Thursday, February 02, 2012

Idiot School Decision

Not long ago, I was chair of a Communication and Theater program at a small, religious school in the northeastern U.S. The students were great and the faculty collegial. The administration was another matter. It wasn't that they weren't nice people (except for a couple). It was that the place wanted change, but they didn't want conflict. I don't mean destructive conflict. No one wants that. I mean any kind of conflict. If you disagreed over the substance of an argument, that meant you were a disagreeable person. I quickly fell into that category. How change was going to occur in that kind of atmosphere was beyond me.

I've moved on, but I guess my former place of employment has not. They just suspended a long-time, popular professor over his assertion of his right to free expression. It began with his posting editorial cartoons in the doors of his office, and now they object to a satirical video he did about the administration of the school. I've seen the video. It's, to say the least, "edgy" and certainly controversial. Some might say that it is in bad taste. But, the protection of free speech means that all speech -- unless it presents a clear and present danger (like yelling "fire" in a crowded theater) -- is protected, no matter where the speech falls on the taste continuum.

My former school is clearly in the wrong here, though I fear that ultimately my friend will be forced into retirement -- albeit with some sort of financial settlement (I really don't think the school wants to fight this in court, and I don't think my friend wants to incur the legal expenses associated with his defense). I have been in academia for more than 30 years and know that if an institution wants to get rid of you, you are gone, no matter if you are clearly in the right.

It's a sad commentary on the state of free expression in the academic world.


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