English professors at the University of Akron are complaining to senior administrators about why one of their colleagues, found by the university to have engaged in multiple forms of inappropriate conduct with students, is still allowed to teach, the Akron Beacon Journal reported. The university has found that William Thelin, after drinking with students, took a female student home, where she alleged he tried to kiss her. Further, the university found that he took students to a bar and, while in class, encouraged students to drink. A report by the university was particularly critical of Thelin for taking a student to his home after they were together drinking at a bar. “Dr. Thelin made a choice to not only endanger his own life, by driving after consuming several alcoholic beverages … but he put the student’s life in danger,” said a university's investigator's report. “Parents trust the University of Akron administrators to protect their children while they are away at college.”
Thelin, in a statement to the newspaper, said, “While I acknowledge and regret one isolated instance of poor judgment on my part, the report also includes distortions, hearsay, exaggerations, innuendo and out-and-out fabrications …. Therefore, I dispute the conclusions drawn by EEO. I wish, though, to put this incident behind me and move forward in a positive direction. I have done all that was asked of me and more in response to recommendations made in light of the judgment against me and feel I have learned.”
A university spokesperson told the newspaper that Akron followed the recommendations of its investigators in the case, and that Thelin was required to meet with administrators, and to retake sexual harassment training.
Over faculty opposition, the board of Western Carolina University on Friday approved the creation of a new academic center on free enterprise, The News & Observerreported. Faculty leaders have opposed the center because of questions about its independence after funding that is expected from the Charles Koch Foundation, part of the philanthropic world of the Koch brothers. Professors have also noted that the University of North Carolina System has been weeding out academic centers that focus on such issues as poverty, raising questions about why now is a good time to start a center focused on ideas supported by conservatives. University officials have pledged that the center will be independent.
At this September’s address to the minions at U of All People, the provost announced a new initiative: to become a Research I institution within the next 10 years (though the head of the Faculty Senate stage-whispered that this particular term is outdated). The next day came a correction: U of All People will become a doctoral/research-extensive or -intensive university -- or at least feature one doctoral program that’s not just in the planning stage, for chrissake (this from the Faculty Senate head, who has since been replaced by a marble bust of Sophocles).
But the idea is gaining currency here. Research schools get more money, enjoy more prestige and are eligible for reduced faculty teaching loads, so hey, why not?
First off, it’s obvious that we need a better library or information resource center or whatever they’re calling it nowadays. The Crabbe Memorial Library, built in 1955, looks its age. Never mind the decaying infrastructure or the mold problem, which a good dose of bleach could probably fix.
The collections are haphazard, depending on the discipline of the library liaison faculty member in any given year -- 67 volumes about trains, for example, from a history professor writing a book on 19th-century transportation -- and periodicals oddly slanted toward the psychology department. We have more microfilm readers than computer terminals, and you can count our databases on the fingers of one maimed hand. Though we have access to the Academics ’R’ Us search service, it barely yields results for anything beyond the last three years. Of course, we could subscribe to something like Lexis/Nexis/Protexis, but that costs. Maybe we can share expenses with the high school library in Francis, the next town over.
Second, we’d like a lower course load so that people can teach less and research more, “a chimerical idea” (comment by the provost) that the Faculty Senate has been pushing for 40 years. Our current 4/4 load doesn’t include the mandatory faculty tutoring for students at risk, implemented back in 2000, or the service requirement that involves a weekly fund-raising activity (last week, sitting in the Bean a Prof carnival booth for five bucks a shot).
More to the point: it’s difficult to pursue a research agenda when you have a stack of ungraded essays as high as an administrator’s desk. It’s been suggested that doctoral programs will allow us to recruit graduate students for slave labor teaching. It’s also been suggested, if we pursue that path, that we closely examine the Bolshevik Revolution for precedents.
Third, we need better funding for research. Ha-ha! Ah, ha-ha … cgha ghh [indecipherable coughing sound]. The Office of Research at U of All People consists of a converted janitorial closet that now houses a laptop and a guy named Dale, when he’s around. Grants are broadcast the month after their deadlines, and the last time this school saw an NEH proposal supported was back in 2006, when something accidentally got forwarded from the vice provost’s Outlook Express account.
The Summer Support Program at U of All People has been downgraded to Research Weekend. The annual grants proposal workshop, which once provided free coffee and pretzels, is now an online Q & A session with the biology department’s Professor Theodore Winkler, who once got a fellowship for something and is happy to share what little he knows.
Fourth, a Research I -- make that an expensive research institution -- should offer a full range of baccalaureate programs, at least according to the Carnegie Foundation, which should spend a day walking in our shoes. In fact, it might be nice to expand our range or update what we already offer, like the home economics program remastered as food services and management, or bring back the philosophy degree, abandoned after a survey showed that none of our three philosophy majors ever donated a dime to our coffers after graduation. We sort of envy U Too, the all-digital university that offers every online degree imaginable and some unimaginable.
