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.”
The problem is that MSUM targeted its closures poorly. The vast majority of MSUM’s top-earning faculty members don’t work in the 18 departments on the chopping block. Of the 72 professorial Scrooge McDucks there (who rake in between $85,000 and $135,000 annually), only 18 actually work in departments with what MSUM (and George Orwell, probably) calls “reduction potential.” The faculty top five, in fact, all of whom earn over $110,000, teach business, accounting, or education, three programs that have not been threatened at all. The truth is that most of the threatened professors at MSUM earn in the mid-five figures.
The part that the AAUP might find particularly interesting is from the middle of those last three links. It’s an e-mail circulating around the MSUM campus:
To all faculty,
Emotions are raw today in the ranks of the faculty. Unfolding events are generating a great deal of pain and anger. (My own department is marked in the “red zone” of departments.)
PLEASE: THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. Keep the conversation civil.
I remind you that academic freedom is a limited protection, and applies only to your research and classroom teaching, and, in the case of the latter, to discussion of materials relevant to the course subject.
Otherwise, faculty can be (and have been) punished for written and oral communication that is disruptive or uncivil.
This is from the “faculty association” (whatever that is), but the implications here should be chilling to anybody interested in academic freedom.
What makes this recommendation so apt for Black Friday is that Rebecca calls herself “the Archangel of Academia, back from the dead” over on her Twitter profile even though she has always been very much alive to my knowledge. And we should all thank our lucky stars for that as she continues to do the dirty work that few of us academics at any level of employment have the stomach to tolerate.