Home / General / James Tracy and the limits of academic freedom

James Tracy and the limits of academic freedom

Comments
/
/
/
115 Views

noah pozner

Sandy Hook murder victim Noah Pozner

Florida Atlantic has fired James Tracy, a communications professor who among other things teaches classes on conspiracy theories. Tracy believes that the Sandy Hook massacre didn’t take place, and he has harassed the parents of one of the murdered children, demanding that they “prove” their child ever existed, and suggesting they faked their child’s death for money.

When Tracy’s accusations first drew public attention, the school’s administration took the public position that both his views and activities were protected by academic freedom (Tracy has or had tenure). The school is now claiming that Tracy is being fired for failing to file some paperwork:

Last month, the parents of a victim of the 2012 shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., published an op-ed piece in the (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.,) Sun-Sentinel. Lenny and Veronique Pozner wrote that they had requested Tracy remove a picture of their son, 6-year-old Noah, from his blog. Tracy responded, they said, by sending them a letter demanding proof that Noah ever existed.

The Pozner’s argued that “conspiracy theorists” abound, but Tracy garnered widespread attention because of his credentials.

“A plethora of conspiracies arose after Sandy Hook, but none received as much mainstream publicity as Tracy,” they wrote. “This professor achieved fame among the morbid and deranged precisely because his theories were attached to his academic credentials and his affiliation with FAU.”

One week after that article’s publication, FAU administrators started moving to dismiss Tracy, but not over his specific statements.

University officials sent him a memorandum reminding him that he had failed to submit forms required of university employees outlining any professional activities they engage in outside of the university. Tracy is open about his views and articulates them on radio shows, alternative news sites and his blog, the Memory Hole.

After some back and forth, the administration sent him a termination letter on Tuesday, arguing that his outside work needed to be reported to the university to make sure no conflicts of interest existed.

“You publicly engage in external personal activity that requires your time and effort,” the termination letter read. “Disclosure and management of your outside activity is necessary and reasonable. It is for the administration to decide, with your input, if a conflict exists, and how to manage a conflict where necessary. You have repeatedly and willfully failed to provide the administration the information it needs to discharge its responsibilities.”

On its face this seems obviously pre-textual. On the other hand, Tracy is also obviously nuts [insert appropriate DSM-V term here], and he may well have engaged quite consciously in acts of insubordination, so that he could achieve the bureaucratic equivalent of martyrdom.

Anyway, this case in my view raises serious and difficult questions in regard to academic freedom. As I mentioned in my original post on this subject, this isn’t a situation in which someone is advocating crazy views that have nothing to do with his academic expertise, like the Northwestern engineering professor who is a Holocaust denier in his spare time. Tracy is an actual conspiracy theorist, in the most pejorative and unhinged sense of that term, whose career is dedicated to studying and teaching students about conspiracy theories. Is that something a university should tolerate?

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • BiloSagdiyev

    If you’re suggesting we should conspire against conspiracy theorists, I like the cut of your jib, sir. But we shouldn’t talk about it here.

    In related news, here is a condensed, animated version of the day Louis C.K. tried to get Donald Rumsfeld to deny that he is a lizard:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xz_gy7-bOoo

    • Lurker

      In the Wikipedia community, there is a proverb: If you believe there is a cabal, there is one.

      In the Wikipedia community, it means that a person who starts talking about canals has usually formed this opinion after a number of editors have, acting independently, deleted his edits. However, at the point where you have repeatedly fought against the consensus and have started to believe in a cabal acting to silence you, you have probably become so disruptive that a number of administrators are already having a secret discussion about your case. Thus, there is now an actual conspiracy against you.

      • Talking about canals in the Wikipedia community can start people conspiring against you? That’s just…Erie.

        • The Dark God of Time

          Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

        • Lee Rudolph

          That’s not Erie, it’s just tough Love.

          • JonH

            Locks of Love is one of my favorite charities.

        • Lurker

          Sorry, should be cabals. Damn autocorrect to the lowest Hell.

          • Richard Hershberger

            It would have been funnier if you had posted “…should be cables.”

        • Origami Isopod

          A man, a plan, a canal…. CONSPIRACY!!!

          • rea

            Well, getting the rights to build the Panama Canal WAS a conspiracy.

            • LeeEsq

              It was for a good cause. We couldn’t let the French beat us. ;).

          • mikeSchilling

            To fight it, we need to impose Martian Law.

          • JonH

            A man, a plan, a canal…
            B
            E
            N
            G
            H
            A
            Z
            I

        • nanute

          Go jump in a lake.

      • ASV

        Sure, but that’s just because anyone can edit the List of Cabals page.

    • Origami Isopod

      I find that video rather icke.

      • sibusisodan

        Win!

  • Roger Ailes

    No.

  • Karen24

    If Tracy had not directly attacked the family of the victim, expecting them to prove the existence of their child, I would say no, the school should not fire him. Merely being a loon, even a loon in one’s own area of expertise, should not negate tenure. Being a loon who harasses people, however, is another matter. He would lose his job if he won the Pulitzer-Nobel-Intergalactic Order of Merit for Superexperts but also demanded his female students have sex with him for grades, or used racial slurs in class. This is more like the guy who can’t keep his pants zipped than like a biologist who advocates for crank nutritional theories, or even a Sandy Hook Truther who never addressed any specific person.

    • Craigo

      Merely being a loon, even a loon in one’s own area of expertise, should not negate tenure. Being a loon who harasses people, however, is another matter.

      I’m admittedly not an absolutist when it comes to this subject…but yeah. I had no problem with a nut being a nut in his spare time, but that clearly crossed a line.

      • njorl

        If he can show that the school wanted a professor who studied and expounded upon bizarre, controversial and unfounded theories of current events, and that they fired him because he did it in a way that made the school look bad, then he has a case.
        In other words, if they wanted someone to teach “Area 51 has aliens in it”, and instead he taught “The Sandy Hook shootings were faked”, then the school is in the wrong.

        • Craigo

          Sure, granting that their policies have not changed in the interim.

        • so-in-so

          One suspects they wanted him to teach “this is how these nutty theories start and spread” without the added “and these theories that the man says are nutty are really true!”.

          • The Temporary Name

            Right. They wanted a study of modern folklore and got someone who was attacking reality.

        • Karen24

          Well, in this case, they gave a guy who taught a class in conspiracies tenure, so yeah, Florida Atlantic set themselves up for that one. They’re rather lucky he decided to go all the way to harassing people.

          • Hogan

            they gave a guy who taught a class in conspiracies tenure

            I don’t think that was the order of events. They gave a guy who taught courses under the rubric of Communication tenure. He later developed a, shall we say, interest in conspiracy theories and developed a course based on it.

            • N__B

              If you have sufficient conspiracy that it earns interest, you’d be better off investing in a coup d’etat.

              • pianomover

                Just have him killed in a mysterious conspiracy sort of fashion. That should make everyone happy.

                • nanute

                  Win!

        • mikeSchilling

          So, Chicago School economics?

      • Why should “academic freedom” include illegal behavior such as harassing strangers? He wasn’t fired for his stupid opinions, but for his tormenting the parents of murdered children.

        • Rob in CT

          Well, technically they fired him for failing to properly file paperwork…

          Which strikes me as kinda weak, really. It might have been better to take on the real issue, rather than hiding behind that paperwork thing.

          • toberdog

            Yes.

            • Origami Isopod

              Agreed.

          • mikeSchilling

            There are consequences for harassing the parents of murdered children without obtaining the right permit.

          • Every Man Jack of Yinz

            They just wanted this guy gone so I assume this was the easiest way – ala Al Capone getting rung up on income tax evasion.

          • ChrisTS

            More forthright, to be sure, but not necessarily ‘better.’

          • Jadzia

            I totally agree. Admitting that I don’t know the details of his contract with the university, it would seem to me that harassing the child’s family would justify termination. (And perhaps a lawsuit for IIED by that family.) What idiot general counsel told the university to use the obviously, obviously pretextual reason? That’s just begging for a lawsuit.

