Showing posts with label academic freedom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label academic freedom. Show all posts

Thursday, September 9, 2021

So now you care about academic mobbing

Angry Mob by Robert Couse-Baker, CC BY 2.0
Princeton politics professor Keith E. Whittington (on the blog) has a wisely worded op-ed, on The Volokh Conspiracy at Reason, on the too often abdicated responsibility of university administrators to push back against viewpoint-based campus mobbing of faculty.

"It is now a familiar pattern," he writes: attack, petition, social media campaign, demand for termination.  Of the university's duty, he writes:

University presidents have a responsibility in such a situation. It should go without saying, but unfortunately it does not, that they have a responsibility to actually live up to their constitutional and contractual responsibilities and refrain from sanctioning the faculty member for saying something that someone finds controversial. They should insist that harassment and threats directed against members of the faculty will not be tolerated. Professors should at least be confident that when the mobs arrive, pitchforks in hand, that university leaders will not flinch and give in to the demands of the mob.

I hope the piece hits the desk of every university president in the land with a thunderclap of j'accuse.

Yet it is fascinating to me to see described today as cliché what was once fringe.  Canadian sociologist Kenneth Westhues, professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo, published his Workplace Mobbing in Academe (2004) seventeen years ago, and that book was built on his earlier Eliminating Professors (1998).

By the time I met Ken in 2009, he was already the world's leading expert on academic mobbing.  He still is.  Westhues's website is still the online clearinghouse on mobbing as a sociological phenomenon. But he's almost never cited, at least in the legal lit.  I find eight references to Westhues on Westlaw's JLR database, and none in the last dozen years.

At a program at the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) in 2010, I accepted the invitation of Westhues and Syracuse University law professor Robert Ashford to speak of my experience.  Ashford perceived a worthwhile connection to his inventive work in socio-economics, and Westhues flattered me with my name as a participle

The splash we made at AALS and in legal academics eleven years ago might be described well as mostly indifferent curiosity.  Mostly modifies indifferent, not curiosity.  

I wrote in the Journal of College and University Law in 2009 about the need for broader academic freedom, beyond published research and into the professorial "penumbra."  I presented at AAUP, besides AALS.  The article was cited once in a 2011 bibliography and once in 2013.  (Thanks, Profs. Benson and Jones.)  And that was that.

Not until cancel culture reached the well known coastal scholars of academia's elite institutions did mobbing hit the mainstream.  Now a lot of important people are wringing their hands over academic freedom and waning tenure.

Too bad they don't seem able to find my article.  Or Westhues's work.  Is there really a wheel until it's invented at a "top" school?

It's nice to see serious people having serious thoughts about academic freedom, at last.  But it's too late to give solace to a generation of victim-scholars.  And it's probably too late to resuscitate intellectual liberty on campus, for at least a generation yet.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Netflix's 'The Chair' satirizes academic politics with troubling truths of contemporary campus culture

Netflix's The Chair is an enjoyable six-episode sit com on the absurdity of academic politics in American higher education today.  The show was created and written by Amanda Peet and stars Sandra Oh (Grey's Anatomy, Killing Eve) as the perpetually embattled chair of the English department at a small elite college.

In one storyline, reminiscent of Scott Johnston's Campusland (2019), well meaning professor Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass) is pilloried for a mock Nazi salute, turned into a social media meme, in a class lesson on fascism and absurdism.

Comedic parody derives its beauty, of course, from its grain of truth.  Dobson's predicament is precisely one reason I have resisted routine video lecture capture.  Humor has pedagogical value, but one remark out of context is a brewing tempest in a teapot.  The risk might be worthwhile if teachers could have confidence in academic freedom.  But they can't and don't.

As depicted in the show, university administrators obsessed with appearances and virtue signaling to the near exclusion of educational mission and pedagogical merit relish any opportunity to sacrifice an iconoclastic academic to the maw of groupthink.  No shackles of investigation or professional integrity can be permitted to slow the rush to condemnation.

Jay Duplass (Peabody Awards photo CC BY 2.0
Fictional Professor Dobson defends himself to the dean: "I’m tenured.  You can’t constrain my actions in my own classroom or my speech on this campus unless I’m in violation of the faculty code of conduct.  Which I’m not."

But there's the rub: arguably, he is.  An administrator at my university has enforced against faculty the university system's "Principles of Employee Conduct." The vague principles require faculty to "accord respect" to all persons and "to accept full responsibility for their actions."

If those terms were read in accordance with others—"foster forthright expression of opinion and tolerance for the views of others"—then no problem.  But if administrators are willing to read dissent, whistle-blowing, and classroom provocation as disrespect, which they are, faculty have no real recourse.  As I wrote more than a decade ago, and others periodically observe, tenure protection grounded in procedural due process is an empty promise in practice, and courts routinely abstain from recognition of any substantive academic freedom.

Faced with dismissal proceedings, Dobson reluctantly resorts to a lawyer in the final episode of the first season.  No spoilers.

