Whenever administrators take it upon themselves to pass judgment on the value of faculty research, bad things are likely to happen. Such has been the case this year at Long Island University (LIU). Harriet Malinowitz, a tenured full professor, has been denied sabbatical for research on “Zionism and Propaganda.” Not by her department or Dean at first (though there would be problems with the latter), but by the Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA). When she protested, Malinowitz was offered a deal: take the sabbatical but also agree to retire.
The proposal for sabbatical was approved by the departmental personnel committee and the department co-chairs. Problems first arose at the Dean’s level, resulting in a grievance and arbitration.
The members of the departmental personnel committee, the department co-chairs, and the Humanities Division Coordinator all continue to strongly support Malinowitz; they have written letters to the administration protesting its decision and procedures. Along with Malinowitz, they contend that her proposal was treated differently than others.
Malinowitz applied for a sabbatical for Spring 2014, including in the application, she says, everything required for inclusion as articulated in the policies and procedures section of the Academic Affairs website, the application itself, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The department’s personnel committee and co-chairs then recommended the sabbatical. The Dean of the Conolly College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, David Cohen, was required (as per the CBA) to provide copies of his review to Malinowiz within ten days of the review. She received nothing at all from him before the VPAA’s negative recommendation went to the Board.
Neither Malinowitz nor her department’s co-chairs ever received anything at all from VP Jeffrey Kane, who was the person designated by President Steinberg to conduct sabbatical reviews and submit recommendations to the Board, before the sabbatical was denied. An arbitrator, once a grievance had been filed, though he agreed that they had violated the CBA on other counts, found that the VP did not have to give a reason for his refusal. All Malinowitz received was a letter informing her that she did not get the sabbatical. The pro forma letter encouraged her to form a sabbatical committee to revise and resubmit. As no one gave a reason for the rejection, there was no way, really, to intelligently revise.
During the arbitration, the arbitrator found that the Dean had indeed violated the CBA but also said that he did not believe the CBA required the VPAA to give a reason for his refusal. The arbitrator also said that LIU had to let Malinowitz go back through the process, with the chance to revise based on the “review” (it was a scanty list, not really a review) the Dean finally provided. Malinowitz added the items to her proposal that the Dean had felt were missing and resubmitted.
The Dean refused the sabbatical the second time around (though he had approved it the first time). In his review of the revised application, he said that Malinowitz had adequately revised to address the concerns he had previously expressed, but now he had something new he felt she had fatally neglected to include: drafts of her work-in-progress and other writing samples, though this had not been mentioned in the first review and is not generally required at LIU.
This case has serious academic freedom implications. Certainly, it raises questions about the status of academic freedom at LIU, but it will also be of concern for those professional organizations and media networks involved with this issue in a national context. The department personnel committee, co-chairs, and the Humanities Division Coordinator all sent letters to the VPAA and the Dean, indicating their support for Malinowitz’s application and raising strong concerns about the fairness of the review process.
What were the real reasons Malinowitz was turned down? We may never know, but the sensitivity of her subject matter may be at the heart of this. For this reason, hers is a case all faculty should pay attention to. It is the type of thing happening with increased regularity as administrations, corporate in their sensitivities, pay more attention to staying away from controversy than supporting real research.
Instead of encouraging the kind of thought and exploration that should be at the heart of an American university, it seems that all LIU is doing right now is making a mess.