Banned From Campus

Northwestern orders professor to stay away. She says she is being punished for her activism. Some professors defend university, saying she made them fear for safety.

September 6, 2016
 
Jacqueline Stevens

Northwestern University has banned a full professor from campus, saying that her presence could raise safety concerns for some of her colleagues. The professor in question -- Jacqueline Stevens, a political scientist -- is an outspoken critic of the university's leaders and some of her colleagues.

Last week, Stevens created a website on which she charged that she is being punished unfairly, in retaliation for her political views and campus activism. The website quickly attracted interest from many academics nationwide, and they posted numerous criticisms of Northwestern to social media.

But some professors in Stevens's department at Northwestern say the university needed to act, and that they feared for their safety. They say that Stevens's politics and activism are irrelevant to what is going on and that it is Stevens who is denying faculty rights (those of her colleagues).

Northwestern, citing privacy rules, is not commenting on the case. And while some documents are being shared on both sides, other documents are not public.

The Professor and Her Website

Stevens is a scholar of deportations, private prisons and immigration, among other topics. She has published books with top university presses and received a Guggenheim Fellowship.

She also has consistently been a critic of what she terms the "militarization" of higher education generally and of political science as a discipline. On the website she created, BrandNU, she describes her view of what is happening to her. She says that she was banned from campus and ordered not to contact students despite "no specific charges or evidence of wrongdoing." She characterizes what has happened to her as a case of "retaliation against [a] critic."

Stevens outlines activities that no doubt did not win her fans among Northwestern administrators. She notes a 2015 article she wrote in the journal Perspectives on Politics in which she described her research and criticized the corporate ties of Northwestern. The university is but one example, she writes, of the way "U.S. government and economic elites distort research and teaching priorities."

The website also notes that Stevens was among the faculty members who led opposition to the appointment of Karl Eikenberry, a retired Army general teaching at Stanford University, to lead a new global studies institute at Northwestern. Stevens and other faculty critics questioned Eikenberry's military ties and lack of a Ph.D. The Faculty Senate backed the appointment. But amid vocal criticism from some faculty members, students and others, Eikenberry withdrew. In a long feature article on the controversy, The Washington Post called Eikenberry's withdrawal "a significant embarrassment" for Northwestern.

Conflicts and Fears in the Department

While Stevens associates the university's recent actions against her with her activism, others disagree.

Alvin B. Tillery Jr., associate professor and associate chair of political science (right), said that he was personally scared of Stevens and would leave the building where he works if she returned to the department. In an interview and in email messages, he said that she spread false reports about him, questioned whether "spousal/diversity hires" such as himself were "plants" from the university and said that spousal/diversity hires should not be allowed to vote in faculty meetings.

He described her bursting out in sobs and growling at him. He also said that a colleague told him that "Professor Stevens had suggested that one of her male students on the wrestling team had volunteered to enter my office and do violence to me on her behalf."

As these events escalated, Tillery said, he began to fear for his safety. Tillery also provided Inside Higher Ed with a series of emails and letters he sent to Northwestern officials saying that he felt unsafe and that something needed to be done to protect faculty members from Stevens. The emails show that Northwestern received repeated requests to do something about Stevens, and that these communications did not refer to Stevens's politics.

Tillery went out of his way in communications with Inside Higher Ed to praise Stevens as a scholar.

He said that he has been told a Northwestern investigation into charges he and Stevens made against each other backed his position. While he said he was not given a copy of the report, he is still on campus and she is not.

"The bottom line for me is that all of this stuff about Eikenberry is just posturing on Professor Stevens's part because the investigation she called for found her to be just as reckless and dangerous as many of us have known her to be for years," he said.

S. Sara Monoson, a professor and chair of political science at Northwestern, backs Tillery's view of the situation. In an email, Monoson said, "I can tell you that her original accusation against Professor Tillery early last spring and her abhorrent attacks on him now are not isolated incidents but rather part of a pattern of uncivil and threatening conduct by Stevens toward various individuals in our department (faculty, graduate and undergraduate students and staff) over the course of years.

"She has a long history at Northwestern of gross incivility toward her co-workers and some students that has caused extreme disruptions of normal department business for years. Her behavior towards colleagues and graduate students inside the department of political science was worsening in truly frightening ways last year, prompting many expressions of alarm. Yes, some members of my department worried that she seemed to be out of touch with reality and feared for the safety of the workplace."

She added that Stevens's "research and political views have no bearing on this matter whatsoever."

Asked about the statements from Tillery and Monoson, Stevens posted a new section to her website in which she disputed their statements and accused Monoson of working with administrators on "a witch hunt" against her. She said that all of the statements about her causing people to fear her are based on false information. She also questioned the fairness of the Northwestern investigation into the various charges.

As to why she is unpopular with some colleagues, Stevens wrote, "While I am a social being and value collegiality, I understand collegiality, especially in a university, to require honesty and integrity. I value these qualities more than I value people liking me. I do not set out to alienate people, but if I come to seem alien to them, it may be because I do not (over)value their desire for my conformity, in research, in scholarship and in pedagogy. Just as they earned the right to advance professionally by following tacit rules, my Ph.D. earned me the prerogative to challenge these rules."

Faculty Senate Role

Laurie Zoloth, president of the Northwestern Faculty Senate and a professor of religious studies, medical humanities and bioethics, said that she has heard from a few faculty members about Stevens's website. But she said that Northwestern divisions outside of medicine and law haven't started the academic year yet, so the campus is relatively quiet.

She said that the Senate has a committee to investigate and offer views on actions involving faculty rights. Via email, she said, "As a scholar, I believe that understanding the complexities of events requires careful, detailed and specific research prior to a conclusion. To assess the fairness of treatment is the task of the committee on cause and that is exactly why it exists. As the president of the Senate, my role is to support and trust my faculty colleagues on the committee, so that they can do this important work."

Zoloth said that Stevens in late August formally requested that the committee review her case. Stevens requested such a review earlier, and provided copies of emails in which she made such a request, but Zoloth said that a request consistent with requirements was made only in late August. (This paragraph replaces an earlier version that stated only that Stevens had just recently requested the review.)

 

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