Discipline and Professionalization


I think Mikhail posted something about this a while back, but I just came across this update and thought I’d post it here.  It appears that a judge ruled that faculty at public colleges and universities don’t have any protection under the first amendment when criticizing administrators and the administration.  Yikes.

A bitter dispute over a tenured professor fired by Idaho State University has become the latest case in which a court has suggested that faculty members at public colleges and universities do not have First Amendment protection when criticizing their administrations.While the individual case of Habib Sadid continues to be much debated at the university, the way the judge ruled in the case has advocates for faculty members concerned.

The language in the decision “eviscerates the identity and role that a faculty member plays” in public higher education, said Rachel Levinson, senior counsel for the American Association of University Professors. The decision applies to a higher education context several court cases that the AAUP believes should not be applied to higher education, and one case involving higher education that the AAUP believes was wrongly decided because of reliance on the other cases. In many respects, the ruling in Sadid represents an extreme form of a legal pattern the AAUP recently warned was eroding faculty rights at public colleges

Sadid was a frequent, caustic critic of his university’s administration — in ways that many at Idaho State (in particular the administration) believed crossed over lines of professionalism, but that he said represented the appropriate right to express dissent. He was fired despite a faculty panel’s finding that there was not cause to do so, and his suit against the university charges that the university denied him his First Amendment rights by dismissing him.

Of particular concern to faculty members, Levinson said, is language in the ruling that suggests that professors at public colleges and universities have no more rights than employees of other institutions. In dismissing his suit, Judge David C. Nye cited several other cases that involve the right of employers to limit their employees’ public statements. “Sadid should understand that he has limitations of his speech that he accepted when becoming a state employee,” Nye wrote.

Read the rest here.  As usual in articles like these, the comments are more interesting.  Here’s an early comment whose sentiments are applauded a couple of times throughout:

Posted on December 23, 2009 at 9:15am EST: Good. Faculty have come to expect complete unaccountability for their actions. Its time that they were brought inline with the rest of the workforce.

This just betrays a total ignorance of academia, but this whole thing kind of, kind of sounds a bit like French novelist Michel Houellebecq exercising his right to call Islam a stupid religion.  That is, there is a difference between criticism and mere attacks.

5 thoughts on “Discipline and Professionalization

  1. Right. The ignorance of academia is total as you say. And not least among academics. My default is faculty shouldn’t be fired for saying what they think. But I’m not making Sadid my hero until I know more about what he said, how, in what context. Until then defending him feels like gang obligation, and seeing him as an instance of a larger pattern feels like looking for a place for anxiety to roost.

  2. That’s good, Carl. Nobody is trying to make Sadid a hero, at least not here. Maybe we can explore the depths of my ignorance since you seem to have it all figured out. I just erased a longer, more measured and detailed response because it’s basically not worth it. I tend to see such things as an instance of a larger pattern (perhaps it’s a bit X-Files conspiracyish) , clearly, you don’t. That’s fine, but I wonder if it was a choir, a bowling team or a minyon instead of a gang you’d be more comfortable (please read that last bit with the sarcastic tone it deserves).

  3. Sorry Shahar, I thought I calibrated my reply to your tone in the post but apparently not. My opening ‘right’ was intended to agree with all you’d said, and I especially liked your point about criticism vs. attacks.

    Do we know which is which with Sadid? Certainly not based on the post you linked or the further link suggested in the comments (unless we just take faculty unions’ word without question or assume when bad things happen to faculty they’re always being screwed). I didn’t expect this to be a controversial point.

    For what it’s worth I do think it’s upsetting to see the 1st amendment sidelined for faculty at state U’s, although the actual ruling seems to have drawn a distinction between research/instructional speech and institutional speech. There’s certainly a disconnect between the medieval model of self-governance and a more modern bureaucratic/ hierarchical model that we’re all struggling with. Ironically the 1st amendment is historically more consistent with the latter, but all the more reason to try to get it to stick if possible, perhaps even in cases where the judgment and conduct of a colleague is not admirable.

    And no, maybe we don’t agree on the conspiracy part, at least because in my view there are perfectly good and openly articulated reasons why large publicly-funded mass-educational institutions are not run on the model of small medieval universities. But this is a difference of frame, not content, and I’m sort of rambling, and I don’t really have a firm grasp of what or whether our actual disagreement is here.

    • No, I owe you the apology, Carl. My comment was far too pissy. I completely misread you. At bottom, I’m fairly certain there’s a connection between the pile of opossum shit I found in my attic (coupled with lots of noise), your blog moniker and my pissy tone! Ack.

      PS. No we don’t really seem to be disagreeing all that much (if at all). I’m fairly certain that’s what’s at stake has to do, on both sides, with “academic freedom,” e.g. do we privilege the institutional (academic) freedom or faculty academic freedom? The Vice Provost of my college (a public institution) sent out a long email to the faculty about academic freedom and he peppered the letter with reference to this case. It was clearly a thinly veiled threat to go along with the broader attempt to consolidate the administrations power, hence my anxiety. I should have been clearer about where I was coming from with regards to this post.

    • No worries Shahar! Possum shit will do that to anyone. Why, I remember the time I opened up my pantry door and found a big old possum sleeping on the floor curled up in the recyclable shopping bags. Came in through the cat door. S/he looked at me like, Yes, can I help you? Fortunately in those days I always had a loaded Super Soaker handy. And then there was the time the skunk decided to come in and have some cat food. We let it….

      Speaking of skunks in the cat food, that email from your VP does give off a stank. What kinds of power is he trying to consolidate? At my place I don’t automatically mind the Admin having more power than the faculty – in general I think their vision is better and their judgment more responsible. But I know that’s not true across the board, and I worry a bit about the new regime when our long-time president retires soon.

      For that reason I’m interested in the distinctions being drawn on the linked thread between academic freedom in the research/teaching sense and freedom of speech in the self-governance sense. I care a lot about the former, not so much the latter. I don’t trust faculty who want power any more than I trust adminicrats who want power, and constitutional protections are vague and fungible, so I like the idea of cutting local deals and getting research and classroom autonomy into faculty manuals and contracts.

      I really like how you’ve put the contrast of institutional and faculty freedom. It reminds me of the young Marx making fun of the idea of a ‘free State’, as if it’s the State that needs to be free rather than the people in it. Thanks, Shahar!

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