        • Craigo

          Actually, he wasn’t fired for that either, although that seems more than sufficient. He was fired for refusing to fill out an outside-interests disclosure form.

        • My understanding is that to say that he harassed them in any legal sense is incorrect. There was a take down request by a copyright holder of a photo he was using and he took it down and then responded with a series of questions directed toward the parents (the copyright holders). This is repellent, but not the same as sending them unsolicited email, or calling them, or what have you. I don’t *think* he sent flying monkeys after them either though he certainly abused them in print.

          Disgusting, but not the easily actionable thing that illegal harassment would have been.

          (This is to the best of my knowledge. John Proveti posted about this on Facebook and I did some sleuthing, but I might be missing something. Given that they are gonna after him for paperwork, I doubt it.)

          • The Dark God of Time

            Should the school have waited until he did something illegal before acting? I should think not. it’s a pretty asshole move on his part, and one that I don’t think that academic freedom or tenure are supposed to protect under the guise of “freedom of thought”.

            • It’s not necessarily the case that they should have waited until he did something illegal, just that doing something illegal is a stronger case.

              I’m concerned that they aren’t formally removing him for the cause they nominally are charging him with and one that doesn’t seem like a firable offense to me. Usually these external activity notifications are for things which may have significant financial conflicts (eg you found a start up…does this mean you steer grants there or give it IP?)

              • The Dark God of Time

                If he won’t follow the rules that apply to other tenured faculty, then it is a firerable offense, period, unless it can be shown that other faculty have engaged in outside activities for which they didn’t file the necessary paperwork. It may not be fair, but neither was bothering a parent of a child who died by gunfire for one’s twisted ideological,purposes.

                • I’ll have to see what the precise charges are, but at Manchester we have a similar declaration we do and there’s no way that anyone things failing to declare something even substantive is a fireable offence, in itself. It could be an element of a case if you also, say, directed a possible university funder to your company, I *guess*, but even that, if there was no illegality probably wouldn’t do anything.

                  And this is really for things like owning a company or doing a consulting business. If I had written a novel, I wouldn’t have thought to declare it there. I guess if a blog brought in significant revenue, they might want us to declare it, but not for, say, a textbook.

                  In any case, most rule violations aren’t, themselves, firable offences. Getting your grades in late isn’t a fireable offence. Missing the odd class isn’t. Systematically missing classes would be an offensive, but a performance plan would be the first step. If there was no improvement, then firing would be initiated.

                  If he can be fired for failing to fill out some paperwork about an activity I’m pretty sure the university knew about (since they had made requests that he disassociate himself), then tenure has no meaning at that university. What can be done agains the deserving (him) can be done against the gay rights activist or Palestinian supporter.

                  (On Facebook, I did try to determine whether he was contacting them directly and that contact was related to his research. If so, there’d be a prima facie case for violation of research ethics which would warrant sanction, perhaps through firing. But as far as I can tell, he’s not had direct contact. He replied to their lawyer requesting answers to his loathsome questions.)

                  There’s no question that he’s totally bonkers in addition to being disgusting. But thus far, he seems protected. Unless there are additional facts, I think the AAUP will challenge the case.

                • The Temporary Name

                  If he can be fired for failing to fill out some paperwork about an activity I’m pretty sure the university knew about

                  The university says they ordered him to do the paperwork a number of times and he simply refused, which made the job of firing him wonderfully easy.

                • The university says they ordered him to do the paperwork a number of times and he simply refused, which made the job of firing him wonderfully easy.

                  Oh, that’s interesting. Yes, that potentially makes it much simpler.

                  It’s perhaps not enough to make it easy if this is a pro forma thing for most faculty.

                  However, looking at the termination letter, it seems that his derangement undid him. They put him on notice and he didn’t use the grievance procedure, etc. Heck, it’s not hard to comply with those forms even when you think it’s bullshit. So, they may have the technical rope needed to hang him.

                  It’s not hugely unusual in a performance plan to have a lot more documentation. I’ll look some more, but I’m not clear why they thought those activities brought him in conflict with the university. He wasn’t teaching other classes or anything. If the conflict is disagreement over the content of his blathering, then we’re back in academic freedom territory.

                  The university resources thing is probably bogus too unless FL has an insane policy. At Manchester, we’re allowed to use university resources “reasonably” for personal stuff. So I don’t have to have people send me email to a separate account. If he posted to his blog from a university machine, that seems pretty thin gruel.

                  OTOH, maybe they were able to legit catch him since he’s so weird and paranoid. I won’t weep for that. Technical moves are a bit worrisome because they can really be used against anybody (though most won’t be as easy a target).

      • twbb

        I think he crossed a line, but the question is whether it was the college’s place to make that determination and punish him for off-campus behavior. I think his behavior crossed into the criminal, so it would make more sense to me if he was charged and convicted with harassment, then lost his job because of that, which I think would be a lot more defensible position.

        • Do you have a link to his criminal behaviour? All I found was that he replied to the lawyer’s letter and published drek on his blog, in op eds, etc.

  • Brian Schmidt

    Hard cases make bad law. Maybe there’s not much to learn from this looney tune’s situation.

    Alternatively, it shows how much of an outlier you have to be to reach a point where academic freedom is trumped by other considerations.

  • so-in-so

    I’d like to think that his decision to actually harass the parents of a murdered child carried weight. If he just dabbled in a few weird theories on the side, the situation would be different.

    By coincidence we also have Wheaton College firing Larycia Hawkins for saying that Chistians and Muslims worship the same God, which isn’t even controversial in most Christian theology.

    • jamesjhare

      Saying anything else is basically a rejection of Christian theology. There is no God but God. Calling “him” Allah doesn’t change anything. Saying there’s a Christian God and there’s Allah and they are different entities kind of rejects the whole monotheism angle.

      • Craigo

        Those Christians who reject the idea that the Lord and Allah are not one and the same are not saying that Allah is a separate deity; they’re saying that “Allah” is a fiction and that such a deity does not exist.

        As I understand it. I’m agnostic, but it seems pretty clear to me that YHWH, the Lord, and Allah are the same dude.

        • Steve LaBonne

          Hardly the first instance of dumbshit evangelical “Christians” exhibiting abject ignorance of Christianity.

          • muddy

            It’s like they never heard of translating words from another language.

            I think a lot of conservatives have issues with “magic words” in general.

            • Craigo

              Next you’ll tell us that the King James bible is a translation too.

              • muddy

                Recently someone was telling me that the Bible is the literal word of God. I asked, Which one, which Bible?

                This person was not aware that there are versions, translations, never mind the general course of history. I don’t usually like to just let BS pass in my face, but I just felt overwhelmed by the thought of it: Where. to. even. start.

                • Craigo

                  If I’m ever feeling really mean, I’d tell someone that the KJV in print today is not even the same KJV that was published in 1611. But I’m not that mean.

                • Richard Hershberger

                  If I’m ever feeling really mean, I’d tell someone that the KJV in print today is not even the same KJV that was published in 1611. But I’m not that mean.

                  This is not strictly true. It is true of the generic KJVs you find in Barnes & Noble, but you can get a reprint of the 1611 text if you want it. You can even get a facsimile of the first edition:
                  http://www.amazon.com/1611-James-Bible-Facsimile-Reproduction/dp/B005FI1L4Q/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1452289768&sr=8-4&keywords=king+james+bible+facsimile+1611

                  And yes, you can find churches that insist on using only the 1611 text. They are a fringe of a fringe, even in the context of Evangelical Protestantism.

                • Craigo

                  Absolutely right. I only know this because one of my ministers as a kid had a recent 1611 text in his library (and showed us Sunday schoolers that the word “piss” was in the bible.)

                  My comment was assuming that the KJV you find in most evangelical churches and homes is the most recent revision – which I think is a reasonable assumption, but it’s definitely not universally true.

                • Lee Rudolph

                  They are a fringe of a fringe

                  Ah, but are they a fringe of a gold fringe?

                • JonH

                  “You can even get a facsimile of the first edition:”

                  I’d kind of love it if people ordered this and received a roll of thermal fax paper printed with the text.

