades of four students. What the student apparently didn't realize was that UConn has a system to detect such fraud: it notifies professors that they have recorded grade changes, so if a professor receives such an email and hasn't made the changes (as was the case here), the case can be investigated.
The controversial president of Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y., is stepping down, effective April 15. In an email to faculty, students and staff Tuesday, Anne Carson Daly said “serious family issues have developed” that will require frequent, extended absences from campus. “It has been a privilege to serve as the president of [Mount Saint Mary] and a great pleasure to work with you to advance the college,” she said. “Together we have been able to add programs, increase enrollment, improve retention, surpass advancement goals and launch our five-year strategic plan. The Mount’s future is bright with wonderful students, dedicated faculty, and devoted staff and administrators.” Daly’s email made no reference to faculty concerns about her leadership style and vision for the college, which some said ignored its traditions of shared governance and diversity. Similar concerns led the faculty to vote no confidence in the chair of the college’s Board of Trustees, Albert Gruner, last month. Gruner said in a statement that the college had lost a "transformational leader. ...Unfortunately, her vision for the future greatness of the Mount will not be realized under her guidance."
Melissa Click, the assistant professor of communication at the University of Missouri at Columbia who was fired last month for her actions during on-campus protests in the fall, broke her silence Tuesday to endorse the American Association of University Professors’ planned investigation into her case. Click, who hasn’t spoken publicly since she was terminated in a closed-door vote by the university system’s Board of Curators, said in a statement that AAUP’s action “underscores my belief that the curators have overstepped their authority.” Click said that while she acted on the curators’ offer to appeal their decision directly to them, “I do not believe that the process they used to come to their decision was fair.” In reference to the unusual means by which the curators fired her -- absent faculty review -- Click said the curators must adhere to university policies and rescind her termination.
Click alleged the board had bowed to “conservative voices” calling for her dismissal and said that while she’s apologized for some of her actions during the protests -- including asking for “muscle” to remove a student journalist -- she won’t “apologize for my support of black students who experience racism” at Mizzou.
“Instead of disciplining me for conduct that does not ‘meet expectations for a university faculty member,’” she added, “the curators are punishing me for standing with students who have drawn attention to the issue of overt racism [on campus]. … The Board of Curators is using me as a scapegoat to distract from larger campus issues, but their termination of my employment will not remedy the environment of injustice that persists.”
After appealing to the university several times on behalf of Click, AAUP announced Tuesday that it would investigate her “summary dismissal,” which it said deviates from “normative practice among American institutions.” Namely, AAUP said, a professor “with indefinite tenure -- or a probationary faculty member within the term of appointment -- may be dismissed only following demonstration of cause in an adjudicative hearing before a faculty body.”
A three-person investigative team will visit the Mizzou campus later this month to meet with Click, faculty and board members, and other administrators. The investigation into alleged violations of academic freedom and tenure could result in censure by AAUP in June. A spokesperson for the university system said it had no immediate comment.
Sara Goldrick-Rab announced online Monday night that she is leaving the University of Wisconsin at Madison for Temple University. Goldrick-Rab is a prominent researcher on low-income students and public policy and she has been among the more outspoken critics of the removal of tenure protections from statute in Wisconsin. While the University of Wisconsin System has been moving to put tenure policies into system policy, Goldrick-Rab has argued that those policies are not true tenure.
"It is no longer possible for critical scholars working in public higher education to flourish without tenure protections," she wrote online. "There are daily attacks on the ideas of scholars who challenge current practices and policies employed by university administrators, state legislators and even governors. McCarthyism is alive and well -- especially here in Wisconsin."
She added: "Terrified sheep make lousy teachers, lousy scholars and lousy colleagues. And today at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, thanks to #FakeTenure, I’m surrounded by terrified sheep. To be honest, commitments to the growing number of people whom I am responsible for (including my two children, but also my students and staff), put me at risk of becoming one of them."
Goldrick-Rab also wrote that, at Temple, she will have real tenure protections and a faculty union. In addition, she said she is pleased to be going to a university with a strong commitment to serving diverse, low-income students.