We Are All Bunnies

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.

10 thoughts on “We Are All Bunnies

  1. Good for you, Lizzie!

    On Tue, Feb 9, 2016 at 2:41 PM, Tales Told Out of School wrote:

    > talesoutofschool posted: “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 bel” >


  2. While you’re absolutely right about checking policies and signing that petition, and probably also right about not having seen this coming, let me just add that if you all have not been listening to your adjunct colleagues sound the alarm for the last decade, that’s why you’re surprised. Welcome to our world.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. A few points. First, faculty should join their university’s AAUP chapter, if they are not already members. Second, faculty at public universities should remember that their freedom of expression is protected by the First Amendment.

    Third, universities can improve upon the promises of free expression that they currently make. Faculty handbooks and collective bargaining agreements at many universities, including my own, adapt their rules on academic freedom from the 1940 AAUP “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” although the section of this statement dealing with academic freedom is easily read out of context. Paragraph three of this section is sometimes misinterpreted to say that faculty may be subject to “institutional censorship or discipline” if they violate the “special obligations” that are listed (the obligations to “be accurate,” to “exercise appropriate restraint,” to “show respect for the opinions of others,” and to “make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution”). Even if this were a valid reading, it would remain a dangerous one. I should add that the AAUP has repeatedly made clear that a faculty member may be dismissed for violating the obligations noted in paragraph three only if the violations indicate that the faculty member is unfit for his or her position


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