            • so-in-so

              In particular, Arab words in today’s America. Wonder when they announce algebra is no longer on the curriculum?

              • Captain Oblivious

                And ban the use of zero…

                • Ruviana

                  The Maya had zero. They’ll just start teaching base-20 math.

                • Ahuitzotl

                  Well zero comes from the Maya of course .. you know, Mexicans. So they’ll just send it back across the border

              • efgoldman

                In particular, Arab words in today’s America. Wonder when they announce algebra is no longer on the curriculum?

                Oh, That’s why RWNJ TeaHadis can’t math.

            • Lee Rudolph

              It’s like they never heard of translating words from another language.

              Well, to be fair (in the actual [Some of] Both Sides Do It mode), there’s presently a problem somewhere in [Malaysia|part of Indonesia] where Christians, who are officially permitted to be Christians, use their Bible, etc., are being disallowed the use of the word “Allah” to refer to their (Christian version of) God.

              A non-lethal but damnably itchy pox on many mansions, says I.

        • Warren Terra

          it seems pretty clear to me that YHWH, the Lord, and Allah are the same dude.

          It seems pretty clear to me that instructing other people on the nature of their deity is an asshole move. That includes telling them that their god is the same god as that other fellow over there worships.

          I say this in part as an Atheist Jew who is not infrequently mightily peeved by the really quite ignorant assertions by Christians who vastly overstate the amount of Jewish influence on Christianity.

          • Craigo

            Sure. Which is why I also said “to me”. If other people’s beliefs contradict my reading, so be it.

            Also, climb down.

            • rea

              Well, it’s not a matter of opinion, or of religion, it’s a matter of history. Muslims worship the god of Abraham, as do Jews and Christians.

              • Warren Terra

                Oh, FFS. This is just a silly fight to be having. Muslims claim to worship the same God as do other Abrahamic faiths, but this claim is rather noisome to many Christians. Similarly, Mormons have a lot to say about their deity Jesus that is foreign to the beliefs of Christians, and rather resented by some of them – and for that matter foreign to the beliefs of Muslims. As I understand it the Branch Davidians considered themselves to be Christians of some sort, a claim that would be rather controversial to most Christians.

                This whole “shared beliefs of Abrahamic religions” thing is often rhetorically useful to promote a limited sort of tolerance (though even that is questionable, because it creates an argument for tolerance that has no place for many other peoples), but if you actually look at the religions in question it rather goes away. Christianity and Judaism share some texts, but not others; they read their shared texts very differently and have extremely different theologies and histories. Islam shares some stories but, I believe, shares no texts, and is a very different thing itself.

                • LeeEsq

                  Judaism doesn’t strictly have a theology. One thing that distinguished the Pharisees and the Nazarenes before Judaism and Christianity officially split was that the Pharisees, who latter created Rabbinical Judaism, were deeply uninterested in questions about the nature of God. Their opinion was that there was one God, Jews/Israel are his chosen people, and he gave us the Torah and left it at that. What fascinated the Pharisees was finding out what God wants rather than anything about his nature or attributes. The Nazarenes and later Christians were deeply interested in questions on the nature of God though. You can’t get to the Trinity without such an obsession.

                • Judaism doesn’t strictly have a theology

                  Certainly not in the sense Christianity does. It could be suggested, I think, that what in Judaism is called “mysticism” maps better to “theology” than to what Christians call “mysticism.”

                  If there is one text shared by all three Abrahamic religions, it’s arguably Maimonides.

                  On the topic of the thread, it is unclear to me how monotheists can conceive of people worshiping the wrong God.

                • alex284

                  No, this debate isn’t going far enough! We need to decide which is the one true religion, now!

          • Captain Oblivious

            it seems pretty clear to me that YHWH, the Lord, and Allah are the same dude.

            It seems pretty clear to me that instructing other people on the nature of their deity is an asshole move.

            I don’t think it’s an asshole move if you’re countering their asshole move.

            • Craigo

              I wouldn’t even go that far. People are free to believe what they want regardless of whether you or I think it’s assholish. For the record, I don’t think it is assholish to believe that the two are not the same, even though I think they are.

              • DrDick

                Pretty much. In historical terms, they clearly are the same, but I am an unbeliever, so what do I know?

          • mikeSchilling

            Shit, yes, it’s not our fault.

        • Lurker

          It depends on the view-point. In Christianity, God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. This is clearly established from Exodus. On the other hand, Christian theological tradition supported by about every theologian of note at least until the 19th century considers God to be also the God of philosophic monotheism. The God of Anselm and Plotinus.

          The God of Islam is also the God of Abraham. He is also the God of philosophic monotheism, the God of Averroes and Al-Khwarizim. For Thomas Aquinas, it was absolutely clear that the God of Islam was also the God of Christianity. This is also pretty self-esteem for anyone who knows any Christian theology.

          However, theology is not really a strong suit of the Evangelicals. They don’t really have a theology so much as an assortment of prejudices and superstitions. One of these is a convoluted story how Allah was really a moon-god who was raised to be the one Supreme God by Muhammed. It really sounds like they were living in ancient Sumer and arguing that it is the god of their city, not the god of the neighboring city that is the supreme one.

          Hawkins would probably been all right of she had qualified her statement. For example, she should have tried: “MUSLIMS worship the sameGod as we, but in a wrong way. This means they are not pagans but heretics, who will receive even a greater eternal punishment than pagans.”

          • so-in-so

            Except for the throwing Muslims under the bus part, which is the opposite of what she was trying to do.

            • Lurker

              I know. It is pretty unlikely that she would have been fired for claiming a wrong technical reason for the Muslims going to Hell. :-)

          • Lee Rudolph

            In Christianity, God is the God of Abraham […]. The God of Islam is also the God of Abraham.

            Ah, but is the God of Abraham the God of Abraham? The transitivity of identity is a very useful axiom, but in the wilder bramble patches of philosophy (particularly, but not exclusively, both vernacular philosophy and the philosophy of vernacular language) it can get mighty tattered.

            • Lurker

              This is the kind of discussion I come here for. :-)

              I think I might need to retire into a cave near some mountaintop to ponder on that question for a couple of decades.

              • Lee Rudolph

                I think I might need to retire into a cave near some mountaintop to ponder on that question for a couple of decades.

                A cave? Caves are damp and bat-infested! I hear there’s this guy Simeon who might be interested in sub-letting a bijou penthouse abode with 360° views, all pre-mod. cons., perfect for serious ponderers. Look him up.

                • Ahuitzotl

                  Stylitee!

            • Hogan

              “One is what one is, partly at least.” – Samuel Beckett

            • Vance Maverick

              Is there a theological equivalent of ring species, where one can follow a chain of gods that are equivalent at every link, but with distinct gods at the ends of the chain?

              • Warren Terra

                Glancing at your link, I see a sort of ongoing cross-fertilization and flow that I’m not sure works in this context. A more conventional phylogenetic tree model would seem more appropriate, if imperfect.

            • Oh and computer science. The floating point NaN is not equal or identical to NaN (to any of them). The SQL Null is not equal to anything, including itself. Reflexivity in the breech!

        • Norrin Radd

          I disagree good sir. To say that people worship the same God simply because they’re monotheistic misses the forest for the trees. It might be true in some exceedingly narrow sense, but it misses out on the vast differences between the two faiths. Most importantly Christians believe that Jesus Christ is part of the Godhead whereas Muslims believe that Jesus Christ was merely a Prophet. What matters is that people agree on the manifestation of God not merely that there is a singular God. How can Muslims Jews and Christians be said to worship the same God when they each disagree on the very conception of God? If you don’t believe in the Trinity then you don’t believe in the Christian God. Now politically speaking I’m all for Professor Hawkins efforts and I wish her Godspeed in her work to bring Muslims and Christians together. Hopefully she can remain at Wheaton but if not I’m sure some other university will pay her top dollar to join their faculty. I’ve met her and she’s a very good and kind woman.

          • mikeSchilling

            And with the Orthodox and Catholics disagreeing on filioque, they clearly worship two different Trinities.

