Friday, April 16, 2004

Smith redux 

The case of Professor James Miller at Smith College, which Erin O'Connor and I covered first last year has come back around. After finding last year that the two members of Miller's department had violated his academic freedom, Miller was allowed to reapply. But again, on a 5-4 vote -- without the two faculty members who wrote the questioned letters -- the department has voted anew against tenure for Professor Miller. Part of the charge was that Miller had written articles for conservative publications like National Review Online and The Weekly Standard; this article discussing anti-war sentiments in academia in particular on NRO drew some comments from faculty members in letters explaining their votes against tenuring Miller. Miller continues to write topical articles regularly for Tech Central Station, though none of these are in academia. He was, however, interviewed about his troubles last year in national show's like The O'Reilly Factor, and therefore brought some bad press to Smith. Is he being punished for this?

I noted when I last looked that Miller had two articles listed in EconLit. That is now four, including this article last year. So he has continued to be productive, and Miller has had four outside reviewers read his materials. And students interviewed in the student newspaper were clear that while he's a Chicago-trained conservative, he's a valued professor.
"He's definitely a conservative," said Ami Dave '04. "He makes statements that might outrage you, but he provokes you into speaking. I thought he was adding diversity to the conversation," she said.

Miller "has a reputation for being very conservative," said Merica Stoffan '04, who said some people may not sign up for Miller's classes for this reason.

Stoffan has taken three classes with Miller and enjoyed them, she said. "There are things you can learn by listening to someone you don't agree with that you don't get by listening to professors that try to make you feel loved all the time," she said.

Miller is clearly a conservative, but "it was definitely not a hostile environment at all," said Lauma Skruzmane '04.

Miller's game theory class "opened new horizons" for her in terms of different ways of looking at economic issues and at decisionmaking, she said.

"I guess I don't necessarily stand by him in the way he's handling the tenure situation or the way the college is handling it. I just think he was a good addition to the economics department," Skruzmane said.
There does not seem to be much question that on the basis of objective standards Miller deserves tenure. Tenure decisions are, of course, inherently subjective -- it's not like the LPGA Hall of Fame, where you're automatically in when you win so many tournaments. But we have a case where disagreements over methodological fundamentals -- Chicago-style economic rationalism versus what appears to be some who dissent from rationalism -- may be in play. Is that cricket?