Refusing Silence: What No One Else is Talking About

Lee Skallerup

July 7, 2011

Lee Skallerup

Recently in Inside Higher Ed, I wrote, along with three of my UVenus colleagues, a response to Rumana Munzur's situation entitled "Refusing to Be Silent." In the comments, we were called "cowardly" for actually speaking out on the subject, however tentatively; nowhere else have I read reactions from academics about the tragedy. On the Chronicle.com's Brainstorm blog, Naomi Schaefer Riley reacts to the silence of the faculty and university at large in response to the tragedy of Antonio Calvo's suicide. Last month, I was taken to task for daring to suggest that either tenure or some other form of protection be offered so that academics may, indeed, be free to speak out about the direction of their universities.

It is politically incorrect within higher education at the moment to agree with what Shaefer Riley has to say, but I have to admit that I, too, was struck by the silence surrounding Calvo's dismissal from Princeton. Struck is the wrong word. Appalled. Aghast. Disgusted. This is the silence I am refusing. The silence that allows for those who are in more precarious positions within academia to be manipulated, exploited, and negated. If you don't like it, then leave, I was told. No. I will not. I refuse silence.

It was disheartening to me to read so many people dismiss Shaefer Riley because they disagreed with her ideas about tenure (not to mention her politics). We may disagree about many things, but I agree that the situation that has unfolded at Princeton is a strong indicator that tenure isn't currently working, but also that those who are off the tenure-track need stronger protections. I was also encouraged in the comments to find I wasn't the only one. We will probably never know what happened, as the walls have been thrown up and silence now reigns, but we can speak out about how this situation, and so many like it that don't end in tragedy, are allowed to occur in a supposedly progressive environment.

I am particularly sensitive to Calvo's precarious immigration situation; I, too, am here legally but contingently; if something were to happen to my job, my status here would be in jeopardy. How many international scholars are silenced for fear that they may lose their one means to stay legally in their adoptive home? How many instructors are put into administrative positions without the additional support and voice that tenure (supposedly) provides? I also can't help but wonder about the current priorities in higher education; the instructor that Calvo supposedly clashed with is the wife of a research professor in the hard sciences ("nuclear energy expert"). Is it that Calvo was truly difficult to work with, or is it that he clashed with a person with more "political" clout?

These are the discussions that are not taking place right now. I resent being called cowardly when there are so few of us writing and examining these issues. I rejoiced when fellow blogger and agitator Isaac Sweeny wrote his post "Want the Tenure-Track? Don't Keep Quiet." I will not be shamed into silence, nor will I simply take my toys and leave. This is not how higher education will grow and improve. I refuse to be silent, I refuse to accept the status quo, and I refuse to believe that none of this makes any difference.

Morehead, Kentucky in the US

Lee Elaine Skallerup has a PhD from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an Edupreneur. You can visit her blog at collegereadywriting.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting). Lee is also a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.


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