The Chair is enjoyable mostly for the comedy.  But it delivers as well periodic gems of thought-provoking truth, besides the sad state of academic freedom: the need for critical reexamination of historical subject matter and diversification of faculty perspectives, without sacrificing academic integrity; the fate of classical studies in the age of impatience; university budget cuts to unremunerative liberal arts; the personal and professional challenges of growing old amid fast-paced social evolution; and what can or should be done today to remedy past social and economic injustices of race and gender.

When the father of our protagonist Ji-Yoon Kim criticizes her work-life imbalance, an aggravated Kim retorts, "What promotion means you don't have to work as much?!"

A story for our times.

Also among the outstanding cast are Nana Mensah (Queen of Glory, King of Staten Island) and the ageless Holland Taylor.  Sophie Gilbert at The Atlantic liked it too.  HT @ Prof. Irene Scharf.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Legal educators tussle over politics in faculty honors

For persons interested in the ongoing tumult at the University of Arkansas Little Rock Law School over the renaming of a professorship after President Bill Clinton (e.g., TaxProf Blog, Wash. Times, Ark. Dem.-Gaz. (subscription)), apparently without faculty approval and with dubious official imprimatur, an August 19 legislative hearing on the matter is online on video.  On the Agenda tab, cue item F, at 2:06:39.

Citing, inter alia, named professorships awarded upon "cronyism" rather than merit, a police officer-student barred from open-carrying on campus in uniform until the legislature enacted a remedial statute, and refusal to permit a political conservative to teach constitutional law, Professor Robert Steinbuch concluded:

It saddens me to say but the law school is no longer an environment for unbiased legal education.  It's a hot bed of crypto leftist wokism unwittingly funded by the great people of this state being used by a select few who pocket a drastically disproportionate share of the resources to pursue their political agendas.

Dean Theresa Beiner testified that the law school decided after 20 years to honor the wishes of the donor who funded the professorship, and then, apparently, did so erroneously.  When a newspaper columnist asked for pertinent records under the state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the law school discovered that Clinton had "withdrawn" permission amid the investigation of his conduct in the Lewinsky affair.

Three cheers for the Arkansas FOIA.  Full disclosure: I was a co-author with Professor Steinbuch and University of Arkansas Law School Professor Emeritus John J. Watkins of the sixth edition of the treatise, The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. 

A cheer more for the legislator in the hearing who probed the process for awarding named professorships and compelled the dean's admission that the selection occurs substantially in secret under the statutory personnel exemption.  My recollection of the selection process for named professorships at that law school many years ago accords with Professor Steinbuch's more recent experience.  When I worked there, one professor—the same one who raised a red flag over the "Clinton" name—was stripped of his named professorship when he fell out of favor.  A past dean represented that the professorship here at issue had to be awarded to one professor—the one who kicked off the present controversy by using the "Clinton" name—because of the donor's intent, rather than merit, a contention unsupported by the donor.

At the same time, my experience as a law professor suggests that very little in the American workplace works on merit anyway, legal education and the work experiences of my law students informing my conclusion.  The dean's insistence to the contrary is quaint and typical of persons in power, whatever their politics.

The fireworks show (item F) runs about 48 minutes.  The referenced exhibit, a letter from the university chancellor to the committee, is available online.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Law profs fault vague, empty ABA 'diversity' proposal

Gan Khoon Lay CC BY 3.0
The accreditation of law schools by the American Bar Association would be a joke if it were more funny than costly.

Having been a leader in the push to attain accreditation for the law school where I work presently, I know firsthand the enormous and unnecessary costs that the ABA visits upon law schools—and therefore law students—that strive to become part of the club.  Some years ago, I was invited to write up my observations on the accreditation farce for a book.  I declined to do so because my school did not yet have full accreditation, and I feared putting it in jeopardy.  I'm not sure I made the right choice.  Now that I'm in the club (again), I admit, I feel unmotivated to expose its flaws.

There is a place for academic accreditation.  A functional accreditation system would protect academic freedom from administrative overreach or political intervention; would protect resources vital to students and faculty, such as law library budgets and staffing, from bean counters' incessant cuts; and would protect students in their investment against fraud and unduly burdensome student debt.  Every now and then, the ABA stumbles into accomplishing one of these objectives, usually after having failed to do so resulted in public embarrassment.  Meanwhile, outside watchdogs with no real power at all—the AAUP, FIRE, media such as Inside Higher Ed and US News, and faculty blogs such as TaxProf and ATL—accomplish much more every day to keep law schools honest, and they don't pass fat tabs on to law students or lawyers.

When I have troubled to raise a red flag or blow the whistle on bad behavior in law schools to the ABA, my concerns have been consistently, efficiently, and quietly buried by accreditation review committees.  I've come to understand that the number-one benefit of club membership is that a school's soiled skivvies will be laundered in secrecy.  ABA accreditation is not about transparency and not about truth.

