Showing posts with label hate speech. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hate speech. Show all posts

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.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Court thins line between hate speech, free speech, while deepening European continental divide

Mural in Sofia, Bulgaria
(2019 photo by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
A politician's racist hate speech and Holocaust denial were too readily protected by the freedom of speech in Bulgaria, the European Court of Human Rights opined in a February decision that challenges free expression and deepens tension between western and eastern Europe.

In litigation by Citizens Against Hatred and allied NGOs, plaintiffs sued in Sofia for harassment and incitement to discrimination.  Their target was Volen Siderov, a far right-wing politician, founder of the "Attack" party, who beat the drum of Bulgarian nationalism in two books and a speech to Parliament.  Siderov perpetuated denigrating stereotypes including that Jews manufactured the Holocaust as a scheme for financial extortion and that Roma people are "prone to crime and depravity."  His hate speech also targeted Turks, Catholics, and LGBTQ persons. 

Siderov's speech did not target individuals, nor call for any specific act of discrimination or violence.  The Sofia court ultimately dismissed the claims, unable to find that any one person had suffered injury or loss as a result of Siderov's vitriol.  The Sofia City Court and the Bulgarian Supreme Court of Cassation affirmed, holding, with reference to European jurisprudence, that Siderov's speech was protected by the freedom of expression.

In Strasbourg, the European Court of Human Rights held that the claimants had been denied a fair hearing in Bulgarian courts, a violation of their rights of dignity and freedom from discrimination under articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  Maybe Siderov's speech was protected expression under article 10 of the European Convention.  But the Bulgarian courts had been too quickly dismissive of the plaintiffs' claims.

"Expression on matters of public interest is in principle entitled to strong protection under Article 10 of the Convention, whereas expression that promotes or justifies violence, hatred, xenophobia or another form of intolerance cannot normally claim protection," the court explained.  "[I]t may be justified to impose even serious criminal-law sanctions on journalists or politicians in cases of hate speech or incitement to violence."

Volen Siderov
(Flickr by Nedko Ivanov CC BY 2.0)

The Bulgarian courts had not drawn an appropriate balance.  "Although the courts acknowledged the vehemence of the statements, they downplayed their capacity to stigmatise Jews as a group and arouse hatred and prejudice against them, and apparently saw them as no more than part of a legitimate debate on matters of public concern."

The decision strikes a note of discord in both westerly and easterly directions.  As a matter of free speech absolutism, American courts have been consistently resistant to regulation of hate speech.  Academics have twisted themselves into knots to reconcile the civil-rights-era First Amendment with a 1952 Supreme Court decision that momentarily sanctioned criminal libel based on race, color, creed, or religion.  Meanwhile, the First Amendment continues to be a perplexing problem for would-be regulators who link disinformation with populist nationalism of Siderov's ilk.

At the same time, the European Court decision is bound to aggravate a burgeoning resistance in Bulgaria, and throughout the east, to perceived western European cultural imperialism.  Bulgarian courts in 2018 ruled unconstitutional, and the Bulgarian Parliament was prepared to vote down, the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women, "the Istanbul Convention" (Euractiv).  The politicization of an issue so seemingly uncontroversial is a story revealing of a deeper continental divide, and the court's strike against Siderov plays right into perceived grievances.

The case is Behar & Gutman v. Bulgaria, No. 29335/13 (Eur. Ct. Hum. Rts. Feb. 16, 2021) (LawEuro).

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Informe costarricense mixto sobre libertad de expresión: tribunales presionan por transparencia; ley se mueve contra discurso de odio, desinformación


[English translation by Google.]

Desde la perspectiva norteamericana, Costa Rica ha sido aclamada durante mucho tiempo como un modelo de democracia en las Américas. Eso es lo que me llevó a enfocarme en Costa Rica para estudios universitarios en periodismo comparativo, y fue así que desperté un amor por el país. Es importante destacar que San José opera como la sede de la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos. La afinidad de Costa Rica con los Estados Unidos se remonta en los tiempos modernos a la transformadora y ahora legendaria primera presidencia de Óscar Arias en la década de 1980 (sin dejar de mencionar las recientes acusaciones, e.g., Time). Si hoy es cierto, en algún sentido, que Costa Rica está a la vanguardia de los derechos humanos regionales, entonces vale la pena ver los acontecimientos en Costa Rica como un referente.