          • heckblazer

            If Christians and Jews don’t believe in the same God, there wasn’t much point in including the Old Testament in the Bible.

      • njorl

        Those Spanish heretics worship the god Dio. They’ll never get into heaven.

        • kg

          worship the god Dio.

          who, coincidentally, posts here sometimes. nice guy.

        • Honoré De Ballsack

          Those Spanish heretics worship the god Dio. They’ll never get into heaven.

          Never? Maybe they’ll just be–wait for it–the last in line.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkYl13yoeXw

          • The Temporary Name

            You must give your cape and scepter TO ME!

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rD6d8vAL9EY

            • Lost Left Coaster

              We sailed across the air before we learned to fly
              We thought that it could never end
              We’d glide above the ground before we learned to run, run
              Now it seems our world has come undone

        • J. Otto Pohl

          That is why there was a Protestant Reformation against those Heathen Catholics.

        • Origami Isopod

          Well, he kinda is a god.

        • N__B

          Those Spanish heretics worship the god Dio.

          Mon Dieu!

          • Hogan

            Gott im Himmel!

            • N__B

              I gotts ya himmel right here, punk.

              • Hogan

                Bozhe moi, o my brothers.

            • funkula

              According to Dave Barry, Ain’t No Woman Like the One-Eyed Gott.

              • nanute

                You get Four Tops for that.

    • mds

      which isn’t even controversial in most Christian theology.

      jamesjhare’s take notwithstanding, it’s true that it’s not controversial in the explicitly evangelical Protestant theology under which Wheaton College operates, but that’s because conservative evangelical Protestant theology considers the assertion utterly false. Muslims worship a false, nonexistent, evil god. Real True Christians worship Actual God(TM). Heck, the movers and shakers of evangelicalism are unlikely to accept modern-day Congregationalists as worshiping the same god. (And to be fair, the UCC would probably agree with them.)

      • so-in-so

        Yes, and I suppose if Hawkins were a theology professor I might understand their wanting to fire her. Since she teaches Political Science I suspect the subject doesn’t come up in her coursework too often.

      • Malaclypse

        This isn’t really the case, as – and this is important – there are three Abrahamic religions. There’s no good theology that let’s you say that Allah is not God the Father, while YHWH is. And Marcionism has been pretty decisively rejected within all existent Christian branches.

        • mds

          Seriously? Walk into any Southern Baptist church and ask a pastor if the Christian god and the Muslim god are the same (though you might want to ask the pastor if he’s carrying first). Walk into a default Christian Reformed church, and you’ll get the same answer, and I’m fairly confident about the Nazarenes. Hell, flip it around and try the question out in a Wahhabist mosque or your local Chabad Center (although thanks to the Trinity, they have more cause).

          Conservative churches have railed against the existence of the World Council of Churches and its Antichrist-friendly ecumenicalism for decades. And more recently, some of them have been railing against “Chrislam.”

          Yes, of course there are actually three Abrahamic religions. And there are gobs of adherents to all three that believe that the others are baloney to the point of blasphemy. It wasn’t until 2012 that a bunch of the fundamentalist Christians in this country were suddenly, mysteriously willing to accept Latter Day Saints into the fold, for goodness’ sake, and they’re still not sincere about the Jews.

          • njorl

            The Quran is pretty specific in stating that Allah spoke to Mary mother of Jesus about the baby she would bear despite her virginity. A Muslim could argue that Christians are confused, superstitious, heretical or blasphemous, but he couldn’t legitimately argue that they were worshipping a different god. For one thing, neither Christians nor Muslims believe there are other gods. At best, each could argue the other believes wrong things about the one true god and worships incorrectly.

            • Craigo

              The Trinity complicates things. In Islam, Isa is a merely human prophet and not divine in anyway.*

              *As I understand it, as always.

          • Redwood Rhiadra

            It wasn’t until 2012 that a bunch of the fundamentalist Christians in this country were suddenly, mysteriously willing to accept Latter Day Saints into the fold…

            And that only temporarily – they’ve gone back to calling the LDS a Satanic cult…

            • twbb

              Hey, George W. Bush was able to unite Shi’ites and Sunnis. I mean, the right wing is REALLY good at uniting religions.

        • I don’t think the fact that Muslims, Christians, and Jews all claim to worship the God of Abraham is really that relevant. Muslims believe the God of Abraham named Muhammad as his prophet and that the Koran contains his teachings and instructions to mankind. Christians believe the God of Abraham was embodied in/the same as (yadda yadda Christology yadda) the man Jesus of Bethlehem, and that Jesus died and was resurrected.

          Muslims and Christians don’t even agree on what Abraham did in the first place (Isaac or Ishmael?). It seems to me that the identity of a divine being is tied to what believers say that being thinks and did, and Muslims and Christians have incompatible beliefs on that matter.

          This is almost a Ship of Theseus question, when you think about it.

      • Nope. Allah is some kinda pagan moon gawd the locals worshipped before Muhammad rebooted him.

        • so-in-so

          Neither the Wikipedia entry at the top of that search nor any of Islamic links support that. The links that do are evangelical Christian.

          Has Poes claimed another victim?

      • In all fairness, the God the evangelicals worship is a total dick. Why would anyone want to worship that God?

        • muddy

          Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
          Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
          Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
          Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

          • DrDick

            The reason I am a militant agnostic (I do not know and do not give a damn). Either there is no god or god is a total asshole I want no part of.

        • Warren Terra

          I believe the answer to this question is “the afterlife”. The afterlife is an absolutely brilliant tool for theocratic social control. Taken as far as some Christians take it, The Afterlife in theory lets you gloss over all the injustice in a cruel and inequitable world, assuring people their compliance will be rewarded eternally and infinitely, but only after they die, and they must not demand more justice now, not even from God.

    • Murc

      Fred Clark has been on the case about Wheaton since day one.

      The TLDR version is that their theological conservatism depends on backing from people who are also politically conservative, and that means that they can’t tolerate people whose theology is perfectly within the conservative evangelical mainstream if it is also politically inconvenient.

      • so-in-so

        Suggesting that Hawkins’ putting on the hajib and talking about standing with Muslims against prejudice was as big or bigger of a problem than saying God = Allah.

        • Darkrose

          DING!

          That, and also, too, black woman who keeps talking about social justice as a key element of Christianity and emphasizing the whole “standing on behalf of the oppressed” thing.

          • weirdnoise

            She really should have understood that “Blessed are the peace makers” refers to shooting irons, or missiles.

    • UserGoogol

      I don’t think there’s really a well-defined answer as to whether God and Allah are the same God. The two concepts come from a shared cultural background, they share a lot of the same characteristics, but they also differ in some rather crucial ways. Whether you call that “disagreeing descriptions of the same being” or “different beings” is just a matter of convention. There’s some really ambiguous philosophical territory here.

      In everyday life, when people disagree over whether two people are the same person, there’s a lot of tangible facts that they agree exist. If one person thinks Elizabeth is blonde and another thinks Lisa is brunette, the question of whether Elizabeth and Lisa are the same person can be settled by finding them. But God doesn’t work that way. Religious experience is, at best, rather indirect and difficult to confirm. A devout Christian will think that Christianity was inspired by divine inspiration and Islam wasn’t, and that’s not a source of information that can be reliably checked. I’m atheist, so my belief is that there is no factual referent whatsoever. But then that makes the convention even more ambiguous. Are Dracula and Nosferatu the same person? They have quite a lot in common, and historically Nosferatu was very brazenly based on Dracula, but they are also very distinct. Of course, those stories were intentionally made as fiction, while religion is something taken seriously by its adherents, so fiction can take a more cavalier attitude towards truth while religion makes serious aspirations to truth (and thus relies on a more serious conceptual framework) even if that aspiration is not achieved.

      • medrawt

        Where this founders logically is that Christians, in particular modern American evangelical Protestants, are … weird and not very thoughtful? Many are perfectly happy to claim that they worship the same God as the Jews, which is a claim with exactly the same force and logic as the claim that Muslims worship the same God as well; it’s really just a disagreement about which prophets were legitimate (and they agree about most of them), and the divinity of one prophet in particular.