So what is ABA accreditation about?  Appearances.  Accreditation is about looking woke.  And to that end, the ABA wields its accreditation power as a virtue-signaling manifesto.  Too many times, for too many years, I have seen law schools pursue feel-good social agendas, with ABA imprimatur, and it's students, ironically often students of color, who pay the price for the reality that the agenda is mere facade.

So it is with the ABA's latest inclination to prescribe "diversity."  I put that term in quote marks, because the ABA is not worried about all kinds of law school diversity, but only the kinds that resonate in the correct political frequencies; the kind of diversity that prompted a colleague of mine in a recent hiring meeting to say "we don't need more white," drawing applause.

(I do believe we would benefit from greater racial diversity on our faculty, and in legal academics generally.  Where I differ with my colleagues is over the propriety of overt race discrimination as the means to the end.  Dare I suggest it, one might actually have to invest money in creating opportunity.  The problem is akin to employers complaining they're unable to hire while being unwilling to offer attractive terms of employment.)

With Professors Rick Sander and Eugene Volokh at UCLA, and Professor Rob Steinbuch at UALR, I offered comment (TaxProf Blog, Volokh Conspiracy) this week on a recently ABA-proposed "diversity" standard, Standard 206, in parts.  All of the views above are mine, and not necessarily those of my co-authors.  Those views explain my trepidation about the proposed standard, justifying my participation in the comment below, which is ours together.

June 27, 2021

Via email to Mr. Fernando Mariduena

Dear Chief Justice Bales and Mr. Adams:

Last month, the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar approved for Notice and Comment proposed revisions to Standards 205, 206, 303, 507, and 508 of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools. The revisions to Rule 206 would significantly alter the responsibilities of law schools to achieve “diverse” and “equitable” environments. In response to your solicitation of comments, we offer the following:

(1) The proposed Rule 206(b) provides that “a law school shall take effective actions that, in their totality, demonstrate progress in diversifying the student body, faculty, and staff….”   There appear to be no exceptions, indicating that the language requires that all law schools must demonstrate progress. “Diversifying,” to judge from the annotations to the rule, means “adding people of color” (not “minorities,” which the annotations say is an outdated term). Yet “progress” is nowhere defined; indeed, there is not even a hint of what it means to fully satisfy this standard. According to the ABA’s own website, which reports the proportion of first-year law students in 2020-21 who are “minorities” (we assume this means “people of color”), the makeup of the 197 ABA-accredited law schools ranges from 8% “minority” to 100% “minority.”(FN1) According to the ABA data, minorities make up more than 90% of students at four schools, and more than half the students at 24 schools. Presumably, these schools are also mandated to achieve greater diversity; does that mean they must find ways to enroll more whites? If there is an implicit goal, is it the same nationwide, or does it depend on the demographics of a school’s region? Any useful effort to create usable guidance to law schools must, at a minimum, address these and other similar questions. The standard, as written, is so vague that it will give enormous discretion to ABA accreditation committees to exert arbitrary control over important and sensitive policy issues.

The proposal fails to account for the fact that among the current population of law school applicants, there are very large disparities in credentials that correlate with race. For example, among all students taking the LSAT, there is about a 1.0 standard deviation gap between the mean score of white takers and the mean score of black takers. The white-black gap in college grades is smaller but still very large (about 0.8 standard deviations).(FN2: The Law School Admissions Council releases annual data on the scores and GPAs of law school applicants in its National Statistical Report series.) It is difficult to argue that either of these credentials is discriminatory, since they are predictive of law school grades and subsequent bar performance, and their predictions are as valid for blacks as for whites. Indeed, to the extent there is a debate over the relationship between black credentials and black law school performance, it is whether LSAT scores and college grades overpredict law school performance.(FN3:  LSAT and UGPA “overpredict” GPA performance of a particular group in law school, that implies that students in that group will obtain lower grades than their credentials predict, and thus that the credential is biased in their favor. The LSAC itself, in its validity studies, finds “very slight” overprediction of black GPAs; Sander finds that when adjustment is made for school quality and within-school grade inflation, LSAT and GPA are unbiased predictors of law school GPA across racial lines; Alexia Marks and Scott Moss, in a study of GPAs at two schools, find LSAT and UGPA modestly overpredictive of black GPAs. See Anthony & Liu; Sander; Marks & Moss.) The large credential gap means, of course, that law schools have resorted to large racial preferences as the main method of increasing the numbers of enrolled blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians. The best data we have on this come from admission records released in 2007-08 by 41 public law schools in the U.S., which in the aggregate show that roughly 60% of blacks entering these law schools had academic credentials that were at least a standard deviation below those of their median classmate.(FN4) (This was also true for about 30% of Hispanic first-years, compared to about 6% of Asian-American students and 4% of whites.) A major failing of the proposed Rule, therefore, is that since it provides no guidance on how the existing pool of law school applicants can be meaningfully expanded, it necessarily implies that greater “diversity” should be achieved by using even more aggressive racial preferences.