Un nuevo informe exhaustivo sobre la libertad de expresión y la libertad de información en Costa Rica ha sido emitido por el Programa de Libertad de Expresión y Derecho a la Información y el Centro de Investigación de Comunicación de la Universidad de Costa Rica (HT@ Observacom). En general, este informe revela un sistema legal que lucha con problemas que son familiares en otros países—por ejemplo, el acceso público y periodístico a las plataformas de redes sociales cuando un político aparentemente elige hacer negocios allí. Un informe de este tipo no es único en las Américas (mira, e.g., México 2019), y este no es el primero de Costa Rica; admito que me atrajo debido a la coincidencia de algunos problemas que me interesan, incluso colegiación de periodismo, mencionados a continuación.

El primer capítulo del informe (y el único que he leído) está escrito por la abogada, periodista, y académica, Giselle Boza Solano. Boza concluye con preocupación que no ha habido movimiento legislativo en Costa Rica para garantizar la proliferación de las diversas voces en la era de internet, donde el mercado del discurso y la elaboración de la política del habla están cada vez más dominados por los grandes proveedores de servicios, como Google. Su preocupación está sincronizada con los movimientos en Europa, con Francia a la cabeza, y en América Latina, con Uruguay como organizador. Costa Rica parece ser próximo en esta lista. Sin embargo, Boza, y el informe, reconocen y examinan las iniciativas para financiar los esfuerzos cinematográficos y audiovisuales con un impuesto a las plataformas digitales y la televisión por suscripción.

Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos
(foto por Eli NW CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Además, me anima el comentario de Boza sobre la jurisprudencia costarricense. Si la selección es indicativa, los tribunales, en la mayor parte, parecen mantenerse a la par con su compromiso histórico con las libertades de expresión e información. En el área de libertad de información, el Tribunal Constitucional dictó decisiones que facilitan el acceso electrónico a datos meteorológicos y el registro electrónico de la policía en lugares públicos. Los tribunales dictaron decisiones que facilitaron el acceso de los ciudadanos al proceso legislativo y a la legislación. La inclinación por los legisladores a retirarse a la oscuridad en nuestros tiempos difíciles parece ser una norma universal.

El Tribunal Constitucional también reprendió al Colégio de Periodistas por afirmar una provincia exclusiva sobre el derecho a llamarse a sí mismo periodista, ante la queja de un periodista digital sin el título universitario, como se requiere. El tribunal reiteró la consecuente opinión consultiva de la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos de 1985, incluso antes de que el periodismo digital existiera propiamente. Es bastante sorprendente que esto todavía sea algo que deba adjudicarse 35 años después. (Escribí sobre este caso cuando era estudiante en 1993 y, para ser justo, la situación es un poco más complicada de lo que parece en la superficie. Aún así….)

Hay motivos de preocupación más allá de la falta de impulso para la libertad de internet. El proyecto de ley mejoraría o aplicaría el castigo penal por el discurso de odio y la difusión de desinformación ("noticias falsas"). Tales leyes se encontrarían en conflicto contra la libertad de expresión. Costa Rica ciertamente no es el único país con tales propuestas sobre la mesa, pero, nuevamente, esto es problemático en una democracia de vanguardia.

Eso es solo el capítulo 1. El informe presenta un análisis cuantitativo de la autopercepción de los medios, y, también, capítulos sobre publicidad, violencia contra las mujeres en las noticias, y más. La publicación es el II Informe sobre el estado de la libertad de expresión en Costa Rica (2020) (descargar por capítulo).

