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"Stripping a Professor of Tenure Over a Blog Post"

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I saw this story floating around for the past couple of days. I thought it'd be an interesting point of discussion here.

 

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/02/stripping-a-professor-of-tenure-over-a-blog-post/385280/#disqus_thread

 

Certainly a very fraught situation. I must say I disagree with the author of the article (who considers the action in the title "Marquette University's attack on academic freedom"). I also think that the TA handled the situation poorly but her mistakes certainly don't justify her supervisor's actions. 

 

I think the author conveniently forgets the radically disproportionate amount of power that tenured faculty have over their TAs and especially considering this was his "third strike" for similar actions, I support his dismissal. 

 

Any thoughts?

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What the heck does gossiping about your graduate students have to do with academic freedom?

 

Also, I don't think the TA handled the situation particularly poorly, but I do think she should have been prepared to handle it better since the subject was likely to come up, given the class.

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What the heck does gossiping about your graduate students have to do with academic freedom?

 

Also, I don't think the TA handled the situation particularly poorly, but I do think she should have been prepared to handle it better since the subject was likely to come up, given the class.

 

I think some people have been arguing that he's expressing his opinions as about the "liberal" trend in stifling academic discourse, which some have qualified as a discussion of academics in general. 

 

I tend to see it your way, in regards to McAdams.

 

But yeah, the TA should have been prepared to discuss that topic but she also should have been in the mindset to theoretically entertain opinions from any part of the spectrum, especially considering she is a student and teacher of philosophy, where "controversial opinions" are the bread and butter of class discussion.

 

Clearly he was trying to push her buttons and she probably said something in the heat of the moment. Too bad he was being a little weasel and recording her (meaning he probably had this interaction planned out far in advance). 

 

I'll have to take a look at those links you posted. Been wanting to get a different perspective on the story from that Atlantic piece.

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Also, McAdams was the student's adviser, making the student's recording even more suspicious.

 

McAdams was certainly expressing his opinions about the "liberal" trend in stifling academic discourse. He was also doing other things.

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Thanks for posting about this. It's an interesting case without a doubt. It seems pretty clear from my reading that McAdams was pushing a much larger agenda than the writer linked in the OP was willing to acknowledge. I find myself entirely in agreement with the points made in the dean's letter to McAdams explaining the reasons for tenure termination. 

 

McAdams wasn't exercising the academic freedom that tenure is meant to protect. In this and previous instances, seems like he was trying to hide behind tenure while dragging the names of people whose political and social ideologies he disagrees with through the mud, undoubtedly knowing that they would face threats and disproportionately vile backlash from readers who agree with McAdams and disagree with the students he named. Tenure does not justify or protect petty bullying, and he decided to continue anyway, in spite of previous reprimands. Good riddance...

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I was expecting more push back (a la the author of that Atlantic article) on TGC! Surprised we all pretty much agree. 

 

 

Also, McAdams was the student's adviser, making the student's recording even more suspicious.

 

McAdams was certainly expressing his opinions about the "liberal" trend in stifling academic discourse. He was also doing other things.

 

 

Whoa. I did not know McAdams was the student's advisor. That's messed up... wouldn't be surprised if the guy walked him through the whole ploy. Clearly he had some axe to grind with the TA.

 

Thanks for posting about this. It's an interesting case without a doubt. It seems pretty clear from my reading that McAdams was pushing a much larger agenda than the writer linked in the OP was willing to acknowledge. I find myself entirely in agreement with the points made in the dean's letter to McAdams explaining the reasons for tenure termination. 

 

McAdams wasn't exercising the academic freedom that tenure is meant to protect. In this and previous instances, seems like he was trying to hide behind tenure while dragging the names of people whose political and social ideologies he disagrees with through the mud, undoubtedly knowing that they would face threats and disproportionately vile backlash from readers who agree with McAdams and disagree with the students he named. Tenure does not justify or protect petty bullying, and he decided to continue anyway, in spite of previous reprimands. Good riddance...

 

I thought it was interesting that other professors were quoted as saying McAdam's firing will have a "chilling effect" on bringing other faculty to the university. 

 

There's an interesting case about the Holocaust-denying professor at Cal State Long Beach. He couches all the anti-semitic beliefs in "historical research" and somehow that's protected him from dismissal because then it does become a matter of academic freedom. I wonder if his extracurricular white supremacist activities would qualify him for breaking some code of ethics then.

