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A college professor has been rebuked
November 11, 2002 6:49 AM   Subscribe

A college professor has been rebuked for sending an abusive email to an Air Force cadet. Was the professor out of line for his rant, or is "academic freedom" under attack?
posted by Durwood (60 comments total)

 
What, precisely, does this have to do with "academic freedom"? Based on the text of the email, it appears he was consulted in a professional capacity as a member of the faculty and he chose to respond in an utterly unprofessional manner. That, combined with the fact that he's a professor who's borderline illiterate, add up to a "fire him and move on" verdict fo me.
posted by JollyWanker at 7:03 AM on November 11, 2002


The e-mails and responses with a some links to the professor's website. If the professor was so eager to share his rantings, he should have gone to the forum that he was asked to help advertise. Either way, the professor ends up looking like a jackass.
posted by Frank Grimes at 7:06 AM on November 11, 2002


Early last week Kirstein issued an apology saying he did not mean to "impugn the character'' of the cadet. "I should have written him in a more thoughtful and contemplative manner,'' he wrote.
posted by thomcatspike at 7:07 AM on November 11, 2002


The professor should be fired just for his horrid use of the English language. No professor should write that poorly.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:07 AM on November 11, 2002


First of all, I don't see what this has to do with academic freedom. He's a college professor, but that doesn't make everything he says or all opinions he holds academic. This is more of an administrative problem than an academic problem. If he were teaching his students that the U.S. was immoral as part of his Political Science course and he was rebuked for it then this would be about academic freedom.

Second, as an administrative issue it probably was out of line. He's entitled to his opinion, he's even entitled to make administrative decisions on his opinion (at least to the level he's allowed - he's a professor, not the dean or university president) but he could have expressed himself with more tact.

Third, academic freedom is heavily under attack, but again I don't feel that this story is an example of it. Research in cryptography, for instance, is effectively weakened due to the DMCA. A bonified researcher can't publish research on certain algorithms since it would make corporations upset.
posted by substrate at 7:08 AM on November 11, 2002


This has nothing to do with "academic freedom". The professor has not tried to use that as a shield, so you should not try to injure that very necessary construct of higher education by wrongful association.

The response was of course an overreaction and unprofessional. I believe that some sort of punishment is due, but certainly not firing. [joke] Maybe he should have to be the faculty representative for the Young Republicans for a semester. [/joke]

What I read "between the lines" from that report is that the history professor took it as a personal attack or goading because he considered his beliefs to be well known. In other words, he thought the cadet was purposefully baiting him by asking an objector to help advertise military recruitment.

What is much more likely is that the cadet just sent an e-mail to Faculty Member A with no idea of his political or ideological leaning.

The professor apologized, the cadet and the academy accepted. Appropriate humility and a classy response.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:19 AM on November 11, 2002


The prof an ass, for sure, but if tenured he certainly can not be fired for the e-mail, and for the school to do so would bring a lawsuit the prof would win.

This guy not alone among the many jerks in our universities. But then there are many of them overseas as well.
Not a sufficent cause for firing.
posted by Postroad at 7:26 AM on November 11, 2002


My issue with the professor is: Nonviolence begins in the soul.

His retort was spiritually and socially and emotionally violent. How can he expect peace to be achieved if he himself cannot be peaceable?
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:30 AM on November 11, 2002


He's taught history and political science for 28 years. I wonder what his classes are like. I disagree that he should be fired though. Everybody has bad days. Everybody has said something out of anger that they later regret. He's a poo-poo head for sure but who hasn't been at one time or another?
posted by foxyfoxinsox at 7:40 AM on November 11, 2002


Yeah, foxy, that's what astonished me. The guy is a full professor, not some splenetic grad student in the grips of PC rage.

You go on the prof's personal page and there's all this happy horseshit about challenging the status quo and supporting revisionist thinking. What do you think your chances would be with this fellow if your revisionism included challenging any part of the hate-Amerika leftism this guy so obviously embraces. Care to have him on your tenure committee? Didn't think so.