Fifth, we need to award a lot of doctoral degrees, but that’s difficult when we don’t even have doctoral programs. Maybe offer a doctoral program in doctorology? All we have is a baby M.A. program in a few departments that shunt their students off to God knows where after they graduate. Perhaps other research institutions should be granting -- wonderful verb -- fewer Ph.D.s. That’s not our problem. We can’t award any degrees till we get the programs, we can’t feature the programs till we get support and we won’t get any support until we figure a way out of this catch-22.
But who knows? Maybe one day, U of All People will decide to give real research a shot and somehow buck the odds, up the standards and make the grade -- in which case, there’ll probably be some professors nostalgic for the old days, when all you had to do was sit in place in a carnival booth and get beaned by a host of resentful undergraduates.
David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is Kanji Poems.
The concept of academic freedom for faculty has been more or less clearly defined over the years. Its three components -- freedom in the classroom, freedom in research and publication, and freedom of expression as a citizen -- are widely acknowledged. They have been clearly articulated in both the Association of University Professors 1915 Declarationon Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure and the 1940 Joint Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure (co-authored with the Association of American Colleges).
Recent events at the University of Missouri, Yale University and elsewhere, however, raise anew the question of student academic freedom. The 1915 Declaration recognized that “academic freedom has traditionally had two applications: to the freedom of the teacher and to that of the student, Lehrfreiheit [to teach] and Lernfreiheit [to learn].” According to Ralph Fuchs, a former general secretary of the AAUP, “Student freedom is a traditional accompaniment to faculty freedom as an element of academic freedom in the larger sense.”
But what, concretely, does student academic freedom entail? May students, like faculty, claim some version of academic freedom beyond their own legal rights under the First Amendment? And, if so, what kind of academic freedom is most appropriate for students?
The question was addressed nearly 50 years ago in the wake of the civil rights movement in the South, the Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley and burgeoning student movement against the Vietnam War. The AAUP and several other associations drafted the 1967 Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students. The proclaimed aim of that Joint Statement -- a kind of Magna Carta for student rights -- was “to enumerate the essential provisions for student freedom to learn.”
It's worth looking back at that seminal document in light of contemporary concerns.
The joint statement protects not only the free expression rights of students generally but also speaks specifically to student academic freedom in the classroom. It requires “the professor … [to] encourage free discussion, inquiry and expression, [and to evaluate students] solely on an academic basis, not on opinions or conduct in matters unrelated to academic standards.”
The statement also addresses students’ rights outside the classroom. “Students bring to the campus a variety of interests previously acquired and develop many new interests as members of the academic community,” it declares. “They should be free to organize and join associations to promote their common interests.” The statement adds, “Students and student organizations should be free to examine and discuss all questions of interest to them, and to express opinions publicly and privately. They should always be free to support causes by orderly means which do not disrupt the regular and essential operation of the institution.”
Of no small importance is the statement's recognition of the right of students to participate in institutional governance: “As constituents of the academic community, students should be free, individually and collectively, to express their views on issues of institutional policy and on matters of general interest to the student body. The student body should have clearly defined means to participate in the formulation and application of institutional policy affecting academic and student affairs.”
The extent of such participation was left unclear, however. Nonetheless, in 1970 AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance and its council did issue a Draft Statement on Student Participation in College and University Governance. Perhaps reflecting then-current student demands for black and ethnic studies, that statement proposed that “Students should be consulted in decisions regarding the development of already-existing programs and the establishment of new programs.” It added as well that “Student opinion should also be consulted, where feasible, in the selection of presidents, chief academic and nonacademic administrative officers including the dean of students, and faculty.”
The 1967 Joint Statement considers students’ freedom off campus, noting that “students are both citizens and members of the academic community’ and as citizens “should enjoy the same freedom of speech, peaceful assembly and right of petition that other citizens enjoy.” Moreover, the statement adds this important caution: “Faculty members and administrative officials should insure that institutional powers are not employed to inhibit such intellectual and personal development of students as is often promoted by their exercise of the rights of citizenship both on and off campus.”
The detailed provisions of the 1967 Statement, I would argue, suggest a more systematic and reasoned view of the current wave of student unrest than the kinds of near-hysterical reactions -- The Wall Street Journal, for instance, called Yale protesters “little Robespierres” -- that seem to characterize much recent commentary. It is certainly true that the rights defined by this statement surely would include the right of students to upset other students, perhaps by wearing offensive costumes on Halloween. But, in many ways, more important is the right of the offended students to express their distaste as forcefully as they can without undue disruption of the institution's mission. As Geoffrey Stone, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, recently put it, “Toleration does not imply acceptance or agreement. The freedom to speak does not give one the right not to be condemned and despised for one's speech.”
