I still maintain that academic freedom too often serves as cover for trendy grievance scholarship, and that the diversity boondoggle is creating an academic environment devoid of intellectual diversity, none of which is consistent with the public interest, I must also object to Missouri's board of curators conceding powers to a legislature that will almost certainly be used in a situation where curricular integrity, rather than excessively zealous protesting, is at stake.The American Association of University Professors have completed their evaluation.
This report is primarily concerned with two issues: whether Professor Click was afforded the protections of academic due process called for under AAUP-recommended standards and whether the action taken against her was the result of overreach by the university’s governing board and of inappropriate political interference, by members of the Missouri legislature, into the university’s disciplinary process and into the university’s affairs more generally.It's a lengthy report. Well, not as lengthy as The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but those of you with smartphone attention spans will probably be hitting TLDR pretty soon. Of course, those of you with smartphone attention spans probably don't hang out here that often.
I have to wonder if the absence of viewpoint diversity at Missouri, and in much of the rest of higher education, isn't contributing to the way in which the legislature (improperly, in my view) got involved.
On January 21 board of curators member David L. Steelman published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post calling for Professor Click’s dismissal. He wrote, “the university’s sole action has been to place what I consider a meaningless admonishment in her file. In my opinion, this tepid action does not reflect a particularly strong commitment to our values; moreover the inaction indicates an institutional narcissism that undermines our values and responsibilities to the broader society.”It's possible that Mr Steelman was responding to legislators, but the way in which universities establish a political monoculture, protestations of diversity and multiculturalism notwithstanding, isn't going too far with the transgressivity.
Mr. Steelman went on to criticize the faculty letter of support for Click as more evidence of “narcissism, the desire to look only inward, and to worry more about the perks and privileges of faculty.” “The university” he concluded, “should stand for character, respect, and responsibility. That means rejecting the narrow self interests of the faculty who signed a letter merely to avoid accountability and responsibility for those whose acts bring shame to the University of Missouri.”
Throughout the month of February, legislative pressure on the institution remained intense, with the higher education appropriations committee of the House of Representatives approving a spending plan that included a 2 percent increase for all state colleges and universities except the University of Missouri. The chair of the committee explained the decision as follows: “Lawmakers and their constituents . . . want Melissa Click, an assistant professor of communications, to be fired for impeding news coverage of the protests, and they want university leadership to stand up to the protesters.” Students “are there to learn, not to protest all day long,” he added. “I thought we learned that lesson in the ’60s. Obviously we haven’t. When the curators didn’t immediately do something about that problem, that was kind of the last stroke for me.”Turning to the Association's findings, perhaps sanity will return. "My activism is an extension of my scholarship" is the wrong stance for an academician to take, particularly if the academician gets to enjoy greater latitude in what to teach and what to investigate than educated professionals in other lines of work.
On February 17, in the middle of a contentious legislative hearing on university funding, state senator Paul Weiland handed Chancellor Foley a written complaint against Professor Click in response to the chancellor’s statement that no disciplinary action had been taken against the communication professor because no formal complaint had been filed.
While we doubt whether Professor Click’s actions, even when viewed in the most unfavorable light, were directly and substantially related to her professional fitness as a teacher or researcher, we recognize that some faculty members might come to a different conclusion. Therefore, we cannot say that a reasonably open-minded review of the case by an appropriately constituted faculty hearing body might not have produced a conclusion similar to that reached by the curators, although it might also have yielded a verdict at the other extreme. A likely outcome of such a process could also have been the recommendation of a sanction short of termination. But the critical point, discussed below, is that such a process—mandated by MU’s own rules—did not take place.Thus, the litigation is likely to continue, as the Association is unlikely to resign itself to legislators mumbling "who will rid me of this troublesome ..." within earshot of trustees.
By dismissing Professor Click absent the affordance of an adjudicative hearing by an elected faculty body and in disregard of other procedural rights guaranteed under both AAUP policies and MU Collected Rules and Regulations, the board of curators violated fundamental principles of academic due process. That violation was not mitigated but only worsened by the curators’ employment of outside counsel to conduct a supposedly objective investigation characterized as an adequate substitute for a faculty dismissal hearing.It's going to be up to the faculty, however, to reclaim its standing as stewards of the university.
Like several other cases recently investigated by the Association (for example, at the Universities of Illinois, Iowa, and Virginia), this case involves unilateral action and unwarranted interference in academic matters by a governing board. The Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, jointly formulated by the AAUP, the American Council on Education, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, provides as follows: “The governing board of an institution of higher education, while maintaining a general overview, entrusts the conduct of administration to the administrative officers—the president and the deans—and the conduct of teaching and research to the faculty. The board should undertake appropriate self-limitation.”Unfortunately, the faculty has surrendered too much authority to administrators, including to trustees, often being complicit in the usurpation because it appears to be in the service of some Greater Goal, and that Greater Goal looks like a finger in the eyes of normal Americans.
In this light, the establishment of a University of Missouri System Review Commission has ominous implications. While some hope the commission will focus mainly on mismanagement and administrative bloat, its authorization to review the entire system—“including but not limited to the system’s collected rules and regulations, administrative structure, campus structure, auxiliary enterprises structure, degree programs, research activities, and diversity programs”—could open the door to interference in curriculum, scholarship, and faculty status, including the tenure system. Moreover, that the commission’s members will be appointed by leaders of the legislative majority in both houses, who have been among those most critical not only of system leadership but also of the faculty, does not bode well.Yes, that's a threat to shared governance.
It is therefore unlikely that Professor Click’s dismissal will be the final instance of legislative interference in the operations of the University of Missouri. As one MU professor wrote, “In the wake of Professor Click’s firing, politicians and others have only stepped up their demands that the university make changes in exchange for continued funding, and it’s clear that something like the evisceration of tenure that has been achieved in Wisconsin is the long-term goal.”
The faculty council leaders with whom we met told us that tension between the legislature and the university is nothing new. However, they argued that adoption of term limits a few years ago and the intensified polarization of state and national politics have greatly exacerbated the situation. We therefore conclude that not only was there undue political interference in the case of Professor Click, but that the threat of such interference continuing and even worsening is genuine.
But faculty is not without complicity in the abdication of its stewardship, or in the breaking of the social contract inherent in the pursuit of trendy scholarship and left perspectives, to the exclusion of the controversies, or of the possibility that in the past three thousand years we got a few things right.