(2) The proposed Interpretation 206-2 asserts that “the enrollment of a diverse student body has been proven to improve the quality of the educational environment for all students” but cites no evidence to this effect. So far as we are aware, no one has even attempted to study, in a scientifically credible way, the effect of diversity on legal education quality or outcomes. Careful studies have been done at the undergraduate level, but these studies come to very different conclusions. Importantly, the leading studies that find positive educational benefits from diversity (notably, those by Patricia Gurin and her colleagues(FN5: See, e.g., Gurin et al.; Gurin et al.)) do not take into account how those benefits are affected when schools use large racial preferences to achieve diversity (as nearly all law schools do). The research that does take large preferences into account (such as the work of Arcidiacono et al. at Duke,(FN6: See, e.g., Arcidiacono et al.) or the work of Carrell et al. at the Air Force Academy(FN7)) finds that large preferences can directly undermine the goals of a diverse environment and increase racial segregation and isolation. There is also, of course, the very real danger that if race correlates very highly with class performance—an outcome difficult if not impossible to avoid if large racial preferences are used—then the single-minded pursuit of diversity will create, rather than erode, racial stereotypes.

(3) The proposed Rule and accompanying interpretations conspicuously ignore the likelihood of “mismatch”—that is, the potential harmful effects of very large preferences upon the intended beneficiaries (in terms of law school grades, bar passage, and long-term outcomes). In 2007, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a lengthy report on law school mismatch, finding grave cause for concern and urging further investigation,(FN8) but the ABA has never taken up this question. This inaction persists despite the fact that the Journal of Legal Education recently accepted for publication a new empirical study showing compelling evidence that law school mismatch has large, negative effects upon bar passage.(FN9) There is heavy attrition of students admitted with large preferences, first in terms of graduation from law school and second in terms of passing state bar exams, and this is at least arguably the major reason the legal profession remains as predominantly white as it still is. The committee’s proposal not only ignores this fundamental problem, but creates pressure on schools to worsen it.

(4) Finally, the proposed Interpretation 206-1 states that “The requirement of a constitutional provision or statute that purports to prohibit consideration of race, color, ethnicity … in admissions or employment decisions is not a justification for a school’s non-compliance with Standard 206 …. [Such a school must] demonstrate the effective actions and progress required by Standard 206 by means other than those prohibited by the applicable constitutional or statutory provisions.” Setting aside the problem noted earlier—that “effective actions and progress” are nowhere defined—the predominant method that schools have used to increase the number of enrolling members of underrepresented racial groups is the use of ever-larger admissions preferences. Case law in the states that have prohibited the use of race- based preferences makes clear—not surprisingly—that such preferences do, in fact, violate the law. In the absence of any explanation or documentation of other, proven methods by which schools can make “progress,” the proposed standard places these schools in an impossible bind—violate the law and the civil rights of applicants, or risk losing accreditation. Putting schools in this impossible bind would be an abuse of the ABA’s professional responsibility as an accreditor.

We welcome the opportunity to share with the Committee and the ABA any of the research discussed in this letter, and to otherwise contribute to a constructive revision of the proposed rules.

Sincerely, ....

I ask of this comment letter only that it bid salutation to my many criticisms of the ABA over the years when joining them in the ABA's dustbin.

[UPDATE, Aug. 18.]  The ABA approved the proposed standards.  See yesterday's TaxProf Blog.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

UMass Lowell stands with First Amendment, for now, in row over student tied to neo-Nazi hate group

Weed Hall at UMass Lowell
(photo by Ktr101 CC BY-SA 3.0)
UMass Lowell seems, so far, to be taking a principled position in a controversy over a student tied to a neo-Nazi group.

According to Patch, the University of Massachusetts Lowell sent a letter to students and faculty last week saying that it could not suspend a student tied to a neo-Nazi, hate group simply because of the association.  At the same time, the university pledged to investigate specific threats, alleged crimes, or incidents of hate speech, and to enforce the Student Code of Conduct.

The student in question appeared on a live-stream posted on Telegram, and re-posted to Twitter by a watch group, with the founder of "NSC-131," an organization founded in opposition to Black Lives Matter and identified as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League, Patch reported earlier this month.

A Change.org petition, with more than 11,000 signatures at the time of this writing, accuses UMass Lowell of being "blatantly permissive of not only racism and hate speech (which they state is protected under Freedom of Speech) but outright criminal activity and Neo-Nazism" in protecting the student.  The petition accuses the student, by name, of having violated already the Student Code of Conduct and, through alleged participation in the January 6 Capitol riot, the state vandalism lawPatch reported the appearance of NSC-131 at the Capitol riot, but no personal involvement by the student.

I appreciate the university's principled free speech stance—so far.  I hope the university does not cave to pressure and remains cognizant of the First Amendment's vital anti-majoritarian and "safety valve" functions.  It is crucial, especially in combating hate, that we refrain from prosecuting thoughtcrime, or its mere expression, else we are no better than the haters.

