AAUP Intervention in Northwestern Jacqueline Stevens’s Case

BY PETER N. KIRSTEIN

Jacqueline Stevens and her attorney Rima Kapitan had contacted Illinois Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure concerning violations of AAUP standards at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Academe blog covered elements of her case, and this is an update of the Association’s engagement in the matter.

Professor Stevens was forced to undergo a psychological examination to determine if she were a threat to others. This is an escalating convenient ruse to suspend a faculty member by other means. Following a clean bill of health, Northwestern then attempted to ban her from departmental activities, and relocated her office to further isolate her from the political science department. Dean Adrian Randolph, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, threatened her with disciplinary action if she did not comply. This reminds me of Noam Chomsky’s critique of imperial hauteur, Because We Say So, (City Lights, 2015). Illinois Committee A on Academc Freedom and Tenure, which had been carefully examining this situation, urged that Professor Stevens, through her attorney, contact the DAFTG office of the AAUP.

Both Professor Stevens and counsel have consented to the dissemination of the following two documents: the request for AAUP intervention, and the AAUP letter to Northwestern president Morton Schapiro. I am pleased that Anita Levy wrote with such clarity and purpose that AAUP standards were violated. I have never witnessed a university abuse a tenured professor in this fashion: a proposed summary suspension and virtual quarantine from an academic department whiile still performing one’s teaching duties.

October 31, 2016
Gregory Scholtz, Anita Levy
American Association of University Professors
1133 Nineteenth St., NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20036

Re: Northwestern University and Jacqueline Stevens

To the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, & Governance:

I am writing to apprise the committee of developments in the Jacqueline Stevens case since mySeptember 16 letter to you. Below is a summary of recent events, with references to the relevant attached documents. The AAUP’s intervention is especially needed because the Northwestern University Faculty Senate’s Committee on Cause has ruled that they do not have the power to review the forced psychological evaluation of tenured professors.

If you recall, Dr. Stevens is a tenured full professor at Northwestern University whom the administration suspended from her position and forced to undergo a psychological evaluation without providing any specific allegations or charges or otherwise demonstrating the need for such extreme measures. The actions followed shortly after Dr. Stevens played a leading role in successfully opposing the appointment of former military officer and non-academician Karl Eikenberry to head an academic program. They also followed shortly after Dr. Stevens published an article (of which the administration was aware) exposing the complicity of the political science field and members of the Northwestern administration in the use of higher education to reinforce dominant political norms and military excesses. Dr. Steven’s suspension was met with protest and resistance from Dr. Stevens and a number of other Northwestern faculty members as well as outside academics and members of the public. The suspension has since been lifted, although the administration continues to attempt to marginalize Dr. Stevens using a number of measures. Those measures include changing the lock on her office in the Political Science Department so that she may not work there and rescinding the allocation of research funds to hire undergraduates for research projects, including those critical of certain of Northwestern’s administrative and governance priorities, all outside of any formal faculty governance or review process.

On September 19, we were provided with a copy of a September 15 letter sent by Dr. Stephen Dinwiddie, the psychiatrist who evaluated Dr. Stevens’ mental health, to the Northwestern administration. (Attachment A). Dr. Dinwiddie “identified no mental health issues that would prevent Professor Stevens from acting in an appropriately civil and collegial manner if she chooses
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to do so.” On September 30, Dr. Dinwiddie conducted a second psychological examination of Dr. Stevens in the form of a standardized test. We have not been provided with the results.

 

As reflected in the attached letter, on September 19 Dean Randolph informed Dr. Stevens that she would be permitted back on campus, but wrote that she would be required to attend teaching training (Dr. Stevens has not, to date been informed of the nature of the alleged deficiencies in her teaching), work with a coach to remedy alleged “lack of civility” in her interactions with her colleagues (no specifics are mentioned), and banned from her office in the political science department. (Attachment B). Dean Randolph emphasized, “This is not a disciplinary action, but rather a step that has been necessitated by your conduct.”

On September 20, Dr. Stevens submitted an appeal to Northwestern’s Faculty Committee on Cause contending that the administration failed to adhere to the due process protections set forth in its faculty handbook and that the disciplinary actions taken against her constitute a violation of her academic freedom. (Attachment C) (exhibits to the letter are excluded).

On September 26, the Committee on Cause informed Dr. Stevens that it was declining to review her appeal. (Attachment D). It accepted the administration’s contention that Dr. Stevens’ suspension and other discipline were not disciplinary in nature, or were at minimum moot, and therefore did not come within its purview. The Committee recognized the danger that its decision could encourage the administration’s circumvention of due process protections by simply characterizing measures taken against faculty members as non-disciplinary. It wrote, “This may appear to permit the Administration to manipulate processes such as these by simply refusing to give such statements [of charges]. It should be noted, however, that any adversely affected faculty member has other options under the law and that all this amounts to is a determination that Professor Stevens has exhausted this internal remedy.” So, the Committee on Cause effectively found that there is no internal remedy at Northwestern for the forced psychological evaluation and related suspension of a tenured faculty member.

 

On October 7, Dean Randolph sent a letter threatening Dr. Stevens with disciplinary action if she did not agree to “accept an administrative separation from the Department of Political Science effective immediately.” (Attachment E). Dr. Stevens declined to accept such administrative separation, and no disciplinary charges have been filed to date. Dr. Stevens requested any materials in her personnel that would show disciplinary charges are warranted, and has not been provided any specific allegations or evidence of misconduct.