        What I want to hear is why it’s logical to say “the God of the Muslims is not the God of the Christians” but not also commit yourself to the position “the God of the Mormons is not the God of the Lutherans is not the God of the Catholics is not the God of the Church of God in Christ is not the …” The doctrinal differences are real, and in some cases so substantial as to involve disputes over which religious texts are legitimate. But while adherents of all these sects will tell you the other sects are wrong, rarely if ever do I encounter the sentiment that the Mormons are literally worshipping a different God. And if you come at me with your Arabic moon devil crap I’m coming at you with reminders that YHWH was once just one local god among several and it’s likely that true monotheism didn’t become a central tenet of Judaism until just a few centuries B.C.

        • mark

          What I want to hear is why it’s logical to say “the God of the Muslims is not the God of the Christians” but not also commit yourself to the position “the God of the Mormons is not the God of the Lutherans is not the God of the Catholics is not the God of the Church of God in Christ is not the …

          This isn’t especially challenging if you actually believe God is a real being. This is a “factual” question–you know when you pray you get answered by a real entity and they don’t. It is of course logical to believe in things that are factually true and but not in things that are false.

          Metaphorically, a Lutheran might say they have God’s phone number and Catholics just have his voice mail. But Muslims are writing letters to a non-existent PO box (or maybe to one picked up by a con man–I’m sure there are evangelicals who believe Allah was created by the devil to mislead us.)

          As an atheist the question of how to say whether the non-existent beings worshiped in Judaism, Christianity and Islam are three or one is actually pretty interesting. It could be our own version of the Arian controversy. But to a believer I don’t think it’s necessarily a very subtle question, even if they have different conclusions depending on their theology.

        • JonH

          “weird and not very thoughtful”

          And many pastors/preachers/authorities with a “Dr.” in front of their name got that degree at places with names like “Pensacola Upstairs Bible College”.

      • Lurker

        I agree. Discussing whether Islam and Christianity have the same God in the metaphysical sense is a futile attempt if you wish to have an objective truth.

        Instead, we can look into history and review the views of different sects, churches and legal schools. That is objective and does not require any metaphysical assumptions.

        I think that the vast majority of Christian writers agree that Muslims share a God with them. This is because the Christian thought is really strongly based on philosophic monotheism, especially neo-platonism. Essentially, any god that is the only God, the Creator and omnipotent has usually been considered by Christian apologetics to be God. The same goes for the more philosophical strains of Islamic thought.

        • so-in-so

          Tying this sub-thread back around to the academic freedom topic, I wonder if Professor Hawkins’ contract specified the theology she needed to agree to…

          • BubbaDave

            Wheaton requires professors to agree with their Statement of Faith. Hawkins’ position is that she did and does agree with their SoF and that beyond that she is free to follow her conscience, and that since her heretical-to-the-Right-Wing opinion is the same as that espoused by a theologian Wheaton invited to speak to their students it is not contrary to that SoF, therefore Wheaton can kiss her hijab-ed heinie. (I may have taken some liberties in translation there. That’s because she’s better at loving her enemies than I am.)

    • William Berry

      Actually, there is a technical distinction which is important from the POV of the Wheaton folks (atheist/ agnostic here; just expanding a little on the Wheaton position as I understand it), and it describes a real sense in which the Christian God and the Allah of Islam cannot be the same:

      Christianity (with the exception of “heretical” sects such as Arianism and the present-day Apostolicals) posits a Triune God in which the three divine persons of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are combined into one supreme entity. Islam does not recognize the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son, considering him as merely a minor prophet relative to the great prophet Muhammad. Allah cannot be “God” if he does not incorporate a divine JC.

      (I apologize if someone has already pointed this out in the sub-thread; I might have missed it in skimming through the comments.)

      • The Temporary Name

        considering him as merely a minor prophet relative to the great prophet Muhammad

        Mohammed received the rulebook, but Jesus ascended to heaven and will show up again at the Second Coming. He’s a big deal and not minor.

        Minor Jewish prophets are generally minor Muslim prophets.

        • William Berry

          Fine, whatever.

          That doesn’t change the main point that the Wheaton folks believe that Allah is incompatible with the “One, True”, Triune God of Christianity.

          • sibusisodan

            They do believe that, but its not quite what I take the prof to have meant. ‘Worshipping the same god’ here means ‘directing worship ultimately towards the same entity, however perceived’.

            Of course Christian and Muslim conceptions of god differ. That’s trivial. Heck, Catholic and Orthodox conceptions of god differ.

            Wheaton’s statement of faith doesn’t seem to contain much explicitly which would make the prof’s statement false.

            In fact, I’ve read (on Facebook, fwiw) that a few years ago Miroslav Volf was invited the speak there on the subject. And his thesis is that ultimately both faiths are worshipping the same entity…

            • William Berry

              I thought I had read somewhere that someone from Wheaton had made this argument. Maybe I dreamed it.

              In any case, I certainly agree that, on the face of it, firing the professor is completely unjustified.

            • BubbaDave

              And Volf has specifically spoken in defense of Hawkins.

              Again, Fred Clark has been doing yeoman’s work on the Wheaton beat.

      • Amanda in the South Bay

        So did Arianism-I think most modern day skeptics/progressives have no idea about the technical definitions of what Arius and his successors thought about, and have some general, vague, mushy idea that it was Trinitarian Nicene orthodoxy vs Arian…monotheism? I’m not quite sure. Aries was fairly in the mainstream of ante-Nicene orthodoxy (folk like Tertullian, Origen, Clement of Alexandria), and they would’ve all believed in “Triune God in which the three divine persons of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are combined into one supreme entity.”
        Now whether or not the Son was eternally pre-existent and of the exact same substance as the Father? There were lots of different Arian opinions (the heresy hung around in the barbarian kingdoms of the west till the 6th century).

        The whole issue seems to have taken on a different meaning vis a vis modern day progressives and skeptics.

        • William Berry

          Apologizing in advance if this comment involves any misunderstanding of what you have written:

          I don’t presume to speak for “most modern day skeptics/ progressives”, but I don’t see how Arianism can be seen as remotely trinitarian. The following (from the infamous Wikipedia, granted) sums up what I (under-graduate history major, admittedly decades ago, with some emphasis on antiquity/ early church history, etc.) have always understood:

          “Arianism is a nontrinitarian belief that asserts that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, created by God the Father, distinct from the Father and therefore subordinate to the Father. Arian teachings were first attributed to Arius (c. AD 250–336), a Christian presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt. The teachings are opposed to mainstream Christian teachings on the nature of the Trinity and on the nature of Christ.”

          I realize that, by modern standards of historiography, Gibbon might be considered obsolete, but the Decline and Fall is great reading on these early church debates. Lots of mocking humor that is ever so congenial to the skeptic’s soul. YMMV, of course.

          • William Berry

            I over-stated, above. I should have written: ” . . . but I don’t see how Arianism can be seen as conventionally trinitarian”

  • AcademicLurker

    I would have thought they would try to argue that Tracy’s stalker-ish harassment of the parents was what justified getting rid of him. Do tenured appointments still come with moral turpitude clauses these days? (I could check my own faculty handbook, but that would require actual effort)

    • NonyNony

      But the university isn’t claiming that they’re getting rid of him for harassing a family – they’re suggesting that he’s being fired because he refused to file conflict of interest (or conflict of commitment I guess in this case) paperwork about his work outside the university. This is pretty standard stuff for someone who teaches and/or does research at a university – even when you don’t do anything outside of the university IME most still make you file a statement every year saying “I have no work outside the university that would conflict with my job”. And it sounds like they gave him the opportunity to file it after the fact and he fought with them instead of just doing it.

      If that’s really the case the man is even more unhinged than I was previously giving him credit for. Refusing to discuss your potential conflicts of interest with the relevant university committee has got to fall under the various exceptions for tenure in the “refusing to do your basic job duties” sort of way. If he did that, then he basically handed them a violation of his tenure contract and asked them to fire him.

