InsideHigherEd reports on the case of Jared Lisonbee, a tenure-track professor at Weber State in Utah who was fired after only two years, and who had criticized the decision to name a center at Weber State after a prominent Mormon leader.
The firing of a tenure-track professor is an extraordinary act, and should only occur when the professor’s work is deemed unsatisfactory AND shows no possibility of improvement. Considering that Lisonbee’s work was deemed good or satisfactory, there needs to be a clear explanation for this, and that explanation cannot simply be some administrator’s guess that he might not receive tenure. The faculty deemed his work satisfactory but simply indicated that his lack of research so far might endanger a future tenure application. By dismissing him, Weber State not only seems to have done so in violation of academic freedom, but they also violated academic standards and shared governance by overruling the faculty evaluation of his work. If the faculty had believed Lisonbee should be fired, they would have said so, or at least indicated his work was unsatisfactory. Instead, the faculty committee explicitly recommended a 5th year review, indicating that they believed he should not be fired. Under these circumstances, it’s hard to see how anything other than anger at his free speech caused his dismissal.