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Coming Soon to a Dean Near You!

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Can faculty be sanctioned for speech that harms the institution? A dean at Harvard thinks so, which means that very shortly your own dean will think so!

Having witnessed the appallingly rough manner in which prominent affiliates, including one former University president, publicly denounced Harvard’s students and present leadership, this first question must be answered: Is it outside the bounds of acceptable professional conduct for a faculty member to excoriate University leadership, faculty, staff, or students with the intent to arouse external intervention into University business? And does the broad publication of such views cross a line into sanctionable violations of professional conduct?

Yes it is and yes it does.

Vigorous debate is to be expected and encouraged at any University interested in promoting freedom of expression. But here is the rub: As the events of the past year evidence, sharply critical speech from faculty, prominent ones especially, can attract outside attention that directly impedes the University’s function.

The appropriate answer to the question “when is administration a friend to faculty?” is “never.” A great number of faculty members at the University of Kentucky have complained loudly and appropriately about the dissolution of the University Senate; under this theory of administrative authority it’s awfully easy to see how they’d be liable for sanction. And of course what begins at Harvard rapidly disseminates through the rest of the self-serving academic administrative class. I don’t care if you knew them in their previous life; the dean is never your fucking friend.

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