The problem with instruments such as the Student Code of Conduct is that they're easily applied unconstitutionally, regardless of whether they're facially constitutional.  The code in question, for example, calls on students to show "respect and protection for persons and property," and respect is defined as "acting to enhance the safety, well-being and freedom to allow all persons to pursue their legitimate aims," including all persons, i.e., "non-community members," 

The code stops short of defining a specific offense for lack of respect.  Rather, "interpersonal misconduct" includes

creat[ion of] an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or academic environment. A single, unusually severe incident may constitute intimidation, threats, or bullying.  Any pattern of unwelcome conduct directed specifically at another person that threatens or endangers the physical or mental safety or property of that person (or a member of that person’s family or household) or creates a reasonable fear or intimidation of such a threat or action.

The code adds, "The University has special concern for incidents in which persons are subject to such conduct because of membership or perceived membership in a racial, ethnic, religious, gender, or sexual orientation group."

That definition comports with First Amendment restriction on anti-harassment law, as long as the definition is observed in its particulars.  The terms refer appropriately and essentially to a "specific[] ... []other person" and to a "reasonable" response.  Administrators do not always parse so finely.  The Change.org petition encourages all readers to "file a report with student conduct," offering a link, regardless, it seems, of whether the filer has had any contact at all with the student of concern.

I have personal experience with administrators' loose understanding of academic freedom.  The "Principles of Employee Conduct" for the UMass System call on UMass employees "to conduct themselves in ways that accord respect to themselves and others."  That might sound merely aspirational.  But I was once adjudged guilty of violating the policy for accusing staff of misfeasance.  There was no contention that I was wrong on the facts.  But I was threatened with firing, despite my tenure.  No punishment was imposed after I pledged to sue in my defense—not a bluff.

In 2017-18, I served as a faculty delegate on an ad hoc campus committee formed at the behest of the campus chancellor to create an "anti-bullying" policy.  We faculty delegates agreed that workplace bullying was already impermissible under existing policies and state law.  The university seemed interested in having specifically an "anti-bullying" policy principally just to say that it does.  So we drafted a proposal that was substantively duplicative of existing norms, mindful of the First Amendment and academic freedom, and added a detailed procedure that would protect faculty in the event of ill founded and opportunistic accusation by administrators.

That, apparently, was not the right answer, because our proposal was buried in the bureaucratic bog.  Now I've been asked to serve on a committee again, in the next academic year, to do the work over, for a new chancellor.  Maybe we'll get it "right" this time.

Monday, June 28, 2021

'Clinton' honorific draws fire at Arkansas law school

"The Clinton Law School"
was not to be.
An op-ed in The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette by Mike Masterson on Saturday reported a mess at the "William H. Bowen" law school at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, since a professor there started calling himself the "William J. Clinton Professor."  The ADG quoted an email from my friend and colleague, Distinguished Professor J. Thomas Sullivan, obtained under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA):

I don't recall when the Law and Public Policy Professorship was re-named for President Clinton.... I first noticed this reference in the signature block on an email sent by ["Dean Emeritus and William J. Clinton Professor of Constitutional Law and Public Service"] John DiPippa in March.

This professorship was originally designated as the Law and Public Policy professorship and was created, as I recall, after we moved into the current building. There was discussion that the Law School itself would be named for Clinton, but that was scuttled because there was serious concern that he would be subjected to some adverse legal action ... for giving false testimony in the civil action brought by Paula Corbin Jones....

I couldn't find any reference to the professorship as the "William J. Clinton Professor of Constitutional Law and Public Service" on the Bowen web site. In fact, John's faculty page describes him as: Dean Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy.

It may be that I missed an announcement ... but I am not aware of the re-designation of the professorship in the name of William J. Clinton or the reference to "Constitutional Law and Public Service." Had this been brought to the faculty for discussion ... I would have opposed the change in designation for a number of reasons:

First, President Clinton was disbarred from practice before the United States Supreme Court and the Arkansas courts following the impeachment trial, in 2000 or 2001. I believe that John took the opportunity to defend him against disbarment at the time, but conceded that some form of censure was appropriate, being quoted at the time by The Washington Post: ... "But DiPippa also said Clinton should be punished more severely because of his position. He suggested a suspension of his license for some period of time. Disbarment ought to be reserved for what I've called incorrigible lawyers—lawyers who are just going to repeat their offenses and continue to harm clients, he said." ....

I simply do not think it appropriate for a law school to honor a disbarred lawyer—it strikes me as hardly sending a deterrent message to law students or practitioners. But beyond the disbarment, I have grave concerns about Bowen being aligned with significant policy decisions taken by Clinton that have [caused] irreparable damage to our legal system.

The mass incarceration of Americans, particularly affecting the poor and African American communities, was accelerated during the Clinton administration in an effort to deflect potential Republican claims that Democrats were/are soft on crime....

