Friday, December 17, 2004

Something ain't right there 

I have been trying to read today about a professor at Southern Utah University who was not only denied tenure this month but placed on immediate administrative leave. The story emphasizes an incident where political science Prof. Stephen Roberds, last year's professor of the year at SUU, used the effenheimer towards a student while discussing a Supreme Court decision. I am known among our students as somewhat profane in the classroom, but I have stopped short of the Cheney.

The reason this one interests me is that SUU is portrayed as a very conservative school and Roberds is painted as a liberal.

SUU student Matt Bybee, a senior Cedar City native majoring in sociology, is convinced that Roberds' situation illustrates a perennial battle between the conservative administration and professors who express more contradictory views - especially in the more liberal colleges like sociology.

"It's like the administration is sensitive to ideas of the majority, but not those with opposite views," said Bybee, adding that the loss of Roberds would reflect poorly on SUU.

I think it's incumbent of those of us who fight for academic freedom to defend someone like Roberds if he has been dismissed for his views (trumped up by his use of the effenheimer), but the placing of Roberds on immediate administrative leave is a red flag. That is an action taken usually when there is some reason a faculty member must not be placed before students. It's not an action taken with incompetents, nor with faculty who in the normal course of events is denied tenure. The administration might be very heavyhanded, but such a precipitous action invites a lawsuit; I think it more likely there's something else to this story that we haven't seen yet.

A group of students supporting Roberds have established a site for coverage. I'll monitor it.

UPDATE: Robert "KC" Johnson has more.
The Spectrum, a local newspaper, reports that Roberds �has a reputation of pushing the envelope." Last April, for instance, he referred to a student as �a stupid, ignorant, hate-monger� during a club-sponsored demonstration against gay marriage. And he could have been more judicious in his public statement to his tenure denial, writing in an e-mail that the university's administrators "act like thugs" and "have no respect for diversity or true academic freedom." Virtually every student interviewed, however, stated that while he was passionate in expressing his views in the classroom, he did not attempt to indoctrinate and encouraged debate.

Johnson also updated a later this PM that Roberds has issued a statement that SUU is claiming Roberds isn't very collegial. He apparently made his university unhappy by saying "there was more freedom in Iraq right now than at SUU." Given the snooping around by the department chair, I still think we're missing some part of this puzzle.

The student site, alas, is down for busting its bandwidth limit.