Blogs > Cliopatria > Gerard and Due Process

Mar 15, 2004 3:45 pm

Gerard and Due Process

Erin O’Connor asked an interesting question Friday regarding an appropriate response to None Gerard’s dismissal at Penn State, and there is no obvious answer. The two alternatives offered by Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate to campus intolerance—lawsuits and sunlight—seem unsuited for this case. Penn State appears impervious to the bad publicity, and it’s very hard (speaking from personal experience) to get and sustain press coverage of an academic personnel case; and, based on what I’ve read on the case, I’m not at all sure Gerard would prevail if the matter went to court, since courts are generally reluctant to intervene on faculty personnel matters.

One possible solution, seen in this morning’s Chronicle and referenced below by my colleague, Ralph Luker, regarding another case of denial of academic freedom (Southern Mississippi): increased activism by trustees, alumni, and donors. Few, if any, academics would welcome outside micromanagement, but, on cases of serious abuse of power by faculty or administrators (which seems to be the case in both Penn State and USM), intervention from the outside is essential. Trustees, of course, have a fiduciary duty to the institution, although too often they construe that trust too narrowly. Alumni and donors don’t have to respond to fundraising drives—or, even more admirably, they can imitate the response of some USM donors and actively side with the aggrieved party.

In addition to Erin’s post, Crooked Timber and Brian Leiter also comment on Gerard’s claim that she was denied due process. It certainly is true that the Penn State and USM (where the professors were summarily dismissed) cases are not identical. But it is also true, as Kors and Silverglate point out in their book, that “due process” in the university world means a very different thing than in the judicial setting. The five finders of fact in Gerard’s proceedings included two administrators (who could not possibly be perceived as impartial); all testimony remained confidential; there were, as Gerard has pointed out, no clear rules of evidence; and the ultimate arbiter of the case was the president who initially had terminated her employment. Not exactly a neutral proceeding.

On another matter, for those who missed it, an interesting piece in Friday’s Wall Street Journal on the intellectual diversity movement. This instance involves a case at St. Lawrence University, where an assistant professor in sociology named Robert Torres posts on his blogs analyses about"Fascist, Racist College Republicans” denouncing matters such as"the Saddam s---" (the liberation of Iraq) to"economic policies that favor rich, white f---s" (tax cuts). As for conservative students who fear that these attitudes might prejudice Prof. Torres’ view of their work, not to worry:"Despite my grievances with the right,” the professor assures them, “I work hard to treat people equally in my work as a matter of principle and a commitment to social justice." If I were a conservative St. Lawrence student, I wouldn’t take my chances—which is, of course, most unfair, since students should be able to pick courses based on their interest in the subject matter, not from fear that they might be subject to attacks from intemperate professors.

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Michael C Tinkler - 3/15/2004

And at a school the size of SLU (2,000 undergrads) there may be no choice for majors but to take courses from him -- my school is 1,800 and there's almost no way to major in my field without taking a course from each of us (which is how we designed the requirements, after all).

Tim Burke is right that the USMississippis are the norm, but small schools have their own problems meshing ideology and life.

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