But I digress. As someone out there in Blogistan noted, what's good about this episode is how quickly the St. Xavier administration responded, forcing that week-kneed apology out of Dr. Kirstein. Good for their president.
posted by mojohand at 7:58 AM on November 11, 2002


Agreed foxy. It's always a little surprising to me how knee-jerk people are when it's professors or teachers up for discussion. In no other profession are calls of 'fire him!' raised so easily and with so little consideration or thought.
posted by josh at 8:05 AM on November 11, 2002


In no other profession are calls of 'fire him!' raised so easily and with so little consideration or thought. In any normal profession he would've already been fired. Look at it this way: An employee works at a large company. When a client(since that's what a student is) politely asks him for help in his official capacity as an expert in his job, the employee insults the customer, calls him a baby killer, and does it in such a way as to insure that the company's reputation will be maligned as a result. Any boss would fire an employee like that without a second thought.
posted by unreason at 8:21 AM on November 11, 2002


It's always a little surprising to me how knee-jerk people are when it's professors or teachers up for discussion.

I've noticed the same weird phenomenon, but it always seems to come from people that have a problem with state-run education, or college in general.
posted by mathowie at 8:27 AM on November 11, 2002


The professor could've simply gone with a response like this...

I'm sorry, I'd rather not help, as I object to what the U.S. military is doing...

...and the whole thing would've passed without comment.

The prof is just more evidence for the observation that "left" means "people with whom you often agree, but can't stand", while "right" means "people with whom you often disagree, but would gladly have over for dinner."

The prof shouldn't be fired, but he should probably be required to attend some kind of remedial writing class.
posted by AccordionGuy at 8:32 AM on November 11, 2002


A little strong maybe - by why should he agree with the miltary ( as is the underlying message of much here)?
posted by lerrup at 8:34 AM on November 11, 2002


Any boss would fire an employee like that without a second thought

Keep in mind that I'm not defending the guy, the email was beyond moronic, but in a company things are different.

The profit that is required to keep the company alive is negatively affected by a psycho employee like this guy. Sure he could have been fired from a desk job if this is how he responded to a customer, but not for anything more noble than his response would lose a customer (or many customers), and make the company lose money. If you're causing a business to lose money, you shouldn't be an employee, the whole point is to help them make more money than they pay you. But an academic job doesn't work quite the same way.
posted by mathowie at 8:36 AM on November 11, 2002


I agree with AccordionGuy in that there was a tactful way to do this, and the professor failed miserably at it.

I mean really, how much thought does it take to not hit send after writing that kind of garbage? What if the student is writing to this particular professor because he respects the guy's opinions? Really, all he needed was a simple "I cannot endorse this event because of my personal opinions on the military and the current actions of our country. Please, take a moment to look at my personal webpage as it explains why I have this stance."

Instead we get this complete garbage. Really, this reminds me of people who claim to be protesting abortion by standing outside Planned Parenthood and yelling "slut" at women who walk in.
posted by mikeh at 8:49 AM on November 11, 2002


F.I.R.E. would no doubt regard this as an open-and-shut First Amendment case, given their track record of defending the rights of both students and faculty to be insulting (and sometimes unprofessional). He got taken out to the woodshed by the administration, which is the appropriate response to this kind of professorial idiocy.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:50 AM on November 11, 2002


No war, no air force cowards who bomb countries with AAA, without possibility of retaliation.

Um... AAA is anti-aircraft artillery, used to shoot down airplanes -- it's not dropped from them. You'd think that an "expert" about Vietnam, the Cold War, and National Security Policy would know a mauser rifle from a javelin.

Semiliterate *and* ignorant. Can't imagine why the professor hasn't started his own weblog. :)
posted by ptermit at 8:52 AM on November 11, 2002


In the business world, the professor would've gotten disciplined no matter whether he sent that to a client, a vendor, or pretty much anybody else, as that sort of communication hurts the company's public image, if it is condoned. For better or for worse, in cases where the action created a public furor, that discipline needs to be made public to the offended parties.

I don't see that what happened to this professor is unfair, or unexpected.
posted by mosch at 8:53 AM on November 11, 2002


Of course the professor is tenured, and there are no grounds to fire him. What he did is not worse than being a terrible teacher or unproductive researcher, both of which are much greater sins in academia than writing an obnoxious rant, but those sins won't get you fired if you have tenure.

At the same time, many of us sometimes need to prevail upon the academic expertise of a professor whom we have never met, and we need to make that "cold call" or e-mail asking for help or additional references. When we have no connection to someone outside of similar research interests, it is a relief to get a polite, helpful reply from someone who's excited by your ideas or, at the very least, a polite brush-off and a reference to someone who might be more helpful. It is jerks like this who make our lives much more difficult because even if they can't help us, we don't expect to get yelled at for having the temerity for trying to do our jobs.
posted by deanc at 9:01 AM on November 11, 2002


If you're causing a business to lose money, you shouldn't be an employee, the whole point is to help them make more money than they pay you. But an academic job doesn't work quite the same way.