Muchas gracias a mi editor en español, Ricardo Serrano, politólogo, periodista, estudiante de derecho, y creador de contenido electrónico.  Los errores son todos míos.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Everyone's talking First Amendment

So this one was the vision of what happens if things don't go the way [philosopher Richard] Rorty wants. And in his view, Bill Clinton and what we would now call the neo liberal left was ignoring workers' needs and was not paying attention to the things that give rise to populism and only the right was paying attention to those needs.
[Rorty] said, 'at that point, something will crack. The non-suburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strong man to vote for. Someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.
'One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past 40 years by black and brown Americans and by homosexuals will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.'
The New Yorker's Andrew Marantz on WNYC's On the Media, Oct. 11, 2019,
quoting the speculative fiction of philosopher Richard Rorty in 1997


The Conservator Society of the Providence Public Library, The Providence Journal, and The Public's Radio will host a forum on "First Amendment Frontiers" tonight at the Providence, Rhode Island, Public Library.  Panelists are Lee V. Gaines, education reporter for Illinois Public Media; Justin Hansford, executive director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard University; Lata Nott, executive director of the First Amendment Center of the Freedom Forum Institute; and Alan Rosenberg, executive editor of The Providence Journal.  Ian Donnis, political reporter for The Public’s Radio, will moderate.

The First Amendment has been much in the news lately, in our strange times.  Two items from my listen-and-read list.  First, Brooke Gladstone for WNYC's On the Media hosted a discussion, "Sticks and Stones," with New Yorker staff writer Andrew Marantz, author of Anti-Social: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation.



In part one of three, Marantz challenges First Amendment absolutism.  That's not a big reach, but lays out the context for his discussion.  In part two, Marantz reviews the mostly 20th-century history of First Amendment doctrine.  It's familiar territory until he hits Citizens United (about 12 minutes into the 17 of part two, or 29 minutes into the 50-minute whole), when things heat up with the help of UC Berkeley Professor John Powell, Susan Benesch of the Dangerous Speech Project, and The Case Against Free Speech author P.E. Moskowitz.  The third part digs into the speculative fiction of philosopher Richard Rorty, which generated the quote atop this post.

The thrust of Marantz's thesis on OTM was that John Stuart Mill's concept of one's liberty ending at the tip of another's nose has been taken too literally for its physicality.  As Powell put it, psychological harm manifests physically, and physical harm manifests psychologically, so the division between the two is artificial and nonsensical.  Words cause harm, the logic goes, so we must rethink our free speech doctrine with regard to problems such as hate speech.

Moreover, Marantz explained that the First Amendment must be reinterpreted relative to the Reconstruction amendments, which call for a re-balancing between the individual rights of the Bill of Rights, such as free speech, and the rights incorporated y the Reconstruction amendments, such as equal protection.  At the same time, and to my relief, both Benesch and Moskowitz expressed reservations about abandoning doctrines such as Brandenburg imminent incitement.  Moskowitz observed that the latitude to regulate hate speech has been perverted by European governments to censorial aims.

Second, the SMU Law Review published a centennial anniversary symposium issue on the Schenck and Abrams "clear and present danger" cases.  These are the articles:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Policy proposal threatens academic freedom at University of Arkansas

Watchdogs in my former home state of Arkansas have alerted me to a major proposed change to University of Arkansas Board of Trustees tenure policy that threatens faculty academic freedom and tenure.  I wrote on this subject and presented at an AAUP conference some time ago; see "Penumbral Academic Freedom" at SSRN.  I happen to have just started serving here at UMass Dartmouth on a campus-wide committee studying policy related to faculty privileges and responsibilities.  I plan in time to write more about my experience here at UMD.  Meanwhile, though, what is happening at Arkansas, just one instance amid an alarming national trend, needs wider attention.  Simply put, an attack on academic freedom anywhere is an attack on academic freedom everywhere.