Second, the 1994 law shaped Democratic Party politics for years. Under the leadership of Bill Clinton, Democrats wanted to wrest control of crime issues from Republicans, so the two parties began a bidding war to increase penalties for crime. The 1994 crime bill was a key part of the Democratic strategy to show it can be tougher-on-crime than Republicans.

Of particular importance, Clinton signed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 which effectively eliminated federal habeas corpus as a protection against state court criminal convictions tainted by procedural irregularities and failure of state courts to correctly apply U.S. Supreme Court precedent in disposition of claimed violations of federal constitutional protections.

Sullivan is right about the naming of the law school; I was there then, too.  The money was coming from Bowen, an Arkansas banker—over faculty objections that UALR was selling itself to a donor for less money than any law school had ever taken for the honor—and Bowen's name was substituted when Clinton's became politically problematic.  In the op-ed, Professor Rob Steinbuch, a colleague of Sullivan's and co-author of mine on transparency research, confirmed Sullivan's take on the unilateral impropriety of the name change.

Sullivan wrote further:

Of general importance is the usurpation of faculty governance by the law school administration. At a minimum, the question of re-designating a named professorship should be announced to the faculty for purposes of eliciting legitimate concerns. The faculty originally adopted the rule regarding named professorships that was altered to give the dean sole authority for designation—apart from specific directions given by a donor.

I don't recall whether there was faculty input in altering terms of the original rule, but I do recall the faculty were generally notified of the current rule, as published. In either event, the legitimate authority of the faculty to advise and consent, if not promulgate, a policy that may have significant consequences for the law school in terms of our mission and reputation, shouldn't be dismissed by expediency or political interests of a dean, advisers or supporters answering only to the dean.

Sullivan has his own history with named professorships at UALR.  He was stripped of his in the past for the sin of dissent.  The professorships are better measures of academic-political compliance than of merit.  They're awarded only for five-year terms so as to incentivize continuing obedience to the dean among tenured faculty who otherwise might be hard to wrangle.

Such is academics.  My school, too, punishes anyone who dares not be a "team player," or fails to dumb down her or his own performance to the median.  The problem of "workplace mobbing" to enforce group-think and tame high achievers is so severe in academics that sociologist Kenneth Westhues wrote books about it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Arkansas profs champion academic freedom as bipartisan cause

Most recently in June, I wrote about the faculty lawsuit against the University of Arkansas System to protect academic freedom, as the university tries to cut back on tenure protection for both past and future hires.  The case is tracked by Professor Josh Silverstein, at his blog, Jurisophia, where the most recent filing is a September reply brief in support of defendants' motion to dismiss.

I had lost track in my inbox of this short segment (click box below) from Fox News in June, below, in which Arkansas named plaintiffs, my friend and mentor Professor-Attorney Tom Sullivan among them, schooled anchors on how academic freedom and tenure should be a bipartisan cause.



The case is Palade, Borse, and Sullivan v. Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas System, No. 4:19-cv00379-JM (E.D. Ark. complaint filed May 31, 2019).

I've freshly endured my own reminder at UMass Law of how readily academics turn on each other.  As I nurse the knife wound in my own back, I find myself re-sensitized to how American university administrators today exploit the ruthless faculty penchant for self-preservation to further the faculty's own fall and the rise of bureaucratic hegemony in its place.  Ultimately if indirectly, the most devastating impact of this dynamic is visited on the students who should be the beneficiaries of the educational mission.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Arkansas higher ed faculty sue to protect tenure, academic freedom

An assault on academic freedom in Arkansas has drawn a lawsuit by faculty.

In fall 2017, I republished concerns by my colleagues in the University of Arkansas System that proposed changes to board policy essentially would render academic tenure a nullity, allowing discipline and termination of faculty on a broad range of new and vague grounds.  Adopted in 2018, one new policy provision allows faculty firing for "a pattern of conduct that is detrimental to the productive and efficient operation of the instructional or work environment."  That's code for "we don't like you; play ball or else."  

Symptomatic of the contemporary corporatization of higher education, the new policy fails to recognize that faculty are actually the governors of universities, not at-will workers on the assembly line.  This is not just an Arkansas problem.  See generally Benjamin Ginsberg's "lacerating" (WSJ) 2013 book, The Fall of the Faculty, for documentation of this phenomenon and why it's so dangerous. For a stunning yet representative case study, see Jacob Howland on the University of Tulsa for the Manhattan Institute's City Journal (describing "
a perfect storm of trends currently tearing through the American academy: the confident ignorance of administrators, the infantilization of students, the policing of faculty, the replacement of thinking with ideological jargon, and the corporatization of education") (and podcast).