But an outburst like this would probably anger a lot of prospective students and their parents, alumni who donate to keep a school running, prospective corporate sponsors, and many others. Enrollment drops, donations drop, sponsorships drop: what happens to the school?

Universities are much more than businesses, but they still are affected economically by stupid actions like these.
posted by maudlin at 9:02 AM on November 11, 2002


I really don't understand all of the anger. This didn't take place in the business world, so that is an irrelevant model. I will be sending my "wide eyed kids" to college soon, and I would hope that if they received an email of this ilk, they'd simply delete and move on. As for the professor's representing the school, I was under the impression that this isn't the case (and that schools are always struggling with their fringe faculty members).
posted by banjotwang at 9:08 AM on November 11, 2002


My co-workers think I'm crazy and paranoid because I remind them over and over to never respond to an angry letter or email with a reply email. If you're going to say something controversial, or there is a possibility someone could be pissed off about what you're statements, I insist that they do it in writing - hard copy. And it is for this very reason. It's so easy to push that forward button. So easy to cut and paste. Once you hit that send button, you've relinquished control over your words and they begin a life of their own. It has the added benefit of requiring a little more time, which may save them from doing something rash (e.g. referring to an air force cadet as a baby killer).
posted by pejamo at 9:11 AM on November 11, 2002


Oh newsflash: Professor calls U.S. soldiers imperialist baby killers. Like doesn't this sort of thing happen every week? I though that viewpoint was the norm in American universities.

And Maudlin, wouldn't a university's enrollment be hurt more if it had a reputation for firing professors for saying anything controversial? You'd think a university were you could get away with saying anything would be attractive students.
posted by bobo123 at 9:15 AM on November 11, 2002


OK, I should have been more clear: I didn't intend to argue that the professor should be fired, but that his actions were serious enough to require an apology. It's one thing to be a researcher and lecturer who can passionately declare your beliefs: it's another thing to be an abusive correspondent. I wouldn't feel attracted to a university that shrugs off that kind of behaviour.
posted by maudlin at 9:36 AM on November 11, 2002


ptermit: the version i saw said:

No war, no air force cowards who bomb countries without AAA (emphasis added)

I guess his point is that it's unfair to bomb someone if they don't have a chance to shoot you down too.

I'm not sure this clarification makes him any less ignorant.

This episode does demonstrate the power of the internet. All of the pressure on the prof/school seems to have preceded any coverage in the mainstream media.
posted by probablysteve at 9:40 AM on November 11, 2002


This episode does demonstrate the power of the internet.

The article is from November 9th, any updates?
posted by thomcatspike at 9:51 AM on November 11, 2002


probablysteve: "Without" would make a whole lot more sense, but all the versions I see on the web have "with." Where did you see the "without" version?

In any case, "without" is probably what he meant -- and it's almost, but not quite, as ignorant. (Other than Vatican City, I'm having a hard time naming a country that doesn't have AAA of some sort. Even the Palestinian Authority, not a country, has AAA and, better still, SAMs.)
posted by ptermit at 10:05 AM on November 11, 2002


ptermit: without

enter and scroll down a bit.

oh, and it might not be safe for work.
posted by probablysteve at 10:40 AM on November 11, 2002


probablysteve: Thanks... very interesting. I think EHOWA's the only one that has "without" -- the others that come up under a search of "Re: Academy Assembly" or "aggressive baby-killing tactics" all have "with." I suspect EHOWA made a typo, but that typo reflected what Kirstein *meant* to say. (EHOWA also misspelled Kirstein in the headers, so I suspect them of careless typography rather than the others.)
posted by ptermit at 10:50 AM on November 11, 2002


This is a case of a stranger soliciting a donation of time or expertise from the professor. Solicitors call me all the time for donations and I feel no obligation to be polite to them no matter how "polite" their request. I just hang up. The professor should be embarrassed for his unnecessary rudeness but it certainly isn't an issue of academic freedom.
posted by JackFlash at 11:15 AM on November 11, 2002


And of course the cadet could have simply hit the delete button and moved on, but instead chose to make an issue of his rejection by forwarding the email around -- not a very admirable response either.
posted by JackFlash at 11:33 AM on November 11, 2002


> Oh newsflash: Professor calls U.S. soldiers imperialist baby killers.