As is widely known both in and outside the academy, this is not a happy time for freedom of expression on the university campus.  (See this New York Times op-ed from yesterday, by University of Oregon President Michael Schill.)  Professor Catherine Ross at GW Law wrote an excellent piece recently for 66:4 Journal of Legal Education on "Assaultive Words and Constitutional Norms," explaining the clash between First Amendment freedom of speech and lately abundant and popular efforts to regulate speech that is normatively objectionable, such as hate speech.  The problem extends to our complicated American relationship with whistleblowers: compare the Obama Administration's "war on whistleblowers" (Guardian) with the later pardoning of Chelsea Manning.

In the academic sphere, the problem has played out in attack on faculty and faculty privileges, such as tenure, that are designed to preserve the university as "the quintessential marketplace of ideas."  The corporatization of the university and the infantilization of faculty have been documented and described, for example by Johns Hopkins Professor Benjamin Ginsberg in his 2013 book, The Fall of the Faculty (Amazon).

My colleague Professor Joshua Silverstein at the University of Arkansas Little Rock Law School wrote an excellent missive to his faculty on the proposed changes to Arkansas board policy.  He explained how the policy changes conflict with established AAUP norms.  Especially problematic is a provision that would allow termination of faculty for "unwillingness to work productively with colleagues."  As Professor Silverstein aptly observes, this is administrator-speak for what the AAUP long ago described and condemned as a "collegiality" requirement.

That provision would allow the termination of a faculty member who ignores instruction to teach the politically correct or anti-intellectual version of a subject in the classroom; who refuses to give passing grades for failing performance, when campus bean counters fear losing the student's tuition dollars; or who objects to the elimination of disciplines such as philosophy and foreign language as the university looks to budget according to revenue potential rather than academic mission.  In the corporatized university, there is no room for faculty governance and less for freedom of thought.  Faculty are expected to toe the line and make the widgets.  That's a frightening vision of the university, especially when one contemplates the impact on young adults of modeling automatous obedience in a purported democracy.

Professor Silverstein has given me permission to excerpt his missive, below.  His redline-and-comment version of the board policy I have parked here.  I note that Silverstein had to create the redline version himself; only a clean revision was distributed.  The redline version, he warns, might have mistakes that are artifacts of conversion from PDF.  The clean revision proposal is here.  The current rule can be found here.  Silverstein disclaims that he only received the proposal last weekend, so his review is not comprehensive.  Also, these comments pertain only to changes to the board policy on tenure.  Other proposed changes would affect employment periods and distinguished professorships.

The academy must stand together to repel attacks on tenure.  And we in the legal academy have an especial responsibility to heed the call.

--


Colleagues:

Last week, the faculty senate received proposed changes to the UA System rules regarding tenure (Board of Trustees Policy 405.1), employment periods (Policy 405.4), and university and distinguished professorships (Policy 470.1).   This email concerns the proposed changes to policy 405.1.  As the subject of my email indicates, I believe that the proposed changes are a grave threat to tenure and academic freedom within the entire UA System.  Most importantly, the revisions dramatically expand the grounds justifying termination for cause.  They do so by (1) effectively establishing collegiality as a basis for termination, and (2) permitting dismissal after a single unsatisfactory rating in an annual review.  In addition, the revisions critically weaken the procedural protections available at university committee hearings regarding terminations.  If these changes are adopted, the damage to the University of Arkansas will be wide-ranging and likely permanent.  It is thus imperative that we speak out about the threat.

*  *  *


1.  The University may not retroactively alter tenure rights.

In my opinion, the proposed changes to 405.1 cannot retroactively alter the rights granted under existing tenure contracts.  Well-established principles of contract law and constitutional law firmly support this conclusion.  Thus, the changes to 405.1, if adopted, will only apply to faculty not yet tenured.  However, I have not conducted exhaustive legal research on this point.  In addition, while nothing in the proposal suggests that the university believes it can—or intends to—apply the changes retroactively, an express admission on these points is the only way we can be sure of the thinking of the Board of Trustees and the rest of the central administration.