 

Folks in Canada were recently astir because of this white supremacist professor couching his xenophobia in academic "research" as well.

 

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/unb-defends-prof-s-academic-freedom-in-wake-of-racism-complaint-1.2892206

 

Seems like it's a fine line that McAdams crossed with shitty behavior.

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There's an interesting case about the Holocaust-denying professor at Cal State Long Beach. He couches all the anti-semitic beliefs in "historical research" and somehow that's protected him from dismissal because then it does become a matter of academic freedom. I wonder if his extracurricular white supremacist activities would qualify him for breaking some code of ethics then.

 

 

I remember hearing about this for the first time. Ridiculous. I worry that it's partially nonsense like this that makes the general public lash out with such hostility against tenure. It's not meant to protect lunacy or assholery, but unfortunately gets treated as such. 

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I'm pretty conservative, and actually agree that sometimes people try to shut down discussions that should be had by saying it is "offensive" and that isn't right. (Conservatives do it to, but usually say it is unamerican or something like that to do it instead) but I think what he did was wrong and there should be consequences. It is one thing to post about an event on campus and use it is an example of something endemic that you disagree with. It is another matter entirely to post names of students in this event, especially if you are in a position of authority over one of them. What the TA did was incorrect, imo. However, he should have used it as a teaching moment for her instead of blast her on the internet. That was completely unprofessional.

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I remember hearing about this for the first time. Ridiculous. I worry that it's partially nonsense like this that makes the general public lash out with such hostility against tenure. It's not meant to protect lunacy or assholery, but unfortunately gets treated as such. 

 

I mean, it is hard to make a rule that draws a line between acceptable and not.

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Whoa. I did not know McAdams was the student's advisor. That's messed up... wouldn't be surprised if the guy walked him through the whole ploy. Clearly he had some axe to grind with the TA.

 

 

 

The student was prepared to record the conversation, which sounds like a set-up to me--especially since it ends with "I'll be bringing this to your supervisors".  

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Maybe it is because my field does not usually cover topics of ethics but I actually do not think the TA did anything wrong. I would agree that perhaps the TA could have handled the situation differently, but I don't find any fault with her actions. The TA asked for an example of Rawls' principle and a student provided one such example. The TA then agreed that the example is accurate and asked if anyone disagreed. It seemed like no one did, but I know that as a TA myself, sometimes students are uncomfortable bringing up an argument against the TA/instructor in a large group. Therefore, I think the TA made the right action by adding that students who do not think the example was "correct" could talk to the TA privately during office hours. 

 

I also think the student is completely out of line to tell his TA something like "And I would stress for you in your professional career going forward, you're going to be teaching for many more years, that you watch how you approach those issues because when you set a precedent like that because you are the authority figure in the classroom, people truly do listen to you.". Students do not give unsolicited advice to their instructors on how they teach and certainly not in such a condescending manner. If a student ever said that to me, I would tell them to get out of my office immediately and to take their concerns with my teaching ability to my supervisors. 

 

I am also confused at the entire exchange between student and TA past this comment. I do not feel that the TA ever said that Rawls' principles are absolutely correct and therefore gay marriage must be accepted by everyone. The way I understood the TA's lecture was that it is acceptable to apply Rawls' principle to argue why gay marriage should be legal. That is, use of Rawls' principle in this way demonstrates appropriate understanding of Rawls' principle. I did not get the impression that the TA says that it is therefore wrong for anyone to think gay marriage should be illegal. The TA does not even say that you cannot use Rawls' principle to argue against gay marriage. Am I missing something here? 

 

As for the professor, I definitely think the University made the right decision in terminating his tenure. Tenure and academic freedom protects you from negative personal consequences from the result of your academic work for the University. It does not mean that a tenured professor can say or do anything they want without consequence. As to where to draw the line, I think it is a little nebulous but not completely fuzzy. I think that a tenured professor should only be protected if what they write/say are a result of academic work. For example, if a researcher finds that drug X has harmful effects, publishes it, and the manufacturer of drug X is unhappy and threatens (or actually does) pulls funding to the University, the researcher should be protected from this. However, whenever the researcher writes or communicates anything that is not academic work (i.e. their own opinions or interpretations), then they should not be protected by academic freedom or tenure.