      • Paul Campos

        It’s unclear from the coverage, but this may well be what happened. If it did happen, it may have happened, as I suggest in the OP, because Tracy wanted it to happen so he could play the martyr, and also because it would help “prove” in his own mind that a vast conspiracy exists, and crushing him is one of its goals.

        Or it may have happened because extreme paranoids are paranoid about things like filing routine paperwork, even after he was told he would be fired if he didn’t file the forms, i.e., his behavior may not have been strategic.

        Or he may have simply been negligent about filing forms, and willing to fix that, which would make the firing genuinely pre-textual. I suspect versions one and two are each more likely than number three.

        • Craigo

          Or it may have happened because extreme paranoids are paranoid about things like filing routine paperwork, i.e., his behavior may not have been strategic.

          He shoulda filled them out in green ink. Or written “PAID IN FULL” on every page. And by the way, did they print his name in all caps?

        • NonyNony

          Yeah, if it’s number three then the university is in a much less defensible position. You can bet that he’s not the only faculty member who had left things off the conflict of interest paperwork and needed to be reminded that its not up to him to decide what outside work needs to be reviewed for potential conflict of interest violations.

          • Craigo

            If I’m reading the letter right, he was given the opportunity to fill out the paperwork several times and refused.

            • The Temporary Name

              Insubordination – refusal – is firing grounds. If it was simply forms not filled out the university would probably just lose in a case vs. Tracy.

        • JonH

          Maybe he figures he can make more on the lunatic circuit as a “martyr”

        • ChrisTS

          I’m utterly confused, at this point, but wasn’t he reminded that he needed (and had failed) to fill out the COI forms but refused to do so?

          This guy is not only [insert offensive ableist term], but is also a recalcitrant a-hat.

      • Peterr

        I believe I called this one back in December, in the comments of Paul’s earlier post on this, where I said (in part):

        if Tracy is going to claim this is outside the scope of his FAU employment, he’s got a couple of problems.

        First, I hope he informed the university of these activities in writing before he engaged in them, as is required by the handbook (p. 70):

        An employee who proposes to engage in any outside employment or professional activity shall report to their supervisor, in writing, the details of such proposed activity prior to engaging therein.

        According to the handbook, part of this is to ensure there is no conflict of interest, and the other part of this is to see that no University facilities or funds were used to support this outside work. . . .

        Second, by claiming this book is not attached to his official duties, he puts himself in jeopardy of violating the handbook’s statement about the University value of promoting academic freedom cited above. On the very next page, the handbook notes that this freedom comes with responsibilities, one of which Tracy has a major problem with – specifically, #4:

        Academic freedom is accompanied by the corresponding responsibility to:
        1. Be forthright and honest in the pursuit and communication of scientific and scholarly knowledge;
        2. Respect students, staff, and colleagues as individuals; treat them in a collegial manner; and avoid any exploitation of such persons for private advantage;
        3. Respect the integrity of the evaluation process with regard to students, staff, and colleagues, so that it reflects their true merit;
        4. Indicate when appropriate that one is not an institutional representative unless specifically authorized as such; and
        5. Contribute to the orderly and effective functioning of the employee’s academic unit (program, department, school, and/or college) and/or the University.

        Tracy’s done a fair amount of leaning on his professional credentials to bolster the way in which his work is received. To now turn around and say he’s not an institutional representative is more than a bit disingenuous.

        Especially for a tenured professor of communications.

        Internal links at the original comment.

        Tracy repeatedly portrayed the book as outside his academic work, and the university appears to have taken him at his word and hung him accordingly.

        • Warren Terra

          An employee who proposes to engage in any outside employment or professional activity shall report to their supervisor, in writing, the details of such proposed activity prior to engaging therein.

          The relevance of this seems to depend on how you’re defining “employment” and “professional activity”. So long as his reprehensible activity remained a hobby it’s not clear he violated this rule.

          According to the handbook, part of this is to ensure there is no conflict of interest, and the other part of this is to see that no University facilities or funds were used to support this outside work. . . .

          This is of course impossible. If he used a privately funded cell phone to conduct such activities on a private email account, but charged the phone from his office’s wall socket or read the email over a University WiFi connection, he’s technically in violation.

          1. Be forthright and honest in the pursuit and communication of scientific and scholarly knowledge;
          ….
          4. Indicate when appropriate that one is not an institutional representative unless specifically authorized as such; and

          These seem more promising avenues to look for violations he committed.

          • Peterr

            When Tracy goes around saying “I am a serious academic scholar at FAU, so you should take what I write seriously on this matter of my professional expertise,” it’s hard for him to now call this a hobby or outside his professional activity.

          • NonyNony

            The relevance of this seems to depend on how you’re defining “employment” and “professional activity”. So long as his reprehensible activity remained a hobby it’s not clear he violated this rule.

            This is why it isn’t up to you to decide – you list your outside work and generally either a committee or a conflict of interest officer reviews what you have to see if there are any conflicts. And where there are conflicts mechanisms are put into place to minimize the conflicts between your outside work and your university work.

            Refusing to let the university review your outside work at all once they’ve been alerted to it and suspect that there might be a conflict that needs to be managed is not going to be acceptable.

            • Anonymous Troll

              I suspect that the university wanted to send him a letter saying “we see by your disclosure form that you have been working for, or on behalf of, X truther organization. At the same time you have been teaching a course about X truther movement. This is a conflict of interest. Quit or stop”

              He would rather be fired for failing to file paperwork instead of for the conflict of interest, so he refused to file the form.

  • Owlbear1

    The guy was out slandering people under the school’s protection.

    • twbb

      I don’t see how the school was protecting him, or how they even could from say, an injunction or criminal harassment charges.

  • AcademicLurker

    I agree with Karen24 that holding loony theories related to your area of expertise shouldn’t be enough for dismissal as long as you don’t insist on teaching your loony theories.

    There’s a quite good biochemist in my field who is also an out young Earth creationist. He sticks to real biology when he teaches class, so I don’t think his belief in creationist nonsense should be grounds for dismissing him.

    • efgoldman

      There’s a quite good biochemist in my field who is also an out young Earth creationist. He sticks to real biology when he teaches class, so I don’t think his belief in creationist nonsense should be grounds for dismissing him.

      But what if he held himself out as an expert to testify in favor of his theories in court cases, like Dover School Board?
      First question: “Professor, could you list your qualifications, please?”
      Answer: “Yes. I am a tenured professor of biochemistry at [Academic Lurker’s University].”

      • MrMister

        Would it not be sufficient for a competent hostile attorney to point out that [Academic Lurker] was almost certainly tenured on the basis of his/her other work, that the consensus in his/her field is against YEC, and so the fact of his/her tenure is no great credential with respect to the case at hand? Or, I dunno, get someone credible to testify to that effect, I don’t know how it works in court. Perhaps this is naive, but I would hope that it would be within the power of the judge to, well, judge expert testimony on a more sophisticated basis than just the university next to the name.

        • Craigo

          Under Daubert, a judge can refuse to admit expert testimony if he or she determines that it is not grounded in scientific knowledge or will not assist the trier of fact in reaching a verdict. However (of course) the standard also allows for cross examination of the expert to be adequate assistance, so judges in practice have a lot of latitude in gatekeeping. I’m really not sure that Tracy’s theories would necessarily bar his testimony.

        • efgoldman

          Would it not be sufficient for a competent hostile attorney to point out that [Academic Lurker] was almost certainly tenured on the basis of his/her other work

          You’re going further into my comment/question than I meant.
          At the point when the prof gives his qualification as “tenured at ALU”, can the school then say: “You held yourself out as an expert based on your tenure here, then expounded your crackpot theories in open court. That brings calumny upon the institution. Goodbye.”

          • AcademicLurker

            As far as I know, Michael Behe still kept his position at Lehigh University after testifying that intelligent design creationism was legitimate science and should be taught in public schools.

            I think Behe is a loon of the first order, but if Lehigh tried to revoke his tenure, I’d sign a petition condemning the move.