Even if the changes are applied solely in a prospective manner, that only modestly reduces the damage that the new rules will cause.  For example, all new hires will be subject to the revised standards.  That is a serious problem.  The changes will make it more difficult to hire the best entry-level and lateral faculty.  And those who are hired will possess weakened tenure protections and more limited academic freedom, both of which will result in numerous harms to teaching, research, and service within the UA system.

2.  The proposal dramatically expands the scope of what constitutes “cause” for purposes of terminating faculty

a.  Introduction.

Let me start by highlighting the critical textual changes to the definition of “cause.”  The current definition is set forth in section I of Policy 405.1 (which is on page 2 of the policy):

“Cause” is defined as conduct which demonstrates that the faculty member lacks the ability or willingness to perform his or her duties or to fulfill his or her responsibilities to the University; examples of such conduct include (but are not limited to) incompetence, neglect of duty, intellectual dishonesty, and moral turpitude.

Compare that to the revised definition, set out in section I of the proposal on pages 1-2 (and on pages 1-2 of my redline):

Cause - Cause is defined as conduct that demonstrates the faculty member lacks the willingness or ability to perform duties or responsibilities to the University. A faculty member may be disciplined, or dismissed, for cause on grounds including but not limited to unsatisfactory performance or (1) professional dishonesty or plagiarism; (2) discrimination, including harassment or retaliation, prohibited by law or university policy; (3) unethical conduct related to fitness to engage in teaching, research, service/outreach and/or administration, or otherwise related to the faculty member’s employment or public employment; (4) misuse of appointment or authority to exploit others; (5) theft or intentional misuse of property; (6) incompetence, job abandonment, pattern of disruptive conduct or unwillingness to work productively with colleagues, or refusal to perform reasonable duties; (7) threats or acts of violence or retaliatory conduct; or (8) violation of University policy, or state or federal law, substantially related to performance of faculty responsibilities or fitness to serve the University

I have highlighted two pieces of the revised definition.  First, I highlighted the addition of “unsatisfactory performance” near the beginning of the definition.  Second, I highlighted certain language in item 6.  Section 2.b. of this email addresses item 6.  Section 2.c. of this email addresses the insertion of “unsatisfactory performance.”  There is additional language in the proposal relating to the two pieces of the definition that I highlighted.  That language is discussed in the sections below corresponding to the highlighted language.

b.  Establishing collegiality as a basis for termination dramatically reduces tenure protections and academic freedom.

The language I highlighted in item 6 is very dangerous.  “Pattern of disruptive conduct” is a deeply subjective standard.  “Unwillingness to work productively with colleagues” is worse.  These standards create a serious potential for abuse.  It takes little imagination to see how the standards could be employed to stifle academic freedom by dismissing or otherwise punishing tenured faculty on the pretextual grounds that they are “disruptive” and/or “uncollegial.”  Note that including a collegiality requirement in tenure standards violates AAUP principles.  This change would thus move the UA System out of compliance with the AAUP.  See On Collegiality as a Criterion for Faculty Evaluation at page 1 (and throughout)), available here.

The importance of the changes in item (6) is highlighted by the fact that the “work productively” collegiality standard is repeated in the section of 405.1 that concerns academic freedom.  The proposal amends section IV.A.14.c, on page 10 by inserting the following language: “Faculty are expected to work productively with colleagues in carrying out the mission of the University.”  By adding this to the academic freedom section, it is clear that the drafters intend the language to circumscribe the scope of academic freedom everywhere within the University of Arkansas.

c.  The proposal permits termination after a single unsatisfactory rating in an annual review; this also dramatically reduces tenure protection and academic freedom.

Under the current standard, termination for performance issues may result only from “incompetence,” “neglect of duty,” or the like.  Under the proposed standard, a mere finding of “unsatisfactory performance” in a single annual review is sufficient grounds to warrant termination.  That is a profound change.