Exactly, this is one of those cases where you can say something but for some reason you cannot say it to someone's face. The media can Bush a liar, but never can they go up to him and say, "Sir, you are a liar." If a reporter did that he would be canned in a second.

I don't understand this distinction. To be fair, I'll defend the professor's "baby killer" line. In the event of a war there are civilian casualties, some of which will be babies. He is accurate in that way, but he cannot say "baby killer" for some reason. Yeah, its hyperbole, but in a sense it is accurate and if that is how he sees the military then he has the right to his opinion. The same way the cadet can speak about the benefits of the military the shin-dig he's throwing.

What I'm seeing here is that a teacher must be nice, which is anti-1st amendment. You have the right to be rude. It may not be becoming of his position, but as speech its protected and somewhat accurate, if not very opinionated. Funny howeasy it is to defend speech which is nice and fluffy, but when its mean and sarcastic then suddenly something must be done for the sake of society.
posted by skallas at 12:12 PM on November 11, 2002


I dunno - here's how I see it:

A professor represents a University. They are free to research and say whatever they want, however it needs to be clear that their highly controversial ideas are not related to the University. For instance, I personally could say that I thought the US were imperialist baby killers (I don't, but hypothetically), but I couldn't sign it "Kevin Bryan, Harvard University" or "Kevin Bryan, Coca-Cola Enterprises".

At my university, an editorial cartoon was published that said "George Warbucks Bush's New American Flag" and the flag made into a target. Holding that view is fine.

However, it was signed with the Professor's name and University. What this implies is that the University supports the kneejerk, Spartacist, unacademic (that is, emotion-less, fact-less, radio talk show style argumentation) view of the world. It implies that those professors, beyond simply having those views, are teaching those views in the same unacademic matter. And that, I know, would make me cautious about attending a school.

Professors are there to teach ideas supported by research, not ideas supported by radio talk ignorance, whether on the right or the left. It's not a first amendment problem - it's an academic method problem.
posted by Kevs at 12:18 PM on November 11, 2002


Agreed foxy. It's always a little surprising to me how knee-jerk people are when it's professors or teachers up for discussion. In no other profession are calls of 'fire him!' raised so easily and with so little consideration or thought.

Not exactly true. In most professions - in the public or private sector - this sort of behavior would be punished ... and in many professions punished far worse than this fellow got punished. It is the guy's email itself - not the responses to it - that demonstrated very "little consideration".

Nor is the "public/private" status relevant. Certainly in the private sector he probably would have been fired for such an email. But even in the public sector ... imagine an employee of a city parks department, or a state housing commission - or even a clerk in the administrative office of the university itself - writing such an email ... the result would likely be anything from a severe reprimand to termination.

I've noticed the same weird phenomenon, but it always seems to come from people that have a problem with state-run education, or college in general.

I for one have no problem with state-run education, nor college, but I do think the tenure system is often badly abused. What began as a legitimate mechanism to protect intellectuals researching unpopular or controversial topics has turned into a system that delivers job security almost unheard of in any other field, and removed virtually all constraints on behavior. Perhaps there is so much criticism of professors because they have so effectively buffered themselves from any oversight or pressure.

As a public employee, this guy's salary is paid by state and federal tax dollars ... i.e., he is employed by that cadet and his parents. If anything, he should be held to a higher standard of discourse than an employee of a private corporation.

I have no problem paying taxes to fund public education, but I do think the people who receive comfortable paychecks, and job security at a level most taxpayers can't even dream of, should at least remember who they work for. That doesn't mean they shouldn't study controversial topics, but it does mean that they have a duty to be at least civil in communications with the public.

Tenure confers a very unusual set of benefits - but comes with an equally unusual level of responsibilities. It is not "knee-jerk" for the public to get pissed when a professor takes full advantage of the benefits, without living up to those responsibilities.
posted by MidasMulligan at 1:09 PM on November 11, 2002


Well, OK. Glad you let us all know about your feelings about public colleges and univerities. But Saint Xavier is a Catholic school.
posted by raysmj at 1:19 PM on November 11, 2002


Well, OK. Glad you let us all know about your feelings about public colleges and univerities. But Saint Xavier is a Catholic school.

From the St. Xavier website:

Financing your Saint Xavier Education
Saint Xavier University is committed to making its high quality education affordable for everyone. Each year we distribute over $35 million dollars in federal, state and institutional aid. More than 90% of our undergraduate students receive some form of financial aid...

