AAUP censures Linfield University for blatant academic freedom violations

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AAUP censures Linfield University for blatant academic freedom violations

Linfield College sign

Linfield University has been formally censured by the American Association of University Professors for retaliating against faculty critics. (David Krug / Alamy.com)

This spring, as I wrote for Newsdesk, the American Association of University Professors issued a damning report on Linfield University’s abrupt firing of tenured Shakespeare scholar Daniel Pollack-Pelzner in response to his criticisms of the university’s leadership. The report seemed all but certain to set the AAUP on a path to censure Linfield at its annual meeting. That censure vote, to no one’s surprise and Linfield’s discredit, is now official.

As a reminder of how Linfield put itself in this position, here’s a brief summary of Pollack-Pelzner’s case from my earlier post:

Linfield summarily fired Pollack-Pelzner last April after he publicly criticized Linfield’s response to reports accusing members of its Board of Trustees of sexual misconduct, and accused members of the Linfield administration, including its president, Miles K. Davis, of making remarks with antisemitic undertones. When interviewed by Linfield’s investigators, Davis denied making such remarks, so investigators concluded that it was a “he said, he said situation.” However, Davis later admitted in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education that he had, in fact, made a remark to Pollack-Pelzner about “Jewish noses.” (Linfield has since quietly deleted its “facts” page asserting that there was “no way to prove that any such remarks were made.”)

Pollack-Pelzner aired his criticisms in a thread on Twitter after he became convinced that his efforts to redress these concerns in his capacity as Linfield’s faculty trustee had proven fruitless. His criticisms tapped into a larger discontent among faculty with Linfield’s leadership: Just over a week before Pollack-Pelzner was fired, Linfield’s Arts & Sciences faculty decisively voted no-confidence in Davis’ leadership.  

In announcing Pollack-Pelzner’s firing, Linfield claimed he made “false and defamatory statements,” and an all-campus email sent by the provost made reference to “serious breaches of [Pollack-Pelzner’s] duty to the institution.” 

As the AAUP’s report detailed, Linfield put forth three basic defenses for Pollack-Pelzner’s utterly process-free termination:

  • that Pollack-Pelzner wasn’t owed the requisite due process because he was fired for cause; 
  • that the normal due process required of faculty terminations didn’t apply because Pollack-Pelzner was fired only in his capacity as an employee, not a faculty member; and
  • that the faculty handbook outlining Linfield’s due process obligations was inapplicable, because Linfield’s president, Miles K. Davis, hadn’t approved it.

If these arguments sound like rampant nonsense, it’s for good reason — they are, and the AAUP methodically dismantled them, writing that president Davis’ cavalier treatment of Pollack-Pelzner’s due process rights, in violation of the AAUP’s recommended standards and Linfield’s written policies, “suggests not only indifference to his presidential responsibilities but incompetence.” 

If Linfield can make a hash of a free speech matter so elementary, it seems clear there are real, systemic dysfunctions to be remedied.

While the AAUP’s censure centered on Pollack-Pelzner’s case, it’s worth noting Linfield’s free speech problems didn’t end there. This spring, we’ve written about Linfield’s baffling investigation of English professor Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt over a social media post that harmlessly critiqued Linfield’s business department. Linfield hired an outside investigator to look into the post, badly misread a recent Supreme Court opinion on the First Amendment to back up its case, and ultimately (after two letters from FIRE) dropped its investigation without ever telling Dutt-Ballerstadt the basis for the investigation in the first place. 

If Linfield can make a hash of a free speech matter so elementary, it seems clear there are real, systemic dysfunctions to be remedied, especially if it hopes to be removed from the AAUP’s list of censured institutions. For the sake of its reputation and its ability to attract strong faculty candidates, it should want to put in the effort.

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