Victory at SUNY Fredonia: Professor Promoted, No ‘Prior Consent Committee’ Required

August 14, 2006

BUFFALO, N.Y., August 14, 2006—In a dramatic turn of events, the State University of New York at Fredonia (SUNY Fredonia) has promoted the embattled Professor Stephen Kershnar to full professor. In April, SUNY Fredonia shamefully denied Kershnar’s promotion because he had publicly disagreed with the university’s policies and practices. Less than three weeks after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) brought this abuse of free speech and academic freedom to public attention, the administration reversed its decision and promoted Kershnar.

“This is a tremendous victory not only for Stephen Kershnar, but also for professors at institutions across America,” stated FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “Such unconstitutional attempts to dominate and control professors’ right to dissent must not be tolerated at our nation’s colleges and universities.”

As FIRE reported last month, Kershnar was nominated for promotion to full professor with abundant support from his colleagues and superiors. SUNY Fredonia President Dennis L. Hefner nevertheless denied the promotion. Hefner explained that although Kershnar’s “teaching has been described as excellent,” he would not be promoted because of his “deliberate and repeated misrepresentations of campus policies and procedures…to the media,” which Hefner claimed “impugned the reputation of SUNY Fredonia.” The supposed “misrepresentations” referred to Kershnar’s bi-weekly opinion columns in the local Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer and his public criticism of a student conduct policy. The university presented absolutely no evidence, however, that Kershnar ever actually misrepresented the university.

When Hefner suggested to Kershnar that refraining from such statements in the future would help his chances for promotion, Kershnar offered to submit his writings to prior review for a year. Hefner suggested instead that Kershnar sign an even harsher contract that would be in effect for an indefinite period of time and that would require Kershnar to get “unanimous consent” from a university committee for all writing regarding the university to ensure “the avoidance of any future misrepresentations” of campus practices.

Kershnar refused Hefner’s illiberal and unconstitutional arrangement and contacted FIRE. On July 7, FIRE wrote a letter to Hefner criticizing his actions. Hefner responded in a letter dated July 20 by upholding the denial of promotion to Kershnar.

FIRE brought the events at SUNY Fredonia to public awareness on July 24 and media attention quickly followed suit, with articles appearing in the New York Post, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Inside Higher Ed. Within days, SUNY Fredonia administrators informed Kershnar that they would reevaluate his promotion.

On August 11, Kershnar received a certified letter informing him that his promotion was approved. There are no conditions whatsoever attached to his promotion, and he will begin the fall semester as a full professor.

“We are very pleased that SUNY Fredonia has seen the error of its ways,” stated Lukianoff. “SUNY Fredonia was violating the First Amendment, its own contractual promises, and the canons of academic freedom. We hope that in the future universities will consider their duty to protect the marketplace of ideas before they set out to quash dissent.”

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve freedom of expression at SUNY Fredonia can be viewed at thefire.org/fredonia.

CONTACT:

Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; greg_lukianoff@thefire.org

Dennis L. Hefner, President, SUNY Fredonia: 716-673-3456; hefner@fredonia.edu

John R. Ryan, Chancellor, SUNY: 518-443-5355; chancellor@suny.edu

Schools: State University of New York – Fredonia Cases: State University of New York at Fredonia: Professor Punished for Public Expression