 

In the excerpts of McAdams' blog post shared by the author of the Atlantic article, it does not appear to me that McAdams is making an academic argument. Instead, it is clear that McAdams is simply writing his own personal opinions of how the TA of the class handled the situation and how the Department handled the situation. Such opinions should not be protected by academic freedom and tenure. In addition, it is grossly inappropriate for a professor to criticize a TA in such a manner. At many institutions I've been to, there are contracts that govern how a department initiates and carry out investigations of TA performance. These investigations are almost entirely internal and confidential and any discipline or corrective measures are taken discreetly so that the TA is able to learn from their past mistakes, instead of being publicly shamed. Employee evaluations should never be public.

 

So therefore, while the TA could have handled the situation differently (there's always more than one possible path), I do not think the TA did anything wrong. I think the student was wrong in recording his conversation with the TA, but the student is otherwise justified in reporting the situation to the administration if the student felt the TA did something wrong as an instructor. And I think the professor was very wrong to write his blog post that is basically aa personal opinion / evaluation of the TA's actions. Such opinions should not be made public and I agree with the University's decision to terminate the professor's tenure because of the harm he had caused.

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I also think the student is completely out of line to tell his TA something like "And I would stress for you in your professional career going forward, you're going to be teaching for many more years, that you watch how you approach those issues because when you set a precedent like that because you are the authority figure in the classroom, people truly do listen to you.". Students do not give unsolicited advice to their instructors on how they teach and certainly not in such a condescending manner. If a student ever said that to me, I would tell them to get out of my office immediately and to take their concerns with my teaching ability to my supervisors. 

 

I am also confused at the entire exchange between student and TA past this comment. I do not feel that the TA ever said that Rawls' principles are absolutely correct and therefore gay marriage must be accepted by everyone. The way I understood the TA's lecture was that it is acceptable to apply Rawls' principle to argue why gay marriage should be legal. That is, use of Rawls' principle in this way demonstrates appropriate understanding of Rawls' principle. I did not get the impression that the TA says that it is therefore wrong for anyone to think gay marriage should be illegal. The TA does not even say that you cannot use Rawls' principle to argue against gay marriage. Am I missing something here? 

 

To your first point, I had a student this semester "advise" me twice about my teaching practice, once in my office and once in front of the entire class. So it's not outside the realm of the possible... my student clearly has some interpersonal quirks so I didn't take it personally. He's also prone to outbursts with other students too, though, so he's been a case that I've been working on a lot lately. In terms of the TA, I think it's actually that student's condescending advice that (understandably) got her a little too heated for the rest of the conversation.

 

The TA changed the course of the conversation for the worse though when she stepped outside of the philosophical discussion about Rawls' principle. The bolded part in the Atlantic article is quite important:

 

 

Student: Regardless of why I'm against gay marriage, it's still wrong for the teacher of a class to completely discredit one person's opinion when they may have different opinions.

Abbate: Ok, there are some opinions that are not appropriate that are harmful, such as racist opinions, sexist opinions, and quite honestly, do you know if anyone in the class is homosexual?

Student: No, I don't.

Abbate: And don't you think that that would be offensive to them if you were to raise your hand and challenge this?

Student: If I choose to challenge this, it's my right as an American citizen.

Abbate: Ok, well, actually you don't have a right in this class, as ... especially as an ethics professor, to make homophobic comments, racist comments, sexist comments ...

 

and then later

 

 

Student: Ok, so because they are homosexual I can't have my opinions? And it's not being offensive towards them because I am just having my opinions on a very broad subject.

Abbate: You can have whatever opinions you want but I can tell you right now, in this class homophobic comments, racist comments, and sexist comments will not be tolerated. If you don't like that you are more than free to drop this class.

 

Obviously, being gay myself, I disagree with the student's basic argument (and I would argue that it was deliberately specious in order to provoke the TA) but I don't think the TA should have taken the bait or engaged with said argument outside of the bounds of the philosophical debate (Rawl's principle).

 

By dictating what opinions he may or may not express by stating that it would be homophobic and against class rules, she played right into McAdam's hands. I don't think the student did anything wrong, technically, other than perhaps deliberately presenting an easily-discreditable opinion. 

