On Nov. 14, 2013, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign engineering professor Louis Wozniak had his tenure revoked and was dismissed by a unanimous vote of the Board of Trustees. Illinois Academe invited him to tell his side of the story, and this essay is reprinted from the Fall issue.
By Louis Wozniak
This is not about a 52-year veteran of the University of Illinois with the dubious distinction of having been recommended by President Easter to the Board of Trustees for revocation of tenure and dismissal. Having defended convincingly at all faculty-staffed committees, and to have their recommendations unheeded by administration, this is about faculty “shared governance” that has degraded to an oxymoron.
The firing of Louis Wozniak by the University of Illinois raises disturbing questions about academic freedom, due process, and the failure of faculty to defend these principles. Normally, the firing of a tenured professor is such an extraordinary event that it involves acts of breathtaking misconduct or total incompetence. This is not the case with Louis Wozniak. In fact, if Wozniak were a mediocre teacher, he would still be working at the University of Illinois. It was Wozniak’s excellence in teaching that led him to be given awards, and then to being fired when he objected to not receiving a teaching award that he had earned.
The Board of Trustees report (pdf link) on Wozniak is startling because of the reasons actually given for his dismissal: causing a student to cry, reporting this fact publicly, and then refusing to censor his website or conversations about it. This, according to the Board of Trustees, was the reason for Wozniak’s firing: “Professor Wozniak engaged in professional misconduct when he publicly disseminated information about a student’s emotional reaction during a private conversation between her and Wozniak.”
If you’re on Twitter, you probably know about a ritual called “Friday Follow.” It’s a tradition in which people recommend to their followers other people whose Tweets might interest them. While I know this isn’t Twitter, I thought I’d bring the work of one of my tweeps to the attention of readers here because it’s very much in line with what this blog is all about.
Rebecca Schuman is an adjunct professor of German at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. She is also the new higher education columnist at the online magazine Slate. Earlier this week, she brought a lot of attention to what’s going on these days at Minnesota State University Moorhead:
Faculty members at MSUM make up 72 of its 100 highest paid employees (filter by “Moorhead” for accurate results), so the elbow patches on their blazers make them an easy target indeed. The issue, however, is that they are all pesky tenured, full professors who can’t be fired—or so most people think. But in fact you can fire a tenured professor—it’s just not easy. It’s one of the many misconceptions about tenure that one has a job for life no matter what. Tenured professors can be dismissed for cause (sexual harassment, ethics violations, acting alarmingly toward students, or just talking too much). But it would cost MSUM more than the university’s budget shortfall in legal fees to try to dismiss four dozen faculty members with cause. Another way to let go of tenured professors is to disband their departments. So, yes, MSUM can make up its shortfall by canning a few dozen of its best-paid professors, via axing their whole departments—call the collateral damage “additional savings.”
In recent years a growing number of American universities have opened Confucius Institutes as part of their programs in East Asian studies. Confucius Institutes are non-profit institutions that aim to promote Chinese language and culture and the teaching of the Chinese language, and which facilitate cultural exchanges. But the Confucius Institutes differ from the British Council, the French Alliance Francaise, and the German Goethe Institut because they are not private organizations but operate within established universities, colleges, and secondary schools around the world, providing funding, teachers and educational materials. They are also closely aligned with — indeed overseen by — the Chinese government.
Officially, the Confucius Institutes are a project of the Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), a non-profit organization affiliated with the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China and the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China. The institutes operate in co-operation with local affiliate colleges and universities around the world, and financing is shared between Hanban and the host institutions. A related Confucius Classroom program partners with secondary schools or school districts to provide teachers and instructional materials.
The rapid expansion of the Confucius Institutes has raised serious concerns about their impact on academic freedom and shared governance in the colleges and universities that host them, as well as about their role in advancing China’s “soft power” and cultural influence internationally. The November 18 issue of The Nation magazine contains an important article by University of Chicago anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, “China U.” that provides perhaps the most thorough examination of the Institutes’ impact on American and Canadian universities. Continue reading
Like many people with opinions on Adrian Raine’s speech tonight at the College of Charleston, I am angry. But I am not angry at the College for inviting an expert on the biological links to crime to speak, or for defending academic freedom by refusing to cancel a speech. I’m angry that pandering politicians are threatening the funding of a public college and attacking freedom of speech. According to the local newspaper, “state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, said he and some other legislators will look less favorably at the college if it doesn’t cancel Raine’s talk.”
I can perhaps sympathize with the family of a murder victim making irrational demands for vengeance against those who played no part in their daughter’s death, but state legislators have no such excuse. Indeed, the politicians condemning this speech are responsible for the deaths of far more Virginians than the speaker they denounce. They have cut the budgets for law enforcement and health and safety regulation; they have raised speed limits, allowed dangerous levels of pollution, or defended the criminalization of marijuana. All of these things have caused the deaths of far more people than Raine, whose expert testimony is keeping a murderer behind bars for life. Yet I would never support banning politicians from speaking at a public college because of the consequences of their professional work, even if I’m skeptical of that particular science of sociobiology.
Just last year, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz was an honored speaker at the College of Charleston. Dershowitz is most famous for helping a murderer named O.J. Simpson escape justice. I cannot find any of these politicians demanding taxpayer cuts in retaliation for Dershowitz’s speech, because it would be wrong for anyone to do so.
Last year, I also spoke at the College of Charleston for the campus AAUP chapter, about the importance of shared governance and academic freedom. In a free society, it’s essential that we encourage professors and students to invite provocative speakers without censorship by administrators or threats of retaliation by legislators.
