Above: Texas governor Coke Stevenson, the ideal leader for the modern administator
Why was Steve Salaita fired, without the process he was due, because of political views he expressed, in obvious defiance of the most basic norms of academic freedom? John Wilson, who has been doing fantastic work on this from the beginning, has a long and very useful look at the emails sent by disgraced former president Phyllis Wise. Not surprisingly, former Board of Trustees chair Christopher Kennedy emerges as a particularly villainous figure. First, on his view of academic freedom:
Under “Obligation to Meet Norms of Society,” Kennedy writes: “the University, as the state’s public university, needs to, in many ways, reflect the values of the state.” He warns of a backlash if they are “too cavalier,” one that will “hinder our ability to free ourselves of unwanted procurement rules” and similar important values of the University. Kennedy seemed mostly interested in the state de-regulating economic decisions of the University, and felt that controversial professors would interfere with his goal.
We must destroy academic freedom in order to preserve our ability to get rid of economic regulations. Universities must reflect the values of the state government! Coke Stevenson couldn’t have said it better.
Where an argument that free speech cannot be tolerated if it disagrees with the values of public officials, complaints about civility are highly likely to follow:
Finally, under “Civility,” Kennedy wrote, “Our campus in Urbana is plagued right now with a civility issue. We are all, of course, perplexed by the lack of civility that our students showed in their criticism of an administrative decision. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised by their conduct, given the fact that we have held up to the students examples people like this fellow who thought it was ok to target cops and non-combatants for murder as an expression of political disagreement.”
The problem with allowing free speech is that peons might get the idea that they are permitted to criticize the actions of their superiors and betters, which is inherently uncivil!
I’m also amused that Kennedy thinks that Salaita is comparable to Bill Ayers. Tweets that Christopher Kennedy disagrees with are pretty much like setting off multiple bombs, apparently.
Even worse is when faculty members repeat this we-must-destroy-academic-freedom-in-order-to-save-it nonsense:
The Kilgore case also reveals another major influence on Wise: education professor Nicholas Burbules, who had gained Wise’s trust and support. On Feb. 11, 2014, Burbules wrote an email to Wise discussing ways to ban people like Kilgore from being hired: “A related policy might address the question of ‘controversial’ hires—this is murkier, because people’s ideas of what is controversial will differ. But a crude rule of thumb is, if you think someone’s name is going to end up on the front page of the newspaper as a U of I employee, you can’t make that decision on your own say so. You need to get some higher level review and approval.” As a standard of academic freedom, this is simply appalling: Burbules wanted to explicitly make the controversial status of someone grounds for banning their hiring without permission from top administrators. And that permission would almost never be granted, since he called for “policy changes or new procedures that tell people, ‘We’ve looked into how this happened and here’s what we’re doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again.’”
Burbules advocated “a more principled statement of what the U of I stands for: that we welcome the widest possible range of viewpoints and positions, but not all positions. And that there are some things that are not consistent with our values.” It certainly took chutzpah for Burbules to call his demand for firing controversial faculty “more principled” and welcoming the “widest possible range” of ideas.
“We must tolerate the widest range of views that are sufficiently anodyne that they would not generate any controversy. The principles of free speech and academic freedom should apply only to cases when they are not necessary.” Ye gods.
But it is clear that COM and the Kilgore cases caused Wise and Board to act quickly to decide to fire Salaita, without ever examining his record or hearing from anyone who might disagree with their decision. The disastrous decision to get rid of Salaita was an impulsive reaction by powerful people who understood almost nothing about academic freedom and shared governance, and surrounded themselves with yes men who never questioned their opinions.
Precisely so, and how embarrassing for the academics who defended the firing. Alas, the Illinois taxpayers whose money Wise decided to piss away as she sacrificed academic freedom for other institutional goals won’t get a golden parachute.