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That's a bizarre little story. I pretty much agree with what's already been said here--that "academic freedom" doesn't protect all things. It certainly doesn't protect the right to violate a student's privacy. I know it's debatable whether or not grad TAs have privacy rights ... but come on. I think this case best illustrates how the non-academic world totally misinterprets the meaning and purpose of tenure. Tenure is meant to protect academic freedom; it's not diplomatic immunity. It doesn't mean that you can never, ever get fired.

 

In any case, I think her rationale for "shutting down" his discussion was inartful and illogical, but she still has the right to run her own classroom as she sees fit. I don't know what goes on in ethics classes--I don't know, for instance, if it's common to spend all class talking about current events--but I think it's okay to say "we're just not going to have this debate in this class." I would personally never tell a student that they "don't have the right" to say whatever, or that I needed to "shut them down" to protect other students, but I might instead take the tack of "we have a lot of material to get through, so we're not going to have this discussion now. But if you want to write a paper about Michael Brown/abortion/gay marriage, feel free." I could see how same-sex marriage debates might completely derail the class.

 

Then again, I don't teach ethics, so I don't know if it's super common to bring these hot button issues up in every class period. In my literature classes, we do occasionally bring up current events, but I'm quick to steer things back to the text when they start to get too far afield. I don't know if ethics classes operate in the same way.

 

Generally, though, I think that professors and instructors get to set their own classroom agendas. Classrooms aren't a free-for-all or an open forum; they're not even the editorial page of your local newspaper or the comments section of Slate. If a professor doesn't like the direction of a classroom conversation, he is well within his right to stop the discussion. That's not violating free speech. That's running a class. And yes, students have the right to seek out another class if they don't care for a professor's particular style. So I find it irritating that people are trying to use this case to cry censorship when it really seems to me to be about professor autonomy. Professors are not required to give each and every perspective equal floor time. They don't even have to give anyone the floor if they don't want to--they can lecture the entire time, or they can use the Socratic method. They don't have an obligation to satisfy the public's yearning for "fair and balanced."

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I would just caution that we need to make a subtle but important distinction between non-academic opinions and this case here.

 

There are a lot of things that don't fall under the category "academic" that should be protected under "academic freedom". For example, if I mention to the dean at a cocktail soiree that I like merlot or that the Jews faked the Holocaust, that to me is (highly reprehensible) protected speech. Similarly, if a professor was to use non-university resources (e.g. a personal blog) to publicize these reprehensible opinions, that is still protected speech.

 

It is when this speech is targeted at a specific person or persons that it loses its protection. If I were to tell the same dean that I will not let my colleague Fred get tenure because he's a Jew who hates merlot, that would be a valid grounds for termination of my tenure. McAdams' speech is of this latter sort, and thus his termination is justified.

 

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Edited by telkanuru

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To your first point, I had a student this semester "advise" me twice about my teaching practice, once in my office and once in front of the entire class. So it's not outside the realm of the possible... my student clearly has some interpersonal quirks so I didn't take it personally. He's also prone to outbursts with other students too, though, so he's been a case that I've been working on a lot lately. In terms of the TA, I think it's actually that student's condescending advice that (understandably) got her a little too heated for the rest of the conversation.

 

The TA changed the course of the conversation for the worse though when she stepped outside of the philosophical discussion about Rawls' principle.

 

Yikes! I guess I have been lucky to have never encountered such a student! I definitely agree that it would be hard to keep my cool with that "advice" though. I think I might have ended up in the same position as the TA if I failed to kick the student out of my office immediately or if the student brought it up in a less provoking way so that I engaged the student in the discussion without realising what would happen next.

 

Generally, though, I think that professors and instructors get to set their own classroom agendas. Classrooms aren't a free-for-all or an open forum; they're not even the editorial page of your local newspaper or the comments section of Slate. If a professor doesn't like the direction of a classroom conversation, he is well within his right to stop the discussion. That's not violating free speech. That's running a class. And yes, students have the right to seek out another class if they don't care for a professor's particular style. So I find it irritating that people are trying to use this case to cry censorship when it really seems to me to be about professor autonomy. Professors are not required to give each and every perspective equal floor time. They don't even have to give anyone the floor if they don't want to--they can lecture the entire time, or they can use the Socratic method. They don't have an obligation to satisfy the public's yearning for "fair and balanced."

 

I'm also in a field where this kind of discussion does not happen regularly. In my classes, I would be able to shut down any discussion that veers into these areas on the grounds of "being too far off topic from Physics". However, I do agree that the classroom does not have to be a fair/balanced place and the instructor has complete control over where the discussion goes. If an instructor does this inappropriately, then the students can complain to the Dean or appropriate authority figure. 

