Casualty of Anti-War Activism
Alan Temes believes that being a professor doesn't mean you give up your First Amendment rights -- and that his beliefs cost him a chance at tenure.
Temes, an assistant professor of health and physical education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, had been receiving good reviews until last year, when some of his colleagues objected to notices he posted in the hallway of an academic building, among the various other notices that line such hallways. Temes posted -- and regularly updated -- the death counts of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians killed since the United States invaded.
His department chair sent Temes an e-mail last April stating: "Hanging a body count is not an issue of freedom of speech, but one of using poor judgment and showing lack of sensitivity for students, faculty and staff in our office who have immediate family members who are themselves at risk of dying in Iraq every day."
In the same e-mail -- according to a lawsuit Temes has filed -- the department chair, Elaine Blair, requested a meeting to talk about Temes' anti-war activities and his tenure bid. At that meeting, according to the suit, Temes was told that continued anti-war activity would hurt his tenure bid -- and shortly after that he was rejected for tenure.
A spokeswoman for Indiana University of Pennsylvania said that no one at the institution could comment about the allegations.
Normally, tenure lawsuits are very hard to win. But Samuel C. Cordes, a lawyer representing Temes, said that because of the collective bargaining agreement in place at the university, tenure criteria are very specific and somewhat formulaic, so it will be easy to show that Temes met the criteria and was headed to tenure -- at least until he exercised his freedom of expression.
The suit filed by Temes in federal district court charges that his First Amendment rights were violated and says that, as a result, he should be awarded tenure.
"It's a First Amendment issue, and I think it's important for that reason," Cordes said. "Any public employee has a right to talk on matters of public interest. The Supreme Court has said that for more than 20 years, especially in the university setting, where there is supposed to be the free exchange of ideas."
Temes said that he thought it was important, as a professor, to get students thinking about the war in Iraq. "The American media hasn't been covering the deaths," he said. It seemed perfectly appropriate for him to put up his notices in the hallway, he said, since the same hallway includes notices that were patriotic or pro-war and a display of alumni and employee relatives who are serving in the military.
At the same time, Temes stressed that the activities for which he was criticized weren't in the classroom. He said that he doesn't try to hide his liberal views, but that the war is rarely relevant to his courses, so he doesn't bring it up. He did call off classes on the day the United States invaded Iraq, and participated in a teach-in instead, and he replaced regular classes with a discussion on 9/11. "I just thought we couldn't conduct business as usual" after learning of the attacks on the World Trade Center, he said. But Temes said that those rare instances in which world events changed his classes weren't criticized -- his body count and his other anti-war activities were.
He makes no apology for the body counts, and he thinks professors who were offended should respond with their own views, not criticize him for having views.
"I think it's important for professors to speak out about all social and political issues. There are lots of problems -- national, global, that we could and should be addressing," he said. "The only time many of my colleagues are mobilized is on contract issues, pay and benefits. Sure I want to make a decent wage, but that's not high on my list."
While Temes feels strongly about pushing his suit, he also knows these things take time and his current year will be his last at Indiana -- unless he is granted tenure. So when not updating his body count, he's job hunting.
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