Idaho State University appears to have joined the emerging trend of firing professors who criticize university policies. In August, Habib Sadid, an award-winning engineering professor, was charged with "being personally abusive and disruptive." Sadid was suspended and barred from campus. According to the Idaho State Journal, ISU President Arthur Vailas placed Sadid on paid leave and will make a final determination about Sadid’s employment.
Last week, a 4-1 majority of a faculty appeal board found that there was insufficient evidence to terminate Sadid’s employment. Sadid, who is tenured, can be fired for only professional incompetence, a felony conviction, or moral turpitude.
Sadid has blogged and spoken out about the administration’s poor leadership, including leading an effort for a vote of no confidence in former ISU President Richard Bowen. He also filed a lawsuit against ISU in 2008, alleging speech deprivation, breach of employment contract, and character defamation. Although it is unclear exactly why Sadid is being punished, New West Politics reports that
Richard Jacobsen, dean of the ISU College of Engineering, claims that the actions of Sadid and another faculty member fit the "classical definition of insubordination, coupled with a complete lack of collegiality." Furthermore, the dean maintains that the problems in the college are not due to a "lack of leadership but more one of followership."
Initiating a process to fire a tenured professor for lack of "followership" runs counter to the ideals of academic freedom that inspire new scholarship and thinking. Sadid claims that some of the charges against him, including outbursts at faculty meetings, are laughable, perhaps explaining why the faculty appeal board found insufficient evidence. While the rights of faculty members to speak out on issues affecting the university are not utterly without limit, it is hard to see how being fired for a lack of "collegiality" after 22 years of (apparently sufficiently collegial) service comports with the American tradition of academic freedom.
Sadid’s future is uncertain, but he remains committed to free expression. He wrote to the Idaho State Journal that, "[r]egardless of what happens, I will continue to speak out against the misuse of power, because I believe that is the only way we can move forward as an institution, community, and country." Well stated.