Now three tenured faculty have sued over the revised policy.  Professor Joshua M. Silverstein at the University of Arkansas Little Rock Law School explained in an email to Arkansas Little Rock faculty last week:

After the Board of Trustees adopted the revisions to Board Policy 405.1 at the Board’s March, 2018 meeting, I wrote an email summarizing what happened at the meeting and offering some thoughts regarding strategies that could be used to combat the changes.  In the latter section, I noted that litigation challenging the revisions was highly likely.  That litigation has commenced.  Yesterday, the law firm of Quattlebaum, Grooms & Tull filed a lawsuit on behalf of three of our colleagues – one each from UAMS [Medical School], UA-Little Rock, and UA-Monticello.  The lawsuit seeks to nullify the changes to 405.1 to the extent they apply to UA System faculty who were tenured or started in a tenure-track position prior to March 29, 2018, the date the amendments to 405.1 were adopted.  As I explained last year during the deliberations on 405.1, I believe that the lawsuit has a very good chance of succeeding....
[A] bill that was introduced in the Arkansas legislature this past session ... would have prohibited the application of Revised 405.1 to any faculty member with tenure or on the tenure track at the time the revisions were adopted.  Rob Steinbuch, a colleague of mine at the law school, and I were deeply involved with that bill and we both testified in favor of it.  Had the bill become law, it would have nullified the need for litigation.  Unfortunately, the bill died in committee.  Hence the filing of the lawsuit.

Note that this lawsuit itself won't stop the slow death of tenure and academic freedom going forward at the University of Arkansas.  New hires would still be entitled only to paper-thin tenure.  Meanwhile, nationwide, we still are grappling with the elimination of tenure-track positions altogether, in favor of cheap adjunct labor.  Nevertheless, I applaud my plaintiff-colleagues.  It's time faculty started pushing back, lest we irreversibly turn American universities into a mockery of the Bolognian conception—just in time for its 1,000-year anniversary in 2088.

Professor Silverstein is tracking the litigation at his blog, Jurisophia, where you can download the complaint.  The case is Palade, Borse, and Sullivan v. Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas System, No. 4:19-cv00379-JM (E.D. Ark. filed May 31, 2019).  Here is June 1 coverage in The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.  One of the named plaintiffs is a law professor, extraordinary practicing attorney, and treasured friend of mine, J. Thomas Sullivan at Arkansas Little Rock.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Political correctness continues to threaten academic freedom. But if it's a martyr you want, don't look at me.

When my daughter was a high school senior, she and my wife visited Sarah Lawrence College in New York.  My wife and I are keen on liberal-arts education, so we might have pushed Sarah Lawrence a bit as an option—even while I might have dropped the offhand reference to flower power and love beads.  Founded in 1926, Sarah Lawrence is famous for its left-wing political activism.  It has McCarthyist accusations of communist loyalties to its historical credit.

Siegel Student Center at Sarah Lawrence College (CC BY 3.0 by SaidieLou)
In the end, our daughter did not care for Sarah Lawrence.  A testament to her maturity, I think, she found that the school's method of individualized courses of study and its loose, seminar-like classroom experiences, modeled on the British tutorial style, did not suit her learning style and needs at age 18.  We agreed, and she is now happy elsewhere.  That's not to deny that Sarah Lawrence is pedagogically innovative in a way that beautifully complements the needs of many young adults and fosters creative genius.  After all, one Sarah Lawrence alumnus turned into J.J. Abrams.

However, from what I heard at the New England Political Science Association annual meeting's lunch program on Saturday, April 27, the flower power and love beads that I teased about might in fact be in desperately short supply at the Sarah Lawrence College of today.  After joking about being uncomfortable, as a Sarah Lawrence professor, standing at a lectern on a podium, Samuel Abrams shared his experience and research into ideologically driven, doctrinaire oversight of faculty and classrooms at Sarah Lawrence and elsewhere.

You can read more about Abrams's experience in recent coverage at the National Review, in Inside Higher Ed, and in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and in his own words in The New York Times in October 2018.  Abrams is an AEI scholar, which I guess makes him a radical conservative relative to famously lefty Sarah Lawrence, though plenty of partisan right wingers I'm sure would beg to differ over the sufficiency of his conservative fervor.

"We have a problem in higher education," Abrams said to NEPSA in Portland, Maine.  We, academics, need to ensure that the university remains free of viewpoint discrimination and a forum hospitable to robust "dialog and discourse," he said.

It's not exactly news that the ivory tower in America has been captured by a dogmatic partisan ideology that is oddly blind to classical liberal values such as freedom of thought and speech.  But to see and hear Abrams telling of his experiences live was chilling.  He collects Quechua art, he said, because he appreciates it, but multiple deans challenged the display of works in his office as cultural misappropriation.  For his encouragement of viewpoint diversity in the classroom, he has been called "racist," "bigoted," "homophobic," and, ironically, "anti-Semitic," he said.  His young son has been threatened.  Now deans are asking to review his class content in advance.

This is not hateful rhetoric derived from right-wing demagoguery.  To be sure, there's plenty of that to go around.  But on this occasion, these are the words and tactics of the left, the purportedly hate speech-loathing, ideological font of the civil rights movement.  I have no patience for this rhetoric, wherever, whatever it comes from.

Especially those of us with tenure must resist this suppressive, oppressive group-think, from right or left, Abrams declared.

