Tuesday, April 14, 2015
This blog post from Stephen Diamond, via Brian Leiter, nicely collects the criticism of Paul Campos's recent editorial in the New York Times on the rising cost of higher education. Rather than piling onto the criticism, I'd like to use this as an opportunity to ask a different question: at what point is a tenured faculty member's public pronouncements, professional misconduct, and/or research methodology, so outlandishly bad as to justify permanent removal of that faculty member from the university?
Academic freedom is rightly a powerful force; it protects the ability of academics to seek and speak Truth to Power. But what if a tenured astrophysicist insists -- publicly and at every possible opportunity, that the earth is flat? What if a geneticist claims to find a genetic basis for arguing that members of a certain race are inherently less intelligent than members of another race, and the geneticist's "findings" both are obviously methodologically flawed and completely ignore counter-evidence? What if a faculty member uses social media or the classroom to denigrate her university, or to make ad hominem attacks against fellow faculty members? At what point does a tenured faculty member become such an embarrassment to the institution, or become so disruptive to its educational mission, that the institution is justified in terminating the relationship?
For better or worse, many administrative matters that historically were primarily the responsibility of faculty have become the responsibility of professional administrators. Perhaps this is for the good -- shifting at least some responsibility for student admissions to administrative professionals helps ensure more consistent outcomes and frees faculty members to use their time more productively. But if faculty governance is to mean anything, it must mean the freedom to govern, not the freedom from governing.
Self-policing is difficult, uncomfortable work. No one wants to discipline or expel a colleague, and "enforcing professional norms" too often has been used as a subterfuge for excluding worthy individuals on other, less benign, bases. Perhaps for this reason much of the process of evaluating tenured faculty and holding them accountable has been either abdicated or shifted from the collective power of a college's faculty to deans, administrators, and university-level faculty bureaucracies. The unfortunate consequence is that we've largely lost the sense of colleges being a group of self-governing colleagues.
Thoughts and responses are welcome, though because of a yet-unresolved technical glitch I will have to rely on the other contributors to this Blog to approve comments.