In this light, despite all the hubbub, it is difficult to identify even a handful of instances where recent student protests have actually violated the rights and freedoms of anyone, including faculty members and other students. Moreover, as Stone also suggests, protesting students are well within their rights even to demand that the institution take disciplinary action against other students, faculty or administrators who engage in odious behavior.
The real question is whether and how to act on such demands. As Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, has written, “Leadership matters -- not just on the substance of legislation, hiring or executive orders, but leadership in the face of emotionally evocative symbolic and narrative disputes.” Let’s take the incident at Yale that has aroused so much heat, in which a faculty residence adviser sent an email to a restricted list of students criticizing a message sent earlier by minority affairs counselors advising against offensive Halloween costumes. The adviser’s email spurred an angry response from minority students, some of whom demanded the adviser’s dismissal. This, I would argue, was well within those students’ rights. But were the Yale administration to accede to such a demand, it would be a different matter.
Indeed, as I’ve written elsewhere, the issue at Yale, Missouri and other institutions is largely not one of free expression but of communication, environment and values. Shapiro puts it well: “At a time of unprecedented economic inequality, students of color, immigrants and students from low-income backgrounds -- at rich, elite universities and state schools alike -- are painfully aware that the experiences they bring to campus are ill appreciated by many classmates, teachers and administrators, who come overwhelmingly from a culture of middle-class safety nets and an economy that rewards those who already have. That’s the issue.”
Here it's necessary to credit the students for their courage and determination in addressing the sometimes unconscious but nonetheless real and persistent racism that infects our society and our campuses. In doing so, they have made and will again make mistakes. They will offend others even as they respond to deeper offenses against their own dignity. They may demonstrate indifference to the rights of others, as protesters everywhere always have. But, in doing so, they will learn. And that, it seems to me, is the essential point. Student academic freedom, in the final analysis, is about the freedom to learn. And learning is impossible without error.
What is therefore most remarkable about today’s student movements is not their alleged intolerance or immaturity. It is not their intemperance or supposed oversensitivity to insult and indifference. It is that they have begun to grapple with issues that their elders have resisted tackling for far too long. Stone is right that “a university can legitimately educate students about the harms caused by the use of offensive, insulting, degrading and hurtful language and behavior and encourage them to express their views, however offensive or hurtful they might be, in ways that are not unnecessarily disrespectful or uncivil.”
But the university, and especially its faculty, must also be willing to learn from students. Faculty members should welcome the challenges the protesting students have posed. Student movements offer countless opportunities for students -- as well as their teachers -- to learn. To approach them in this way, in the spirit of the student academic freedom proclaimed and defined by the AAUP and its collaborators back in 1967, is therefore simply to fulfill our responsibility as educators.
Henry Reichman is first vice president of the American Association of University Professors and chair of the association’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure.
When professors leave one job due to sexual harassment allegations, they can land new jobs and repeat the behavior elsewhere, a recent case involving the University of Delaware and San Diego State University suggests.
Asked how he came up with the idea, Moynihan said, via email, "Came to me in my walk into work. Maybe it was the need to do holiday shopping. Or perhaps a deeper dread of the university being broke, and forced to monetize in ways that go against our better judgment."
Suffolk University is severing ties with the Beacon Hill Institute, a conservative research center funded in part by the conservative Koch Foundation, The Boston Globe reported. A university spokesman said it was the center’s decision to leave, but David Tuerck, center director, told the Globe that Suffolk made it impossible to stay on there by denying research proposals and limiting funding sources. Tuerck said the trouble peaked about six months ago, after Margaret McKenna, a political liberal, became Suffolk’s president. Greg Gatlin, a Suffolk spokesman, denied the change had anything to do with how the institution treated the center. Rather, he told the Globe, Suffolk requires research centers to be self-sustaining and Beacon Hill had run a deficit for years.
Suffolk’s relationship with Beacon Hill became strained in 2013, after the center proposed a study aimed at weakening a regional initiative to reduce carbon pollution, the Globe reported. The university said at the time that the goals of that research were not in line with its mission. Tuerck said, "The entire administration made up their mind that they were troubled by what we were doing in some way, where we were getting money, how we were using the money, what we were saying, and they wanted things to change."
While some have criticized the center for accepting donations from the Koch Foundation, Tuerck told the Globe that the center receives just 1 percent of its funds from the organization, or about $33,000 over three years. He said he wasn't opposed to reasonable limits on fund-raising, but that those imposed on the center had become too onerous. But Kalin Jordan, a Suffolk graduate and co-founder of the group UnKoch My Campus, said via email that that is potentially misleading, since Beacon Hill has received more than $800,000 from the notoriously antiregulation Kochs since 2008, based on a database of federal tax filings she helps maintain. The center will move off campus next year, in what Tuerck called an "amicable divorce."