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Tenured radicals, or free-speech abusers, 101

Case study

Ward Churchill,

University of Colorado

Discussion question

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Should the university oust Churchill, a tenured professor, after he writes an essay comparing some victims of the World Trade Center attacks to Holocaust facilitator Adolf Eichmann?1

Short answer

The 1st Amendment protects the professor’s job, but the flap over his screed triggers secondary attacks on his integrity.

Footnote

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1As “technocrats of an empire” fueling “engines of profit,” Churchill argued, white-collar workers were “little Eichmanns” (enablers of evil) and inevitable targets.

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Case study

J. Donald Silva,

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University of New Hampshire

Discussion question

Did the university act wrongly in firing Silva, an English professor, for sexual harassment when female students in 1992 complained about offensive comments 1 that he made in class?

Short answer

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Yes. a A U.S. District Court judge ordered Silva’s reinstatement, finding “legitimate pedagogical reasons” for the professor’s statements and that the university had trampled on free speech.

Footnote

1 Discussing similes, he paraphrased a dancer’s description of her vocation: “Belly dancing is like Jell-O on a plate with a vibrator under the plate.”

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Case study

Ignacio Chapela,

UC Berkeley

Discussion question

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Did Chapela, who taught in the department of environmental science, policy and management, commit career suicide in denouncing his employer for its ties to a private corporation?

Short answer

Yes ... and no. He sued the school in April 2005, claiming it had thwarted his tenure because he lambasted its deal with Novartis to do agricultural biotech research. 1 He ultimately won tenure.

Footnote

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1Chapela co-wrote a study published in the journal Nature that concluded that DNA from genetically engineered corn had contaminated native maize in Mexico.

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Case study

Lawrence Summers,

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Harvard University

Discussion question

Do academics universally support academic freedom when it involves questions 1 about female scientists?

Short answer

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Not hardly. In March , members of Harvard’s arts and science faculty passed a motion of “lack of confidence” in the leadership of university President Summers after his controversial speech.

Footnote

1 " ... there are issues of intrinsic aptitude ... reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination.... “

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Case study

Jared Sakren,

Arizona State University

Discussion question

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Do academic freedom policies protect a Shakespeare-centric professor’s right to exclude postmodern feminist/ethnic canon from his course syllabus?

Short answer

Yes, the university said after agreeing to pay back wages to Sakren, a drama prof, 1 in a 1999 legal settlement. He claimed he lost his job for refusing to teach “Betty the Yeti: An Eco-Fable.”

Footnote

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1Among the former students who publicly supported Sakren’s adherence to the classics was Annette Bening. He also taught Frances McDormand and Val Kilmer.


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