      • Lurker

        Even an expert witness is a witness. I am not a lawyering I think that retaliating against an expert witnesses on the content of testimony would be a felony, as long as the witness made no further public statements on the case.

    • mds

      There’s a quite good biochemist in my field who is also an out young Earth creationist.

      Well, at least we know where he comes down on the “RNA world” hypothesis.

  • J. Otto Pohl

    This is really a matter of degree made much worse by the fact that he was actively harassing the victim’s families. But, there all kinds of academics with weird ideas including conspiracy theories. For instance not too long ago on this very blog the idea that the UK was behind the Argentine, Brazilian, Uruguayan attack on Paraguay was brought up. This is an idea that appears in The Open Veins of Latin America and other places including the classrooms of a number of scholars of the region. Do we fire all of them?

    • Hogan

      Sure, why not?

      • J. Otto Pohl

        Not even the most extreme right wing of us reactionaries has ever advocated a purge of leftists from academia so vast as that.

        • The Dark God of Time

          True, Jotto, it was just the Commies.

          In 1949, during the Cold War, the Board of Regents of the University of California imposed a requirement that all University employees sign an oath affirming not only loyalty to the state constitution, but a denial of membership or belief in organizations (including Communist organizations) advocating overthrow of the United States government. Many faculty, students, and employees resisted the oath for violating principles of shared governance, academic freedom, and tenure. In the summer of 1950, thirty-one “non-signer” professors–including internationally distinguished scholars, not one of whom had been charged of professional unfitness or personal disloyalty–and many other UC employees were dismissed. The controversy raised critical questions for American higher education

          • J. Otto Pohl

            Thirty one people is a lot less than the number of US scholars of Latin America that basically agree with Galeano on the War of the Triple Alliance. Hence my use of the words “so vast as that.”

            • The Dark God of Time

              Oh, lots of people back then would’ve been glad to tell you that anyone to the left of Truman was a Commie and deserved to lose their job because of the threat they posed to the American way of life.

              So, it’s okay if it only affects a few people? That’s a real reactionary concept, Otto.

              • Craigo

                Oh, lots of people back then would’ve been glad to tell you that anyone to the left of Truman was a Commie and deserved to lose their job because of the threat they posed to the American way of life.

                Fixt.

  • joe from Lowell

    If the paperwork is question was the mechanism by which the university made sure its professors weren’t doing anything untoward on the side, then using Tracy’s failure to do the paperwork, as a way of responding to his untoward professional activity, is entirely appropriate.

    If they’d fired him for not submitting an annual emergency contact form two days after it was due, that would be pre textual.

    • Warren Terra

      I disagree. It’s a conflict-of-interest disclosure. If he had unreported, meaningful conflicts of interest, that would be one thing – but they’re not asserting that, they’re just complaining he didn’t file the form.

      Now: maybe he did have important conflicts of interest. But, again, that’s not a claim I’ve seen. If he could have avoided this particular accusation by turning in the form on time, signed, and blank, then his failure to do so isn’t a serious complaint.

      • NonyNony

        Eh, I disagree IF this is true:

        “You publicly engage in external personal activity that requires your time and effort,” the termination letter read. “Disclosure and management of your outside activity is necessary and reasonable. It is for the administration to decide, with your input, if a conflict exists, and how to manage a conflict where necessary. You have repeatedly and willfully failed to provide the administration the information it needs to discharge its responsibilities.

        This is malfeasance if true. The allegation isn’t that he forgot to turn in the paperwork – it’s that he didn’t tell the university about the outside work he was doing so that an independent commmittee could a) decide if there was a conflict of interest and b) set up a regimen to manage the conflict. And when the university discovered that he was doing outside work and asked him to provide information so that it could be reviewed, he refused. Apparently repeatedly. This is bog standard stuff for professors who perform work outside the university.

        The allegation here isn’t that he did have conflicts, it’s that he’s even refusing to tell the university what his outside work is so that they can make a judgement about whether he has a conflict or not. If true that’s a clear-cut violation of his duty as an employee of the state.

        If refusal to disclose potential conflicts of interest cannot get a person fired, then there is no stick to use against malcontents who refuse to disclose conflicts of interest and the entire framework becomes unworkable. if he truly did refuse repeatedly to allow the university to review his outside work, then he has to be fired.

        (Again – this is all if what the university is saying is true. If he was willing to put his potential conflicts out there for them to review and they’re lying completely about it then that’s different. But that would be some whopper of an easily disproven lie if so.)

        • Paul Campos

          Right. You can bet the sentence you bolded was written by a lawyer. As to whether it’s factually accurate — the truth is out there.

          • River Birch

            I want to believe.

        • MacK

          Yep, it’s kinda pretextual – they should have had the nerve to fire him for the real cause.

      • Craigo

        After having read the letter (and assuming its veracity for the moment) I now realize that the reason was not for failing to report outside interests but for refusing, several times, to fill out the form at all. Unless it’s found that this requirement was being subjectively enforced against him – i.e., other tenured professors failed to complete it and were not required to do so – then their rationale is stronger than I had thought at first glance.

  • Warren Terra

    I’m really torn about this. On the one hand, this guy is clearly slime (or desperately needs to get help) and so I’m not sorry to see him suffer (or given the impetus to finally get help).

    On the other hand: what if he were a commie-tinged professor in the 50s? You can make his area of expertise somehow relevant, to heighten the parallels, and you can even make him willfully blind to Stalin’s atrocities, to make him personally reprehensible and not just adherent to an unpopular economic theory. Should such a tenured professor be fired, on the basis of national opprobrium? Doesn’t tenure exist to protect loony professors, in case they might emerge with a point?

    Is there some line where a professor’s professional conduct, though not criminal (and I think this wackaloon’s harassment of the Pozner family was disgusting but not criminal), calls their competence or their sanity into such question that their tenure is forfeit?

    In any case: if you’re going to fire this putz for his conduct, don’t hide between the punctuation of his paperwork. Have an honest debate about it!

    PS Since this is a Campos post, and since Campos famously shamed himself by agreeing to support the institution that is Bill O’Reilly, some mention should probably be made of Ward Churchill, but Churchill was eventually done for plagiarism, which seems much less contrived than the charges used to revoke the tenure of this horrid Newtown conspiracy theorist.

    • Malaclypse

      Is there some line where a professor’s professional conduct, though not criminal (and I think this wackaloon’s harassment of the Pozner family was disgusting but not criminal), calls their competence or their sanity into such question that their tenure is forfeit?

      If a tenured biology professor converted to evangelicalism and young-earth creationism, and demanded the right to teach Genesis as science, would that be covered by academic freedom?

      • Warren Terra

        I don’t think so, no. But if they taught actual science in the classroom, and preached anti-science in the pulpit every Sunday? I honestly don’t know. I’d not want them a professor, but if they were very careful to keep the two parts of their life separate, I’m not sure.

        • N__B

          But if they taught actual science in the classroom, and preached anti-science in the pulpit every Sunday?

          Despite the nausea that YEC gives me, I’m okay with that. My sole problem with Tracy – since I’m not a student subjected to his insanity – is the outrageous harassment of grieving people.

        • ChrisTS

          Unfortunately, in this case, we outsiders have no idea what he was teaching in his [otherwise titled] conspiracy course.

          Perhaps more to the point:

          As a philosopher, I dislike the constant use of ‘science!’ examples, both because it promotes a false view of the natural sciences and because it is used to smear other [‘non-hard’] disciplines.

          There *are* theories in the so-called hard sciences that are very much under dispute. That is as it should be. And, yes, far more is open to dispute in various ‘humanities’ disciplines.

          I don’t see how any of this is relevant to the Tracy case. This is not a case, like Behe’s, of arguing against the grain – stupidly or not.

          This is a case of a professor (a) denying rather basic reality, (b) harassing other people, and (c) turning his denial of reality into a course in which he gets to not only instruct but also grade students.

          I always thought of myself as a near absolutist (I could never be a full absolutist) on academic freedom, but this case makes me realize otherwise. AF does not mean one gets to deny well-evidenced reality, foist it on one’s students, and use that denial to abuse other persons (especially those who have nothing to do with one’s teaching/research duties).