 

The intervention of the AAUP is important to the protection of faculty nationally from efforts of administrations to weaken tenure by using psychological examinations to exclude or marginalize vocal tenured professors. The tactics the administration is using in the Stevens case has important implications for academic freedom. In this case, the only reasons given for the suspension and forced psychological examination were the subjective feelings discomfort of other faculty members and administrators who disagree with Dr. Stevens. Moreover, laudable procedural protections in Northwestern’s Faculty Handbook were summarily discarded. If other universities follow the Northwestern model, any tenured faculty member who poses a perceived political threat to the administration could be effectively marginalized simply by pointing out the very discomfort which the professor’s academic or political speech may engender. Further, by taking such extreme actions against a tenured and successful full professor, the administration sent a frightening message to much more vulnerable junior faculty members about the consequences of refusing to do the bidding of the administration.

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I look forward to hearing from you about whether the AAUP will investigate this matter.
Sincerely,
/s/ Rima Kapitan
CC: Jacqueline Stevens

VIA ELECTRONIC MAIL AND USPS
November 4, 2016
Dr. Morton Schapiro
President
Northwestern University
2-130 Rebecca Crown Center 633 Clark Street Evanston, Illinois 60208

Dear President Schapiro:

Professor Jacqueline Stevens, a tenured professor in the Department of Political Science at Northwestern University, has sought the advice and assistance of the American Association of University Professors as a result of having been suspended by Dean Adrian Randolph from participation in departmental governance activities. In a letter dated October 7, 2016, the dean informed Professor Stevens that her “administrative separation” from the department “will involve the suspension of rights and obligations of department membership.” Dean Randolph stated in his letter that he was proposing the departmental suspension as a means to reduce “tensions” in the political science department. “Should you choose not to accept what I am offering,” the dean wrote, “I will then proceed to propose disciplinary actions.”

Professor Stevens reports that on July 28, 2016, she was summarily placed on administrative leave, banned from campus, and instructed to undergo a mental health evaluation. The stated basis for the action was that her conduct posed a threat to her faculty colleagues. After having the requisite examination, she was informed by Dean Randolph in a September 19 letter that, based on the preliminary findings of the evaluation, she would be permitted to return to campus and would be reinstated to normal faculty duties. The letter stated that her office would be relocated, and she would be required to take part in a teacher training program. It stated further that, because her conduct toward her colleagues “demonstrated a lack of civility,” further disciplinary action remained under consideration. Professor Stevens appealed the administration’s actions on grounds that it had failed to follow due process procedures set forth in the university’s faculty handbook. The appeals committee declined to hear her case, maintaining that, as stated in the September 26 letter from chair Ronald Allen to Provost Daniel Linzer, “no disciplinary action has yet been taken by the administration against Professor Stevens,” or “if it has it has been terminated.”

Our Association’s attached Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, jointly formulated in 1966 with the American Council on Education and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, sets forth the generally accepted understanding of shared governance. That understanding includes the principle that

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“[t]he faculty has primary responsibility for such fundamental areas as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process.” We think it beyond dispute that Dean Randolph imposed a severe sanction when he denied Professor Stevens the right to perform her professional duties in these “fundamental areas.”

The procedural protections that administrators should afford faculty members before subjecting them to severe sanctions are set forth in the AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure (attached), which derive from the provisions and interpretations of the joint 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure (also enclosed). Regulation 7a of the Recommended Institutional Regulations provides that,

[i]f the administration believes that the conduct of a faculty member, although not constituting adequate cause for dismissal, is sufficiently grave to justify imposition of a severe sanction, such as suspension from service for a stated period, the administration may institute a proceeding to impose such a severe sanction; the procedures outlined in Regulation 5 will govern such a proceeding.

The procedures described in Regulation 5 are the same as those that we recommend be employed in cases of dismissal for cause—an adjudicative hearing of record before an elected faculty committee in which the administration bears the burden of proving adequacy of cause. Professor Stevens was neither afforded such a process when she was placed on administrative leave, nor when she was suspended from participation in departmental governance activities upon her return to campus, even though such procedures were available to her under the University Disciplinary Procedures section of Northwestern’s Faculty Handbook.

We find this situation quite troubling, and, to be frank, we are surprised that it has occurred at Northwestern. A tenured professor has been suspended from participating in departmental governance and has thereby been deprived of her right to perform essential duties of a faculty member. That this severe sanction was imposed without affording her the requisite safeguards of due process has serious implications for the climate for academic freedom at the university.

The information upon which we have based our comments has come to us primarily from Professor Stevens, and we appreciate that you may have additional information that might alter our interpretation of events. If so, we would welcome your further comments. Absent such further information, we urge that the administration immediately rescind Professor Stevens’s summary suspension and restore her rights as a tenured member of the faculty. President Schapiro

November 4, 2016

Sincerely,

Anita Levy, Ph.D.

Associate Secretary

Enclosures via email

cc: Dr. Daniel Linzer, Provost

Dr. Adrian Randolph, Dean of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

Professor Ronald J. Allen, Chair, Committee on Cause

Professor Sara Monoson, Chair, Department of Political Science Professor

Jacqueline Stevens

2 thoughts on “AAUP Intervention in Northwestern Jacqueline Stevens’s Case

  1. Pingback: Don’t Mourn, Organize–Part II | ACADEME BLOG

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