 

I would just caution that we need to make a subtle but important distinction between non-academic opinions and this case here.

 

There are a lot of things that don't fall under the category "academic" that should be protected under "academic freedom". For example, if I mention to the dean at a cocktail soiree that I like merlot or that the Jews faked the Holocaust, that to me is (highly reprehensible) protected speech. Similarly, if a professor was to use non-university resources (e.g. a personal blog) to publicize these reprehensible opinions, that is still protected speech.

 

It is when this speech is targeted at a specific person or persons that it loses its protection. If I were to tell the same dean that I will not let my colleague Fred get tenure because he's a Jew who hates merlot, that would be a valid grounds for termination of my tenure. McAdams' speech is of this latter sort, and thus his termination is justified.

 

I think this is an important distinction. I would have to add another qualification to your protected speech example though. I think that the professor's right to protected speech in publicizing their reprehensible opinions should only be protected if they use non-University resources (e.g. a personal blog) and they do not use their University affiliation when making this speech. So, if they sign their letter to the editor or their blog as "Prof. Smith, Professor of Political Science at University of X", I believe the University has grounds to terminate their tenure/employment. However, if they are careful to only sign it as "J. Smith" and do not indicate any affiliations with their employer, then what they do/write on their own time as a private citizen should be protected.

 

This happened at one of my Universities in the past and the author was the University's Rector (a student elected by undergraduates and graduates to represent them to the University's administration. The Rector wrote a very controversial opinion (i.e. non-academic) piece and signed it with their name and university title. Since the Rector is a student elected by the undergraduate and graduate students, there was a vote on whether to impeach the Rector for signing their personal comments with their official title. The undergraduate and graduate student bodies voted separately. The undergraduate students voted 72% in favour of impeachment. The graduate student body argued that this was an attack on academic freedom and only 44% voted in favour of impeachment. This difference was never resolved because after these results were announced, the Rector chose to resign. I did not agree with my graduate student government. In my opinion, this was not a case of academic freedom because the Rector was acting as a University official by signing their opinion piece (i.e. non-academic work) with their official title.

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Speaking for the university is one thing, but mentioning your creditials is different.  Part of your credentials is where you work. Mentioning them is different than saying that the whole school agrees with you. Universities are full of differing, sometimes crazy, opinions.  (It may be different in planetary sciences, but take a walk down the hall to the sociology or history departments if you don't believe me.  I've grown up on a university campus) 

If you are writing something, and happen to have a position at Harvard, you are going to mention it because hey, it may make you a more credible source.  Professors at Harvard generally have some expertise, even if it isn't in the area being discussed, it is part of your resume.  The reason we have tenure is because professors have a greater need for protection to explore unpopular opinions.  You can't say they can only publish them as a private citizen, when part of their job is to explore these issues.  They must have protection to research and publish without fear of retribution.
 

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To your first point, I had a student this semester "advise" me twice about my teaching practice, once in my office and once in front of the entire class. So it's not outside the realm of the possible... my student clearly has some interpersonal quirks so I didn't take it personally. He's also prone to outbursts with other students too, though, so he's been a case that I've been working on a lot lately. In terms of the TA, I think it's actually that student's condescending advice that (understandably) got her a little too heated for the rest of the conversation.

 

The TA changed the course of the conversation for the worse though when she stepped outside of the philosophical discussion about Rawls' principle. The bolded part in the Atlantic article is quite important:

 

 

and then later

 

 

Obviously, being gay myself, I disagree with the student's basic argument (and I would argue that it was deliberately specious in order to provoke the TA) but I don't think the TA should have taken the bait or engaged with said argument outside of the bounds of the philosophical debate (Rawl's principle).

 

By dictating what opinions he may or may not express by stating that it would be homophobic and against class rules, she played right into McAdam's hands. I don't think the student did anything wrong, technically, other than perhaps deliberately presenting an easily-discreditable opinion.

Depending on what Marquette University's anti-discrimination policy is, she may well have been in the right to say that students can't "make homophobic comments, racist comments, sexist comments". I'm very much not in the field of philosophy or even the humanities, but I'm pretty sure where I attend that if a student was making bigoted comments that it would be my role as the TA to stop such and make it clear such will not be tolerated, including booting the student from my class. But, since I'm not in a humanities field I can't think of a case where we'd really be discussing such things in class in the first place.

