A Presidential Critic, Fired

AAUP finds violations of academic freedom in dismissal of tenured professor who questioned leadership at Stillman College.
April 10, 2009

After a career of 27 years teaching business at Stillman College, and despite holding a tenured position, Ekow O. Hayford was fired last year, in violation of his academic freedom, according to a report being issued today by the American Association of University Professors. The report found that Hayford was fired without due process after he publicly criticized the president of the college, a historically black institution in Alabama.

Hayford taught without incident for most of his career, but his situation at Stillman unraveled after he started to criticize Ernest McNealey, who became president in 1997. During the 2006-7 academic year, the AAUP report found, Hayford spoke out about McNealy's failure to issue contracts to faculty members. And the next academic year, Hayford spoke to The Tuscaloosa News about concerns over a decline in enrollment at the college and the potential impact of the decline on Stillman's finances.

McNealey criticized Hayford for speaking critically and barred him from raising issues during faculty meetings, when professors normally have the right to ask such questions of the president. The AAUP report notes that President McNealey inserted this language in the minutes of a faculty meeting: "Mr. Hayford was not allowed to speak in this forum and was told to address any concerns to his chair or dean. As most of you know, this gentleman has engaged in malicious slander and as a result it is inappropriate to address him in this forum. Mr. Hayford has told wanton lies and has done so in a public forum. The president will not honor that kind of mindset; it is inappropriate in this forum and this institution."

The situation for Hayford deteriorated after that. First, his pay was cut for scheduling a trip to Spain without proper permission. Then he was suspended and eventually fired, with college officials citing a ban on "malicious gossip or public verbal abuse," but not specifying what Hayford had said that would qualify.

The AAUP found that that the suspension and dismissal of Hayford was a violation of his academic freedom, and that he was also denied "basic requisites of academic due process" that association guidelines require. The report found that the administration never gave Hayford "a specific list of charges" or "an appropriate venue prior to dismissal in which to defend himself before a body of faculty peers." Based on the analysis of this case, the AAUP concluded that "the current policies and practices of the administration at Stillman College have created a climate that is inimical to the exercise of academic freedom and to principles of shared academic governance."

Stillman's public relations office did not respond to questions about the report.

The AAUP sends drafts of its reports to colleges in advance of release for any statement they wish to make. The college's lawyer told the AAUP that the report was full of "unsupported inferences, conclusions and assumptions." The lawyer added: "Freedom of speech does not allow Hayford to scream fire in a crowded theater. The economic and enrollment challenges with which Stillman has dealt in attempting to continue its persistent and determined commitment to the education of its students are exacerbated by inflammatory, conclusory personal criticisms such as levied by Professor Hayford.”


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