Home / General / Why hasn’t Lawrence Bobo been fired?

Why hasn’t Lawrence Bobo been fired?


“Lawrence Bobo,” who I’m not 100% sure isn’t an AI-generated parody of a parody of an academic administrator in a David Lodge novel, has managed the nearly miraculous feat of uniting quite literally everyone in academia who has opined on the issue in ferocious condemnation of his deplorable op-ed in the Harvard Crimson. Bobo asserted that university faculty who criticize Harvard in a fashion that causes, to coin a phrase, “outside agitators” to attempt to influence the university should be subject to professional sanction for having done so!

This should be an astonishing position to anyone who has the slightest respect for the most minimal concept of academic freedom, but as Princeton political scientist Keith Whittington points out, in this respect it’s very much back to the future with the C-suite executives running the pseudo-corporations that contemporary American universities are becoming:

Bobo’s views were conventional wisdom among university officials and trustees in 1900. They are shocking in 2024. Shocking, but unfortunately no longer surprising. The Harvard dean’s arguments resonate with a growing movement of those who wish to muzzle the faculty. Professors are to be free to speak, so long as they do not say anything that might disturb the powers that be. Those in power may not want the faculty to march to the same tune, but they do all like giving the faculty their marching orders and expecting them not to step out of line.

Here’s a selection of criticisms from academics, left, right, and center.

It’s particularly notable that Bobo’s authoritarian nonsense has been blasted by Harvard faculty who are not under his administrative supervision, making his claims that he’s speaking only for himself all the more self-evidently ridiculous.

At this writing, Harvard President Alan Garber and the rest of the top administration in Cambridge are keeping a demure silence on the issue of whether it’s OK for the Dean of the Social Sciences to suggest that maybe it would be OK to fire tenured faculty subject to his administrative fiat if they criticize university administrators, such as, oh I don’t know, his Imperial Eminence and Lord Protector of the Crimson Realm Lawrence Bobo.

A critical difference between academic tenure and deanships is that deans have no right to keep their jobs as deans, if their superiors should decide to fire them for any legal reason. And it remains the case that being utterly incompetent at the most basic aspects of your jobs remains a very legal reason for firing a dean, although obviously a far from sufficient one in many notable cases.

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