On Disloyalty

In 1927, Professor Louis R. Gottschalk resigned his position at the University of Louisville to protest the dismissal of his colleague Rolf Johannesen. Simultaneously with his resignation, Gottschalk wrote to the AAUP to request an investigation of Johannesen’s dismissal. The newly-installed president, George Colvin, justified the dismissal by citing Johannesen’s reluctance to sign the one-year contract that was being issued to all faculty by the board of trustees at the president’s behest. These contracts replaced the informal understanding at the institution that faculty had permanent tenure following a brief probationary period and thus raised concerns that tenure had become less secure at the institution. Regulating tenure by informal understanding was still a relatively common practice in 1927. The process of formalizing the concept of tenure in US higher education had taken an important early step only two years earlier with the 1925 Conference Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the precursor of the 1940 Statement of Principles, but that process was only at its beginning. The board accepted Gottschalk’s resignation, which he had intended to take effect at the end of the semester, but further suspended him from teaching effective immediately and announced publicly that the reason for his suspension was that he was responsible for troubles at the university.

There certainly was an abundance of trouble at the University of Louisville in 1927. Colvin, who lacked an academic background and had apparently been selected as president primarily over his connections in Kentucky politics, sought to make changes to educational policies and practices at the institution almost immediately, and when he encountered opposition from among the faculty, including from Professor Gottschalk, he characterized it as “disloyal.” The AAUP’s investigative committee addressed this charge eloquently and in some detail:

The sort of “loyalty” which President Colvin seems to have demanded is not loyalty, but subservience, and somewhat resembles the disciplinary subordination of a company to its lieutenant, or of employees to a foreman. It does not, however, rise to a plane of moral equality with such disciplinary subordination. President Colvin’s conception of “loyalty” is exclusively unilateral. The Committee cannot too strongly condemn the attempt to introduce such a conception of “loyalty” into the administration of a reputable college or university. It is impossible, and rightly so, to suppress critical discussion by members of a faculty, of general or special educational policies, unless that end is accomplished by the simple and drastic means of dismissing that faculty. The attempt to abolish such discussion among the members of the Faculty of the University of Louisville, in the center of a highly civilized community, is not only a deplorable anachronism, but tends to destroy the values which can be created only by patient and tolerant effort, by free and open discussion, and by the gradual increase of a common stock of wisdom, which is incapable of monopolization by any administrative officer.

Although the board subsequently reinstated Johannesen and withdrew the public statement blaming only Gottschalk for the difficulties at the university, it did not withdraw its acceptance of Gottschalk’s resignation. Louis Gottschalk went on to enjoy a distinguished career, serving on the faculty at the University of Chicago for the next 38 years and, in 1953, as president of the American Historical Association. The University of Louisville later saw the errors of its ways: it awarded Gottschalk an honorary doctorate in 1970, and the building that houses the history department carries the name “Gottschalk Hall” to this day.

4 thoughts on “On Disloyalty

  1. Could it not be said that the Garcetti case was one of punished “disloyalty”? And, short of a cert ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, what protects faculty in public institutions from recriminations based on a state university administration’s perceptions of a faculty member’s “disloyalty” — especially where it may have influenced others within the institution?

  2. I’ve been employed at several academic institutions. A mere few were not so bad when it came to the issue of loyalty, but others enforced subservience like their employees were on a chain gang. I had one university administrator tell me, “This is a bureaucracy, so by definition, the person of higher rank is always right and the one of lower rank always wrong, period.” In another case, when I reported blatant and excessive plagiarism committed by a supervisor, I was ridden out on a rail.

    For the most part, our institutions puffing out their chests and proclaiming to be bastions of diversity, freedom and liberty would instead be Gulags were they to surround the place with razor wire…

  3. Pingback: History Lesson: Louis Gottschalk, UofL, and AAUP in 1927 | AAUP at UofL

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