... Saint Xavier students receive aid from a number of sources, such as Federal Pell Grant, Illinois MAP Grant ...
posted by MidasMulligan at 1:42 PM on November 11, 2002


Then all of the Ivy League is public, and the CEOs of most large private firms have their multi-million dollar salaries paid by Uncle Sam, and taxpayers can tell them whether to resign or not. (Wait. CEOs should be held to a lesser standard, according to yourself.) Please. You made a big boo-boo by not looking further into the story, Midas. A simple Emily Litella-like "never mind" would suffice.
posted by raysmj at 1:47 PM on November 11, 2002


skallas: What I'm seeing here is that a teacher must be nice, which is anti-1st amendment. You have the right to be rude. It may not be becoming of his position, but as speech its protected and somewhat accurate, if not very opinionated. Funny howeasy it is to defend speech which is nice and fluffy, but when its mean and sarcastic then suddenly something must be done for the sake of society.

skallas, you make an excellent point, and one that I will be mulling for quite a while...

Have americans ever had true freedom of speech at their jobs, or has it always been that you abandon your rights once you walk onto your employer's property?

What an interesting thought. You don't resign your rights when you go to a neighbors house, but you do if you go onto a neighboring business lot.

While it is true your employer cannot imprison you, an employer most certainly can fine you, except it is called "unpaid leave". Exact same thing. And of course they can fire you outright.

Funny how such little things become completely overlooked in current society. This is obviously a 2-handed issue and I'm not saying it is either good or ill. But it is interesting.
posted by Ynoxas at 2:27 PM on November 11, 2002


I think it's more about the professor being a dick than "academic freedom" under attack (although I agree I don't think it was a big enough deal to get fired over it.) Not exactly the same deal, but I've had store clerks give me attitude for buying cigarettes or they have to add some "smoking is bad for you" comment. Usually my reaction is something to the affect of "shut the hell up and sell me my cigarettes or find a new job if selling them bothers you...". I don't think the person should get fired, but they should expect some flack for it ( either as some return-attitude for me or someone complaining to their manager...).
posted by stifford at 2:39 PM on November 11, 2002


Can you imagine the uproar if some military officer had responded to some Berkeley dude who had sent a request and received such an antagonistic response displaying his disgust at all such nambsy-pambsy PC commies.
posted by HTuttle at 2:51 PM on November 11, 2002


Ynoxas...there are many things you can do in society that you can't do at work (or school or x or y). You can go on a walk through public property, but your neighbor can tell you to leave if he wants to.

The point is: He still has his freedom of speech. If he wanted to send that letter from his home, without involving the University, it was well within his rights (though he would still be academically lazy, no doubt). But if one is employed, the employer has the right to fire you, in the same way that your neighbor can tell you to leave his house. I don't see what's first amendment about it at all
posted by Kevs at 2:51 PM on November 11, 2002


I think too much is being made of the whole deal. Yes. the professor should have used a little more decorum, but what about the cadet? Surely he knew the professor's views of the military before requesting his assistance and if not, why ASK? Let's go conspiracy theory here. Was the cadet baiting the professor? Did he know he would recieve a detrimental response? I know of more than a few old professors I wouldn't mind getting back at...
posted by GT_RULES at 3:01 PM on November 11, 2002


1. The public/private university distinction is now effectively meaningless. The State University of New York system, in which I work, now gets less than 40% of its funding from the state. Most private universities receive substantial federal funding, normally concentrated in the sciences.

2. Being a jerk isn't grounds for getting fired from a university once you're tenured. I can think of right-wing, left-wing, and no-wing academic jerks who were (and are) consistently far, far worse than this guy--and they're still employed. We don't have "fire at will" contracts at any point in our careers, only "fire for cause," and "cause" does not include "this guy is a creep." A private or church-affiliated institution will have more causes than a public university, but if it's receiving federal funding, the principle remains the same. The university could certainly fire this man if he broke a law, or committed deliberate academic fraud, or some such thing. Now, it's possible to refuse to tenure someone on the grounds of collegiality, although that's controversial because it's a subjective measure of performance. Even so, you'd have to argue that this guy was nasty all the time. A lack of collegiality, however, is not grounds for revoking tenure, although it may be grounds for gently encouraging someone to retire.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:14 PM on November 11, 2002


