Monday, January 12, 2004

Watch your mouth 

In response to my post on the situation of Prof. Day at Cumberland College, John Bruce says untenured professors should know better than to criticize their administrations.
...I think we can interpret this under the available facts, not necessarily as an academic freedom issue, but an issue in which some professors apparently feel that even probationary members of their guild are entitled to a level of protection from their own actions that ordinary citizens don't receive. I can't endorse this attitude.
I have some sympathy for John's viewpoint here; the institutions of academic freedom and tenure did not arise so that faculty could publicly complain about the lack of pay raises or how much sherry the president has at the Friday afternoon mixer. But this case has more to it than that:
  1. Day was let go in the middle of the term. This is highly disruptive for the courses he teaches, causing the students distress. It also leads future employers to believe Day had done something far worse than whistle-blow on administrative malfeasance. It would have been far preferable for Cumberland to have simply told Day he would not be retained.
  2. What does a mid-term firing do for a culture of free inquiry at Cumberland? As Richard Edwards has put it,
    we need academic freedom because it creates an environment in which faculty can be out-spoken, courageous, truculent, obstreperous, unafraid of controversy, and provocative (notice that I stayed away from �inflammatory� and �irksome,� but you can add those if you think appropriate). The glory of a great university is precisely in having a high-achieving faculty with these attributes of fearlessness and commitment to truth.
I believe the phrase attorneys use here is "prosecutorial discretion": Perhaps John is right that it's not likely that Day will win his case, but pursuing it may come at a great cost to Cumberland if it stultifies the inquiry of the rest of its faculty.

UPDATE: John has responded in his post, as well as added a new post on what he sees as a similar case. Belief Seeking Understanding takes a dimmer view of Cumberland as a Christian school.