Naomi Schaefer Riley in ‘Chronicle’ on Academic Freedom and Courage

By June 28, 2011

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a captivating feature on the death of Princeton University lecturer Antonio Calvo, who committed suicide in April after being relieved of his faculty duties and forbidden from entering the campus or contacting colleagues or students pending an investigation of his alleged "troubling and inappropriate behavior." Robin Wilson’s article describes the criticism by several students and faculty of the secrecy surrounding the process. A number of Princeton faculty refused to speak with the Chronicle, or would only do so anonymously, due to fear of retaliation. This prompted a critical response from Naomi Schaefer Riley, whose short entry states:

[T]he most revealing quote in the piece was this:

"To have this intrusion of a corporate-style firing come into the halls of Princeton was shocking in its brutality," says one tenured professor of languages at Princeton who, concerned about the reaction the remarks might draw from administrators and colleagues, asked not to be named.

Oh come on. If tenure doesn’t even allow you to make this remark openly, then what is its purpose? You’re so worried your colleagues might disagree with you that you’ll only provide this thought anonymously? Where is the courage? Where is the dissent? Where are the protections of academic freedom?

Many FIRE cases have been invaluably aided by brave faculty unafraid of earning the wrath of their administrations for speaking up for what they believe is right. Unfortunately, such brave voices are hard to come by, even if they are protected from retaliation by tenure and our basic notions of free speech and academic freedom. With the right to speak comes the right to stay silent, of course. I do hope, however, that university faculty know that FIRE (not to mention the American Association of University Professors) stands ready to help those retaliated against for exercising their speech rights.