 

From looking at our student harassment policy it includes "creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive learning environment" and defines harassment as "the use of epithets, stereotypes, slurs, comments, insults, derogatory remarks, gestures, threats, graffiti, display, or circulation of written or visual material, taunts, and negative references related to age."

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Depending on what Marquette University's anti-discrimination policy is, she may well have been in the right to say that students can't "make homophobic comments, racist comments, sexist comments". I'm very much not in the field of philosophy or even the humanities, but I'm pretty sure where I attend that if a student was making bigoted comments that it would be my role as the TA to stop such and make it clear such will not be tolerated, including booting the student from my class. But, since I'm not in a humanities field I can't think of a case where we'd really be discussing such things in class in the first place.

 

From looking at our student harassment policy it includes "creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive learning environment" and defines harassment as "the use of epithets, stereotypes, slurs, comments, insults, derogatory remarks, gestures, threats, graffiti, display, or circulation of written or visual material, taunts, and negative references related to age."

 

There is a difference between discussing an idea and making bigoted comments.  For instance, say we were in a sociology class, and I mention something in economics that tends to disagree with most sociological theories.  A response of "Well, you just say that because you are a heartless business person" would be a harassing remark, whereas something like "Well, economics generally only takes into consideration the monetary values whereas our models are taking into account the sociological affects as well..." would be a perfectly fine way to address the point.  Or if the professor of the sociology class kept mentioning how evil rich greedy business people were, then that would be a intimidating learning environment.

  But in academia you shouldn't say that anything is a "sacred cow" and not up for discussion, although it may not be up for discussion in a particular class.  However we should always strive to discuss sensitive topics with the greatest tact possible in efforts to not offend anyone unnecessarily.

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Well, first of all, it would be business student who would be the "protected class" in this example. But I didn't want to use real examples. The point is, we need to be able to discuss race, religion, and sexual identity civilly. You shouldn't talk about them in a bigoted way, but at the same time, nothing will change if we stay silent about them, or simply refuse to address dissenting opinions.

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Well, first of all, it would be business student who would be the "protected class" in this example. But I didn't want to use real examples. The point is, we need to be able to discuss race, religion, and sexual identity civilly. You shouldn't talk about them in a bigoted way, but at the same time, nothing will change if we stay silent about them, or simply refuse to address dissenting opinions.

 

Kinda. "You may not express these opinions here, but you are free to discuss them with me in private"  is a valid way of dealing with many issues in the classroom.

 

 

I think this is an important distinction. I would have to add another qualification to your protected speech example though. I think that the professor's right to protected speech in publicizing their reprehensible opinions should only be protected if they use non-University resources (e.g. a personal blog) and they do not use their University affiliation when making this speech. So, if they sign their letter to the editor or their blog as "Prof. Smith, Professor of Political Science at University of X", I believe the University has grounds to terminate their tenure/employment. However, if they are careful to only sign it as "J. Smith" and do not indicate any affiliations with their employer, then what they do/write on their own time as a private citizen should be protected.

 

This happened at one of my Universities in the past and the author was the University's Rector (a student elected by undergraduates and graduates to represent them to the University's administration. The Rector wrote a very controversial opinion (i.e. non-academic) piece and signed it with their name and university title. Since the Rector is a student elected by the undergraduate and graduate students, there was a vote on whether to impeach the Rector for signing their personal comments with their official title. The undergraduate and graduate student bodies voted separately. The undergraduate students voted 72% in favour of impeachment. The graduate student body argued that this was an attack on academic freedom and only 44% voted in favour of impeachment. This difference was never resolved because after these results were announced, the Rector chose to resign. I did not agree with my graduate student government. In my opinion, this was not a case of academic freedom because the Rector was acting as a University official by signing their opinion piece (i.e. non-academic work) with their official title.

 

I am not so sure I agree with this. A professor should be able to state that he or she is a professor in their public non-academic life without fear of censure. 

 

The example you give is not quite the same. A person who holds an administrative or representative post and signs with that post, as your university's rector did, is tacitly asserting that he or she is speaking ex cathedra and thus is liable for censure.  

