I’m sitting at my desk today watching the reactions and commentary about the situation at Mount St. Mary pour in via Twitter and Facebook. In case you haven’t read about it yet: here’s the latest. Those of us who recognize the value of tenure, still believe there is a place for respectful disagreement in higher ed, and want better things for our own students and institutions are a bit speechless (which would be a wise strategy if you were at Mount St. Mary). Horrified and shocked and saddened seem the most common emotions.
I’m guessing that this drama isn’t over yet. I expect lawsuits, alumni protest (at least the president can’t fire them), and hopefully, some response from the college’s Board of Trustees. But in the meantime I think we faculty and administrators at other institutions need to do three things.
The first is to engage in some self-education. What are the policies and procedures at your institution governing speech? In one of the first ripples in the drama at Mount St. Mary it became clear that the university had a policy that “all university employees must clear any communications with reporters first with the university spokesman.” What is YOUR university’s policy in these matters? Perhaps there isn’t a policy, which is probably a good thing. But my PSA to you is to find out.
The second two items hinge on the assumption that in the current higher ed climate no one is immune from these kind of actions. We can shake our heads and wring our hands and say how messed up things are at Mount St. Mary, but I bet our colleagues there didn’t see this coming, either.
So the second item is to become the allies of vulnerable individuals at your institution who might end up in the firing line. A particularly troubling part of the recent developments is that the untenured facultly advisor to the student newspaper, which leaked the president’s emails, was one of the faculty members fired. I’m not sure what sort of things might have protected this individual, but having senior, tenured members of the faculty recognize his vulnerability would be a good place to start.
The third item is to write and tweet and post about this as much as possible. And sign this petition. We need to recognize not just that this could happen to us wherever we are, but that we need to be in solidarity with our colleagues at other institutions. It is easier to pick off faculty like this if the perception is that they are isolated. And I say this to my fellow administrators, too. We need to say that this kind of management is unacceptable and an insult to the enterprise of higher education.