      • WabacMachinist

        Sure, provided he could prove with word-for-word literal inerrancy that the Book of Genesis was scientifically accurate.

    • Peterr

      Is there some line where a professor’s professional conduct, though not criminal (and I think this wackaloon’s harassment of the Pozner family was disgusting but not criminal), calls their competence or their sanity into such question that their tenure is forfeit?

      Per the faculty handbook, yes, as I noted last month:

      [From the handbook:]A faculty member’s activities which fall outside the scope of employment shall constitute misconduct only if such activities adversely affect the legitimate interests of the University.

      Among those legitimate interests are the values the university seeks to promote, as spelled out earlier in the handbook (p. 12):

      [The Values of the University include a commitment to . . .]
      • Value and disseminate scholarship, research, creative activity and use that scholarship to inform the academic discipline, teaching and community engagement;
      • Promote academic freedom and an atmosphere of free and open inquiry; . . .
      • Respect all persons and display civility in all interactions;
      • Provide a secure environment for the pursuit of learning;
      • Foster community engagement, service, and social responsibility;
      • Promote honesty in all spheres, social and moral development, and ethical standards in all areas of human activity;

      His harassment of the Sandy Hook families, assuming is it as presented above [in the OP], clearly violates the values the university holds itself to.

    • Brautigan

      In any case: if you’re going to fire this putz for his conduct, don’t hide between the punctuation of his paperwork. Have an honest debate about it!

      This.

      The word “weaselly” comes to mind. If, indeed, it is a word.

      • Malaclypse

        Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals… except the weasel.

        • N__B

          I’ve seen plenty of dogs try to weasel out of things. They’re just not very good at it.

          • Hogan

            Yeah, dogs tend to plead guilty right away. The rest is just pleas in mitigation.

            • The Dark God of Time

              Cats demand a jury trial, IMOE.

              • Lee Rudolph

                Cunning old furries!

          • twbb

            There is very little on this planet cuter than a dog trying to weasel out of something.

    • Bugboy

      Much like how Capone got taken down, this may have been the best case scenario for FAU that would stick.

      FAU is a public university, which means they, like every other public entity (including your local government), has to be overly diligent about their employees notifying them of “outside employment”, in order to avoid conflict of interest.

      But I wonder what would have happened if he HAD submitted the proper paperwork?

      P.S. Thanks for bringing up Churchill, great point.

    • CD

      I realize you’re not endorsing Churchill’s defenestration, but this

      http://www.cu-aaup.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Churchill-Report.pdf

      needs to be left every time that business comes up.

  • Rob in CT

    My gut response is that it sounds like they used a fairly flimsy technicality to get rid of him.

    I have trouble thinking about this objectively, though, because of the mixture of nuttiness and awfulness. I end up thinking about the parents of that little boy and my thought process pretty much breaks down at that point.

    • Captain Oblivious

      I don’t think it’s flimsy at all. Such reporting requirements are pretty standard in academia and many other professions. Most banks and other financial institutions have similar requirements. So do most tech firms. I have never worked in a financial or tech firm where I wasn’t required to report all outside professional activities. This is not paperwork for the sake of paperwork. Many employers have the potential to be directly or indirectly harmed by employees doing outside shit.

      For example, when I was working as a programmer at a large bank, they were okay with my going some part-time consulting work to develop a suite of benchmarking apps for another company. They were not okay with my helping a company set up an accounting system, because they felt this conflicted with one of the bank’s own service products.

      Maybe the reporting wasn’t the main reason FAU wanted to get rid of this nutball, but it’s an entirely legitimate one, and it shouldn’t be dismissed as a weasel move.

      • Peterr

        Well said.

      • Rob in CT

        I mean… yeah, I have to disclose any conflicts I may have/any outside business activities I may be engaged in too. I’m an insurance guy, after all. So I get that.

        But that wasn’t why they got rid of him and we all know it.

        I’m not sad the guy lost his job. I’m just wondering if the university is really on solid ground here. I also kinda wish things like this could be straightforward: his actual offense is being a horrible kook who harassed the parents of a murdered child and appears to have been teaching students about conspiracy theories by telling them all sorts of nutball stuff was true.

        • Captain Oblivious

          I’m not disagreeing here, really. I just want to add to my original remarks that companies often resort to “pretext” to get rid of problem employees. Even in non-tenured employment, the threat of legal action against the employer (or union action in the case of unionized positions) can make it difficult to get rid of marginal or disruptive employees. So as long as the pretext has legal basis, and is at least somewhat consistently enforced, I don’t have a problem with it.

          I would have a problem with the FAU handled this if it turned out this was the only time in recent history that a tenured professor told them to shove the reporting requirement and got fired for it.

          • PhoenixRising

            Yes, and…I’m curious about how these review committees generally work. If no reported activity has ever led to a professor being disciplined, asked to terminate the activity or fired, that suggests the review itself is sham.

            I’m not so sure that makes this firing pretextual, though–it’s equally valid to see it as the fact pattern the reporting and review process was designed to both find and address.

          • mark

            I just want to add to my original remarks that companies often resort to “pretext” to get rid of problem employees.

            As a supervisor in California, I was told by my employer that “pretext” is an instant loss in any suit.

            That is, if I say I fired someone for stealing pencils, and it’s shown that’s not the real reason, we lose. It doesn’t matter if the real reason was incompetence or sexual harassment or whatever, we just lose and no do overs.

            So I was a surprised to see a university using an obvious pretext, but maybe different state laws or maybe I got bad (or super conservative) advice from my employer.

  • Bitter Scribe

    Hey, they got Al Capone for tax evasion. Whatever works.

  • trollhattan

    Nice to see this vile man shown the door and no longer trusted with educating young people. Meanwhile in Tennessee, the Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law continues pretending to understand constitutional law in front of a classroom. Has he recommended mandatory open carry on campus, yet?

    • D.N. Nation

      Space and Robot Consent Law aren’t going to teach themselves.

      • trollhattan

        Heh, indeedy, I see what you did there [click] did there [click] did there [click] did there [click] did there [click] did there [click] did there…

  • MacK

    I am honestly puzzled by the whole Wheaton thing. If you are trying to teach theology as an acdemic discipline then the abramaic origin of Yaweh, God and Allah is kind of hard to avoid – each religion claims the same God … It pretty basic.

    If you are teaching religion, then yes, two of the religions claim the other is mistaken to a greater or lesser degree. But what was she teaching? As I understand it theology, so she was correct.

    As for firing James Tracy, that turns on the degree to which his activities implicated the University. Did he use his title, university facilities, was it connected with his role as a professor, etc. There is a balancing element even then – what he did is seriously outrageous – and in that context it impinges on the school to a greater degree. Could they make the connection (they were close), but they were gutless in trying to use a paperwork pretext. Although, if you choose to go as far as he did, you better make sure your Is are dotted and Ts are crossed.

    • sibusisodan

      Re Wheaton: the professor in question teaches political science, so it’s rather a case of agreeing to the statement of faith of the college, than teaching theology.

      I understand that Wheaton in recent years has fired a faculty member for becoming Catholic, so their reaction is sadly fairly consistent, even if it is specious.

  • Crusty

    I have a somewhat different take on the whole thing. What he did with the family is horrible and disgusting but as far as I know based on the facts, not criminal and just a disgusting private act. But the math department need not keep on a professor who insists that 2 + 2 = 5. So he’s gone, whatever pretext they need.

  • PhoenixRising

    No. So it was a real time-saver for Tracy to refuse to cooperate with the review process of his outside work. That process is not mere paperwork; it is the only mechanism the university has to protect itself against obvious lunacy being promulgated under its aegis.

    His refusal to engage that process makes firing him less expensive and troublesome than it would have been otherwise, but it’s not pretextual.

    How kind of him. Maybe he aspires to martyrdom, per above comments.

    • You’re not important, as a conspiracy theorist, if They aren’t striking back at you.

It is main inner container footer text