BY AARON BARLOW
Two members of the new AAUP chapter at Mount St. Mary’s University—one tenured, one not—have been fired. According to an article by Scott Jaschik on Inside Higher Ed today, that leaves only ten chapter members. One, a tenured philosophy professor, was fired for disloyalty. The other, the faculty advisor to The Mountain Echo, the student paper, for allowing an article critical of the new university president Simon Newman that quoted someone quoting the president as saying “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies…put a Glock to their heads.”
The response to the firings (and a third, apparently, is coming) will be, I hope, a mass movement to, first, join that depleted AAUP chapter on the part of the Mount St. Mary’s faculty. Then to act. A united faculty has tremendous power—and this is the perfect instance for showing it.
A college is not a corporation. Newman, hired from the business world with no background in higher education, clearly does not understand or respect tenure, shared governance or academic freedom. What he is doing, however, is the logical outcome of recent moves within upper administrations of institutions of higher education to reframe their institutions in corporate terms. While attempts to create new for-profit, corporate-based educational entities are largely failing, older institutions continue to face restructuring in order to bring them in line with the new corporate model. What is happening at Mount St. Mary’s is not unusual. The wording (drowning bunnies and Glocks) is simply more outrageous.
The current issue of Academe contains a great deal of good advice for faculty on how to approach a situation like that at Mount St. Mary’s, where the controversy is being played out in the media. But there are other things that can be done, like joining together with students in concerted symbolic action—a one-day boycott of classes, for example, with workshops and speakers—that can bring continuing attention to a situation that threatens to be a part of the undoing of a century of progress in American higher education.
According to Jaschik:
Faculty members reached on campus Monday were nervous about talking, given that their colleagues were being fired and that the administration has told them to consult with the public relations department before talking to reporters. But, speaking anonymously, professors said some faculty and support staff members were crying in various offices. With the firing of the provost and two faculty members — all of whom had disagreed with the president — people said they were scared.
The only way to counter that fear is through unity. The AAUP can be a means for creating it, at Mount St. Mary’s and elsewhere.