California Scholars for Academic Freedom

8/10/12 Letter to Wayne State University President Allan Gilmour Regarding the Threat to Tenure

10 August 2012

Allan Gilmour, President, Wayne State University Allan.Gilmour@wayne.edu,
Wayne State Board of Governors c/o Julie Hearshen Miller <julie.h.miller@wayne.edu>,

Dear President Gilmour,

We, the California Scholars for Academic Freedom,* urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to withdraw your administration’s proposal that tenured faculty may be disciplined and/or terminated by a single administrator without benefit of tried and true procedures for peer review and due process. Such a policy would be a disaster for academic freedom, and we therefore join the AAUP/AFT’s opposition to it.
Reportedly, you have stated that you support academic freedom, but the proposal’s terms are sufficiently ambiguous to allow you or any future president to politicize all evaluation procedures at Wayne State.  How do you define “serious professional misconduct”?  What “professional responsibilities” other than teaching and research might, in the breach, constitute “adequate cause for termination”?  How would you determine “generally accepted academic standards and principles” without faculty input?  What is “employment related misconduct” [sic]?  What does “financially based reduction[s] in force” mean?  To us it suggests that an administrator could arbitrarily decide to reduce the numbers of a department whose faculty were researching and discussing issues in ways disagreeable to him or her, without knowing anything about the field.  Such an administrator could therefore use university (and taxpayer) money to do whatever s/he wants, with no accountability whatsoever.
Your proposal further states that “adequate cause for termination of faculty and academic staff shall also include . . . forcibly interrupting the normal daily teaching, research or administrative operation of the University or directly inciting others to engage in such actions.” Besides attempting to stifle long-established traditions of peaceful civil protest on university campuses, such a policy would also threaten violation of First Amendment rights, since “directly inciting” is notoriously difficult to construe with precision. The consequences would include expensive civil litigation and the heightening of tension and distrust at your university. Since studies have demonstrated that the best ideas—the most innovative and the most viable–originate in atmospheres tolerant of critique, we also note how vital freedom of thought and expression is to the quality and reputation of any university, Wayne State included. The disadvantages of the proposal heavily outweigh any benefits that might accrue from it, since nothing less than the usefulness of Wayne State to its students, its business partners, and the citizens of Michigan, is at stake.
You have reportedly said that even one bad employee is too many; but your wish to root out a few bad employees must not trump the higher goals of academic excellence and integrity, and constitutionally-protected freedoms. The advancement of knowledge is a good that transcends (but does not oppose) considerations of “efficiency” and “cost-cutting.” Universities cannot be managed like corporations. Through trial and error, they have developed careful systems of evaluation to ensure that the best scholarship is encouraged and research fields continue to advance over time.  What makes universities unique is the diversity and complexity of their goals and expertise. They bring together hundreds of very different, sophisticated, ever-evolving methodologies, working environments, and research topics, in the hope that interdisciplinary relations will (as studies of creativity suggest) spark previously unimaginable insights. No single administrator has the knowledge to evaluate any one of these diverse specializations or the work done by any individual within them, let alone to appreciate how cross-fertilizations and out-of-the-box thinking and behavior might be bringing along the world of tomorrow.  What is required instead is the very combination of specialist expertise, interdisciplinary consultation and administrative input that constitutes university assessment procedures today.
Academic freedom is either there, or it isn’t.  Only if academic freedom and due process are protected absolutely will the parents, alumni, scholars, professionals, policy-makers and innovators so vital to the prosperity of our universities be able to trust in the integrity of your faculty’s teaching and research.  History has taught us that autocracy does not encourage the openness to exploration that is the university’s raison d’être. To err is human; like the legislative process, peer review was designed precisely to prevent hasty, prejudicial or ill-informed decision-making.  Scholars must be able to brave controversy; had we not, for example, given the concept of neuroplasticity a chance, we would not now be benefiting from the new perspectives on the aging brain that promise to extend our productivity and well-being beyond previous expectations.  Academic freedom, and the peer review that protects it, are the guarantors of, not obstacles to, the quality and trustworthiness of the work performed at any university.
If your administration’s proposal is forced on the faculty, the outcome will be a rapid plunge in the prestige and quality of Wayne State.  It will undo decades and decades of hard work by your predecessors.  Please think again.

Sincerely yours,
Aranye Fradenburg, University of California Santa Barbara (lfraden@english.ucsb.edu)
Dennis Kortheuer, California State University Long Beach (Dennis.Kortheuer@csulb.edu)
Mark Levine, University of California Irvine (mlevine@uci.edu)

For California Scholars for Academic Freedom
**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a four-year-old group of more than 134 academics who teach in over 20 California institutions of higher education. The group formed as a response to a rash of violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and to the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks were aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities. Our goal of protecting California Scholars and students based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.

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August 13, 2012 - Posted by | Academic Freedom

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