Northwestern University Professor Resigns Over Censorship

August 26, 2015

By Meghan Keenan at Red Alert Politics

A Northwestern University professor resigned after a decade of work, citing an ongoing censorship fight with university administrators.

“An institution in which the faculty are afraid to offend the dean is not an institution where I can in good conscience do my work,” Alice Dreger wrote in a letter of resignation submitted on Monday to Northwestern Provost Daniel Linzer. “Such an institution is not a ‘university,’ in the truest sense of that word.”

Dreger, a bioethics professor at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine and guest editor of the faculty-produced publication Atrium, fought with administrators to publish a controversial issue of the journal that included a story about hospital nurses performing oral sex on handicapped patients.

“I could not believe my own dean would censor an article because it recounted a consensual blowjob between a nurse and a patient in 1978,” she said.

Administrators only agreed to publish the issue when Dreger threatened to go public with the censorship.

After “Head Nurses” was published, a new “editorial committee” was formed with representatives from the dean’s office and PR department who were appointed to approve all content published by Atrium going forward.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote a letter to Northwestern in May, concerned that administrator’s would be managing Atrium‘s content. FIRE did not receive a response from Northwestern President Morton Shapiro or Feinberg School of Medicine Dean Eric Neilson.

Dreger wrote in her resignation letter that she stayed silent for as long as she did out of fear for her program colleague’s jobs, but said she is no longer able to work in such circumstances.

“I had hoped until very recently that Provost Linzer would come around on the censorship issue,” Dreger told The Daily Northwestern. “Provost Linzer made clear he wasn’t going to acknowledge the censorship problem in a way that would signify we could work without fear of offending the dean.”

Dreger expressed gratitude to the university for supporting her work in the past, and said she will miss working for “the real Northwestern University.”

“My most recent book on academic freedom was made possible because I came to Northwestern University,” Dreger wrote. “It happened because, as I took on one controversial issue after another…university leaders defended my academic freedom.”

Dreger said she will continue to write and speak about the topics covered in her recently published book defending intellectual freedom, “Galileo’s Middle Finger.”

“[I will] continue my work as an historian of anatomy, as a writer, and as an (im)patient advocate,” Dreger wrote on her blog. “I’m fortunate that the work I do requires very little resources and does not require a university affiliation.”

Schools: Northwestern University