Web Site That Went Too Far

An AAUP report shows how an award-winning professor and his department chair lost their jobs over online criticism of Cumberland College.
April 19, 2005

Compared to other Web sites that criticize college presidents, "We Care for Cumberland" was pretty tame.

There were no obscenities addressed at the president of Cumberland College. The tone was calm. The demands weren't that demanding -- for example, the site sought pledges that faculty members could get contracts with "good faith estimates" of salaries and benefits for the next year.

And the Web site's organizers -- people who are serious about their faith -- wanted the college to reinvigorate the role of religion at the Kentucky Baptist college. So the Web site called for more chapel services and "an unmistakable Christian witness in the recruitment of all prospective students and potential donors."

The only way to see the Web site today is through an archive of defunct Web sites. That's because the Web site fell apart after the chief organizer lost his job -- in an incident that an American Association of University Professors report released Monday found violated his academic freedom, and also led to the loss of his onetime department chair's job.

As the AAUP report describes the situation, Robert Day was the perfect professor for Cumberland, which was renamed the University of the Cumberlands this year. An alumnus whose volunteer work with local families won him honors as an undergraduate, Day was honored as a professor for his courses in social work and his dedication to students.

Things started to unravel in the fall of 2003, when Cumberland announced layoffs. Day and some colleagues (who have never been identified) created the Web site -- which did not use the Cumberland URL or server in any way -- and started asking questions about the college's management. After one week of operation (in which the site had 84 visitors), Day was summoned to the office of James H. Taylor, the president. While accounts of what happened there conflict, the AAUP report says that Day was in effect given the choice by Taylor and three other administrators present of being fired or quitting, that he decided to quit, and then when he changed his mind and wanted the college to have to fire him, was told he could not change his mind.

James W. Bailey was Day's department chair at the time. According to the AAUP report, he lost his job for not having his explanations of Day's departure conform to the college's official position. Bailey was presented with a new contract to sign that would have given the college broad rights to dismiss him, and when he declined to sign, his job ended at the end of the semester when his existing contract expired. (Faculty members work on renewable contracts at Cumberland.)

The AAUP analysis of the situation at Cumberland found that the college had violated Day's academic freedom by punishing him for the views he expressed on the Web site. Additionally, it said that the meeting in the president's office, and the administration's handling of what took place there, violated Day's due process rights. Bailey's rights were violated, the AAUP found, because he was punished for disagreeing with the punishment of Day.

Additionally, the AAUP found that the college's "policies and practices preclude any effective faculty role in academic governance and contribute to an atmosphere that stifles the freedom of faculty to question and criticize administrative decisions and actions."

In an interview Monday, President Taylor referred to a statement he gave the AAUP. That statement said that there were "some errors" in the report, but that it would not be "productive" to discuss them.

Taylor's statement reiterated the college's view that Day resigned. He also said that "the policies and procedures" of the college are "not the same as those adopted by the AAUP."

As for Day, he is working as a social worker in a Kentucky program that helps newborn children, and teaching as an adjunct at Eastern Kentucky University. He said Monday that while he kept the Web site going for a while after he lost his job (and site traffic grew), he eventually needed to move on.

Said Day: "It was time to quit kicking that dead horse."


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