Freezing Free Speech at University of Alaska Fairbanks

By March 27, 2007

When professors and administrators in the accounting department of University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) began debating the renewal of their program’s accreditation, tenured associate professor Charlie Sparks weighed in, advocating for faculty self-governance and changes in the division’s structure.
 
Sparks now claims that expressing his views on campus won him a one-way trip to the UAF’s Bristol Bay campus—located in the much smaller, more remote town of Dillingham—via reassignment from School of Management Dean Wayne Marr.
 
According to signed statements from two students, Marr boasted that exiling a tenured but problematic professor to a remote campus in a distant area was a way to get around not being able to fire him. Without so much as asking other professors if they were interested in being reassigned to Bristol Bay, and despite Sparks’ repeated resistance to the reassignment, Marr chose Sparks for the job.
 
The relocation—which separated Sparks from his three children and incapacitated mother—came with a $46,000 price tag, since Sparks’s belongings had to be airlifted in to Dillingham due to icy and desolate terrain that is not readily accessible or negotiable by ground travel.
 
After filing a grievance through the university’s administrative process and receiving no redress for the administration’s misstep, Sparks filed suit against the University of Alaska, the State of Alaska, and Dean Marr.
 
While the outcome of the case remains unknown, one thing appears clear: this is an attempt to silence Sparks for criticizing administrative practices and a warning to those who wish to speak out against the administration on campus. Brrrrr…talk about a chilling effect.
 
We will be watching this case.

Schools: University of Alaska Fairbanks