Every four years, well ahead of even the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary, the Ames Straw Poll or Iowa Straw Poll is held. The atmosphere in Ames on that weekend is carnival-like, and, not surprisingly, there have been all sorts of irregularities in the voting: that is, each attempt to reduce those irregularities seems simply to have resulted in more innovative efforts to skew the results.
Consequently, the results are almost wholly non-predictive and therefore much anticipated and very closely monitored by the national media. In 1979, George H. W. Bush won the Straw Poll,; in 1987, Pat Robertson; in 2007, Mitt Romney; and in 2011, Michele Bachmann.
In 1995, Bob Dole did tie Phil Gramm, and in 1999, George W. Bush did win, prompting one to recite the axiom about even a broken clock’s being right twice a day. And to be entirely fair, George H.W. Bush and Mitt Romney did get the nominations on the next go-round. On the other hand, Pat Robertson and Michele Bachmann couldn’t get elected under any sort of scenario. But, since the Tea Party whackos seem to have taken over the GOP, let me offer the suggestion that a Michele Bachmann vs. Hillary Clinton race in 2012 might appeal very strongly to the 30% of women who simply won’t vote for Hillary. Continue reading
This is a guest post by Cary Nelson, past president of the AAUP and Jubilee Professor at the University of Illinois.
Recognizing that the financial services industry succeeded in bringing the world economy to its knees, the University of Delaware administration apparently decided it was time to give them a crack at higher education. An agreement has been signed to grant JPMorgan extraordinary influence over a new PhD program in “financial services analytics.” It is highly unusual to give one donor so much control over an academic program. Continue reading
John K. Wilson has very succinctly highlighted the hullabaloo surrounding an innocuous e-mail by Rachel Slocum, a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, which Chancellor Joe Gow has helped to escalate into a political controversy provoking all sorts of partisan responses from places well beyond the institution.
I think that it is very important for anyone who has been forming opinions at second- or third-hand to hear from Rachel Slocum herself. In the following “open letter” to the Chancellor and the campus community, she demonstrates a remarkably temperate tone in response to what must seem an extremely and even absurdly unsettling chapter in her professional life. Anyone who reads this “open letter” and comes away thinking that this is a professor intent on the political indoctrination of her students has been rendered tone deaf by his or her own extremist ideology.
In an earlier post to this blog, “So Now the Haters Are Worried about Hate Speech,” I complained about the extremely selective sensitivity of Far Right ideologues who in public utterance after public utterance have been blatantly and even proudly insensitive to any reasonable standards of civil discourse. Although the title and slant of my post are deliberately inflammatory—certainly much, much more inflammatory than anything written by Rachel Slocum, in either her original e-mail or the following open letter—I think that in many instances outrageously abusive rhetoric and outrageous abuses of rhetoric warrant a very strong response because anything less is tantamount to an acquiescence to verbal bullying. Continue reading
In a grotesque violation of academic freedom, University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse Chancellor Joe Gow has banned faculty from criticizing Republican Party policies. Rachel Slocum, assistant professor of geography, sent an email to her students explaining that they were unable to use the Census Bureau website because of the government shutdown by “Republican/Tea-Party controlled House of Representatives.” Gow called the comment “inappropriate” and “problematic,” said it could make students “uncomfortable,” and said it was a violation of the university policy against using campus resources for political activity.
I can scarcely imagine a greater abuse of power by a chancellor than forcing a professor upon threat of punishment to apologize for speaking the truth. Gow is 100% wrong when he claims that the opinions of a professor related to a political party’s activities violate the university’s policy against using its resources for political activity. Political activity must mean actually aiding a political campaign, and “resources” must mean a real cost imposed on the university, not merely the use of university emails, computers, or facilities. Otherwise, colleges would have to prohibit the use of the words “Republicans” or “Democrats” in any emails or campus halls. Gow is perfectly free to criticize Slocum and express an incorrect opinion about the Republicans’ government shutdown. But he is not free to impose that opinion on the rest of campus. This irresponsible use of policies against political activity is a violation of academic freedom, and a very good reason to overturn such policies to prevent this abuse.
In New Ulm, Minnesota, a small town 85 miles southwest of Minneapolis, this Friday was supposed to be the opening night for a production of “Inherit the Wind,” the classic play written more than a half-century ago depicting a fictionalized version of the 1925 Scopes Monkey trial. Instead, the play has been shut down due to opposition from professors and administrators at Martin Luther College (MLC). The play’s crime? Being pro-evolution, and thereby endangering the college’s religious identity.
The play wasn’t even being performed at MLC. It was a production of the New Ulm Actors Community Theatre. But the theater group has routinely held auditions and rehearsals at the college, and MLC student Zach Stowe was chosen as director. After seeing a poster for an audition of Inherit the Wind, MLC professors and administrators objected and banned the audition.
According to media reports, Stowe resigned as director after “a flood of e-mails and letters objecting to his association with the play from MLC professors” and community members, fearing possible punishment from the school. Following Stowe’s departure, six cast members who were also MLC students resigned from the play, forcing it to be postponed and possibly cancelled.
Jeffrey Schone, MLC’s VP of Student Life, explained: “We felt it was not compatible with what [the school] teaches the Bible says about the universe and the world. This is a ministerial school. People employing our students need confidence about their views.” Now everyone can have confidence about the views of Martin Luther College students: their views are idiotic and their professors are equally stupid and believers in censorship.