To elaborate, the proposal inserts new standards regarding annual reviews in section V.A.9.  Here is the pertinent language:

Any campus procedures regarding post-tenure review shall not allow greater than one academic year, with active cooperation from the faculty member, for an overall unsatisfactory performance rating to be substantially remedied prior to a recommendation of dismissal on the basis of unsatisfactory performance. In other words, if a faculty member’s overall performance is evaluated as unsatisfactory for an academic year, any improvement plans or other remedial measures are expected to result in a satisfactory evaluation by the end of the following academic year; if not, the faculty member may be issued a notice of dismissal on twelve months’ notice as provided for in this policy. Again, such period of time for remediation assumes the active cooperation and engagement of the faculty member; otherwise, a shortened timeframe may be utilized.

On the surface, this provision appears to provide that termination is only permissible after two unsatisfactory ratings.  In the first yellow block, the provision states that “any improvement plans or other remedial measures are expected to result in a satisfactory evaluation by the end of the following academic year; if not, the faculty member may be issued a notice of dismissal . . .”  (Emphasis added.)  That suggests that two unsatisfactory ratings are required.  But now consider the last sentence of the language I quoted, also highlighted in yellow: “Again, such period of time for remediation assumes the active cooperation and engagement of the faculty member; otherwise, a shortened timeframe may be utilized.”  (Emphasis added.)  This means that if the university, in its subjective judgment, determines that a person is not being sufficiently “cooperative” or “engaged” in the remediation plan, termination is possible well before the end of the first academic year after the unsatisfactory rating.  In short, a single unsatisfactory rating, combined with a judgment of insufficient “cooperation” or “engagement,” can result in termination. 

That is a dramatic change from the existing rule.  To repeat, the current standard requires “incompetence,” “neglect of duty,” or something comparable.  Those words denote performance that is considerably worse than suggested by a mere finding of “unsatisfactory.”  Indeed, “incompetence” and “neglect of duty” are much worse than multiple findings of unsatisfactory performance.

This change also violates AAUP standards.  For example, in a report regarding Greenville College in Illinois, the AAUP said this:

As the writers of the 1958 Statement on Procedural Standards had assumed, most institutions have indeed developed their own standards of what constitutes adequate cause for dismissal.  They most commonly tend to be “incompetence,” “professional misconduct,” “gross neglect,” and the like.  In comparison, Greenville’s standard of “unsatisfactory service” not only is nebulous and subjective, but also sets too low a bar for adequate protection of tenure and academic freedom . . . .

Report, Academic Freedom and Tenure: Greenville College (Illinois) at page 86, available here.

Likewise, the AAUP’s formal statement on post-tenure review explains that the appropriate standard for “cause” is “incompetence, malfeasance, or failure to perform . . . duties.”  Post-tenure Review: An AAUP Response at page 230, available here.  The report proceeds to explain that if “the standard of dismissal is shifted from ‘incompetence’ to ‘unsatisfactory performance,’ . . . then tenured faculty must recurrently ‘satisfy’ administrative officers rather than the basic standards of their profession,” which fatally undermines academic freedom.  See id.

As these AAUP documents make clear, the proposed change of the cause standard from “incompetence” and “neglect of duty” to mere “unsatisfactory” performance is fundamentally inconsistent with core principles of academic freedom.  And that would be true even if the proposal required multiple findings of unsatisfactory performance.  As I explained, however, a single finding of unsatisfactory performance can justify termination under the proposal (when combined with a finding that the faculty member is not sufficiently cooperative or engaged in remediation of the unsatisfactory performance).

3.  The proposal critically weakens procedural protections.

Section IV.C. of 405.1 concerns the procedures for dismissing a tenured or tenure-track faculty member.  Part of the termination process is a hearing before an impartial committee.  The proposal revises section IV.C.5., on page 14, to strip away the committee’s ability to grant procedural protections equivalent to those afforded in a court of law.  See comment j7 on page 12 of the redline, which explains this point in more detail.

* * *

Note that the redline contains a few other substantive comments.

As I said, this proposal is a striking attack on academic freedom and tenure.  It is thus imperative that we make our voices heard.

Josh
Joshua M. Silverstein
Professor of Law
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
William H. Bowen School of Law
1201 McMath Ave.
Little Rock, AR 72202-5142