How?  For a good while now, tenure has been exposed as a largely symbolic and legally insignificant barrier to adverse job action.*  The tenure contract is only as good as the lawyer you can afford whilst unemployed.  Then where the rubber meets the road, courts defer to universities to construe "cause" for termination in the tenure contract, absent any clear constitutional backing for the notion of academic freedom.  My work with the faculty union at UMass Dartmouth has shown me beyond a shadow of a doubt (even pre-Janus) that the union lacks any real bargaining strength.  When push comes to shove, the vast majority of faculty are not really willing to make any personal sacrifice for better working conditions, much less to stand on principle.  And the university knows it.

Maybe I'm no better.  Knowing the score, knowing that academia already has ceded the battle for intellectual freedom, I discourage classroom dialog over hot-button issues. I admire Abrams.  But I have a daughter who's trying to pay her way through American higher ed.  Her economic security—and the paycheck that makes it possible—has got to be my top priority.



*For collateral misgivings about the scope of tenure protection, see also my writing in JC&UL in 2010, which I presented at an AAUP conference.  Stanley Fish's more recent ruminations in Versions of Academic Freedom (2014) also ponder the scope of academic freedom relative to the professor's job—though he doesn't cite me.  JS.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Does your dean work for you?

[This opinion is mine, reprinted from the Faculty Federation News: A Publication of the UMass Dartmouth Faculty Federation AFT-MA 1895, vol. XXIV, no. 5, Mar./Apr. 2018, p. 3.  A version geared to university students can be found at The Torch, the student newspaper of UMass Dartmouth, Oct. 21, 2018.]


When I left law practice to teach, I knew little to nothing about faculty governance and academic freedom.  The dean who hired me, Rodney K. Smith—now professor and director of the Sports Law and Business Program at the O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University—is a person of the utmost integrity from whom I learned a lot about leadership and the business of higher education.

When I was a green, 26-year-old instructor of law, I remember, I was joined at lunch by Dean Smith.  I couldn’t bring myself to call him “Rod,” even when everyone else did, and it still sounds odd to me, decades later.  Sometimes Dean Smith ate lunch with the crew of us who ate in the faculty lounge, a “king incognito” kind of thing, but, I think, totally genuine.

Dean Smith wanted to know how things were going in the new job.  We chatted a bit about classes, teaching, students.  He asked something about my interests in terms of developing new programs at the law school.  I said something about being willing to do whatever he needed me to, because “you’re the boss.”

“No, I’m not,” he retorted quickly.  And he waited for me to react in that MBTI-sensing-personality way that we Ns always find really aggravating.

That he was the boss seemed self-evident to me.  In my law firm, all partners were the boss, and they could scream and yell or hop up and down or throw papers around or pretty much do whatever they wanted, and we associates were supposed to act like that was totally normal and appropriate.  So this challenge to the natural order of things really made no sense to me.

You’re the boss,” he added, as if that cleared things up.  I was pretty sure that when I was hired, he had told me how much I would be paid.  If things in fact were the other way around, I had really sold myself short.

I work for you,” he said with the finality with which one tells a hard-headed child “because I said so.”

It took me a long time to wrap my mind around his meaning.  When I had evaluation meetings with Dean Smith his tack was always “what can I be doing for you?,” to make me better able to do my job—teaching, research, and service.  That was new for me.

As the First Amendment is part of my media law portfolio, and academic freedom is an aspect of the freedom of expression, I have, since that day at lunch with Rod Smith in January 1998, spent some part of my academic life studying the history, law, and policy of academic freedom and its partner principle, faculty governance.

I thought of this at the Faculty Federation meeting this week when President Cathy Curran said we, faculty, are “weird,” in describing the particular challenge of drafting HR policies that apply to faculty.

We are weird.  And it’s not something that’s well understood outside academia, nor often by administrators in academia.

We are weird in a way that is critical to institutional governance, to student learning, and moreover to our society—not just American society, but human society.  If the organization of human civilization is built upon a search for truth in a free market of ideas, and the university is “peculiarly the ‘marketplace of ideas,’” as Justice Brennan wrote, then the independence of faculty inquiry is essential to improvement of the human condition.  That notion underpinned the constituting principle of academic freedom in the original universitas in 13th-century Bologna.  And it’s only more true, more important, in the 21st-century information age.

Faculty governance of the academic enterprise is a corollary.  As former union President Susan Krumholz aptly recalled at the Federation meeting, the administration of a university works for the faculty.  Yes, the administration manages budget, payroll, and enrollment, all things that might constrain faculty freedom.  That’s the weird part.  But it must not be forgotten that those functions exist only to enable faculty, whose job it is to educate students.

Dean Smith was right, and the intervening years have only added to the urgency of his assertion.  In an environment of higher ed financial crisis, burgeoning staff-to-faculty ratios, and rampant bureaucratic overreach in the guises of assessment and accountability, we lose touch with the essential, classical design of the university at our own peril.

Deans, provosts, vice chancellors, and even chancellors and presidents:  They work for us.