 

I would offer the example of "Sarah Q. Academic, Professor of Mathematics, Bigname University" and contrast it with "Sarah Q. Academic, Chair, Department of Mathematics, Bigname University".  The former is a simple statement of Dr. Academic's job, whereas the latter implies that she is speaking in her administrative role. In a more extreme example, contrast the difference between "Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, Professor of History, Harvard University" with "Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, President, Harvard University".

Edited by telkanuru

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Haha! It seems that everyone involved with this story is wrong in some way.

 

The undergrad was wrong for believing gay marriage is harmful to society, wrong for recording his conversation with the TA, and wrong for misinterpreting the TA's comments as being against "homophobic opinions." Unfortunately, you can expect to encounter people like this anywhere in society, especially at a Catholic university. And that's reason number 427 why I would never take a job at a religiously-affiliated university.

 

The TA was doing fine until she became overly aggressive in her conversation with the undergrad. During her actual lesson, she was right to assume that most of the class agreed that gay marriage is permissible under Rawls' principle. And she was right to invite students to discuss the issue further after class. Why, then, did she become so hostile to the student in their post-class discussion? She could have ended this whole thing by simply presenting a counterargument to the undergrad, rather than engaging in a meta-debate about what can and cannot be debated. That sort of meta-debate is rarely productive for actual debate.

 

The professor was wrong for taking sides with the undergrad, and for writing about his TA in a blog using her real name.

 

The dean was wrong for taking such extreme measures for such a trivial matter. I know it escalated when the TA received threatening emails, but that is unfortunately a fact of life that academics must learn to deal with. When you express contentious opinions in a public setting, you're probably going to evoke heated responses. As the professor's attorney pointed out in his letter to the dean, there are no university laws against using a student's name in a blog. He didn't violate any university laws, hence there are no grounds on which to fire him.

 

Lol at this whole stupid, avoidable situation.

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The dean was wrong for taking such extreme measures for such a trivial matter. I know it escalated when the TA received threatening emails, but that is unfortunately a fact of life that academics must learn to deal with. When you express contentious opinions in a public setting, you're probably going to evoke heated responses. As the professor's attorney pointed out in his letter to the dean, there are no university laws against using a student's name in a blog. He didn't violate any university laws, hence there are no grounds on which to fire him.

 

 

 

It's not quite that simple. He's probably guilty of defamation. He wildly distorted what she said and made provocative blog posts, possibly with the intention of ruining her career. Moreover, she's a student, not a professor, and she didn't express opinions in a public setting--these were things she said after class to another student.

 

I'm guessing that Marquette has a few lawyers on hand. Given the scrutiny this case is getting, I'm sure they've also reviewed the university's laws.

 

 

 

Unfortunately, you can expect to encounter people like this anywhere in society, especially at a Catholic university. And that's reason number 427 why I would never take a job at a religiously-affiliated university.

 

These encounters happen at nearly all institutions. No need to compound the problem of anti-gay bigotry by adding a dash of anti-Catholicism.

Edited by lifealive

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I'm late to the party, sorry. 

 

To your first point, I had a student this semester "advise" me twice about my teaching practice, once in my office and once in front of the entire class. So it's not outside the realm of the possible... my student clearly has some interpersonal quirks so I didn't take it personally. He's also prone to outbursts with other students too, though, so he's been a case that I've been working on a lot lately. In terms of the TA, I think it's actually that student's condescending advice that (understandably) got her a little too heated for the rest of the conversation.

I've had plenty of students try to tell me how to teach my class. They like to tell me how much they are capable of reading, how busy they are doing their work for other classes, and how I'm wasting their time by teaching them core courses for the major. Because, obviously, 19 year olds with their first crack at a subject are the expert, not the grad students or PhDs in the room. This isn't to say that students are always wrong. It is to say that I've found many 18-20 year olds that have no real clue whether they're learning useful things or not because they don't have the appropriate context.

 

 

The point is, we need to be able to discuss race, religion, and sexual identity civilly. You shouldn't talk about them in a bigoted way, but at the same time, nothing will change if we stay silent about them, or simply refuse to address dissenting opinions.

Agreed with this. I have a statement about civility in my syllabi, which says that we talk about controversial topics but we must be respectful of all views, not just those that align with theirs. It also says that I reserve the right to ask students to leave the room if they fail to discuss things civilly, if they make harassing remarks, or if they are otherwise completely inappropriate.

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