Addendum: I'm thinking of tenure-track faculty when I describe the contract system as "fire for cause." Adjuncts face different issues, depending on what the union has been able to negotiate; while most are "fire at will," some may be "fire for cause."
posted by thomas j wise at 3:16 PM on November 11, 2002


Really...what does every one think? this man criticized an official arm of king bushes "government" and now that he has all his pieces in a row the university is afraid of retribution...honestly with legislation the "usa patriot act"(lowercase used on purpose) and this new totalitarian "monitor the internet plan"(ho chi bush??)should I think any differently
posted by hoopyfrood at 3:48 PM on November 11, 2002


I have a professor who makes constant allusions between Bush and Hitler. Not in a "this is relevant to our discussion" type way, just out of nowhere as casual asides. At some level he must believe his behavior's innappropriate, or he wouldn't have also told us that he's tenured and is free to say anything he wants without fear of reprisal.

Here's the thing. I'm not a big fan of Bush, nor do I want any limits on what views a professor can and cannot have or when they can talk about them or how - so basically I just lump it. He's not a bad guy; he just seems to think everyone feels exactly the way he does. Or that he's being brave... or something.

I'm trying to work up the guts to go and talk to him. Mostly cuz I don't think the way he's talking about these things is a constructive way of presenting his views. Also, I see no reason for being "in your face" about anything.
posted by xammerboy at 3:59 PM on November 11, 2002


thomas j wise: Maybe it is meaningless (and I'd agree that, in certain cases, it is - although, y'know, public college and universities cannot jack up their tuition rates as high as private ones, even they wanted to do so), but the distinction between public and private was clearly made in Midas' comments. It's not that easy to make the distinction anywhere, in real life, is you consider how much the private sector gets in tax breaks, subsidies, federal backing of loans, etc., etc., ad infinitum.

The professor in question was a social science prof regardless, and not as many federal dollars go to political scientists or history profs as, say, molecular biologists or botanists. The only federal funds cited by Midas include federal loans, and virtually no college turns students down because they received federal loans, just as banks will assist virtually anyone who wants to get a subsidized federal education loan. Does this make your typical bank a public or quasi-public institution?
posted by raysmj at 4:01 PM on November 11, 2002


According to the Cato Institute, which is as enomically libertarian as any research institute on the planet, there is quite a distinction between public and private colleges and universities. They don't discuss much about receiving federal research dollars (which, of course, state universities receive too), but what do you expect? It's the Cato Institute.
posted by raysmj at 4:19 PM on November 11, 2002


The Cato argument struck me as somewhat...petulant. How dare the government fund cheap(er) education! (Actually, it's cheap only if you're native to the state.) And the argument that private colleges offer a space for teaching morality and/or virtue seems to me overreliant on machinery, in the Arnoldian sense. In any event, the article would have been far more convincing if they didn't fall back on using Research I/II universities as their implicit model for how we operate. (What TAs teaching our classes? We don't have any.)

raysmj: if the institution accepts any sort of funding from the government, it automatically agrees to follow the laws governing the public institutions (e.g., Title IX, non-discrimination, etc.). A private university has far more latitude over tenure and contract renewal, but they still cannot consider religious belief, politics, sexual orientation, etc. as grounds of dismissal; church-affiliated colleges are allowed "mission-related" exceptions to these rules (the right to discriminate against Jews when hiring, for example, or the right to insist that all employees sign a declaration of faith). But a church-affiliated college cannot discriminate on the basis of sex or race and retain their funding. In that sense, a private university that accepts government funds does not wholly control its own destiny, whether or not you consider it"quasi-public." What Cato wants is, in essence, not Claremont McKenna but the Hillsdale model. Whether that actually promotes the "individualism" they want is a totally different issue.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:17 PM on November 11, 2002


Thanks. I knew about the Title IX part and whatnot. (Of course, a lot of "private" businesses have to comply with more government rules as a consequence of funding or subsidies, including banks. But the taxpayers don't have a say over basic hiring and firing decisions, or salaries, etc.) The virtue talk is pretty funny. I'm sure you'd have some happy conservative libertarians if, say, this guy taught students about morality and virtue.
posted by raysmj at 6:28 PM on November 11, 2002


Then all of the Ivy League is public

Yes, it is. There are colleges (such as Hillsdale, in Michigan) that refuse all federal aid. Their professors have every right to say any damn thing they want ... except that the need to raise private money means their professors tend to think carefully before sending crude responses.

and the CEOs of most large private firms have their multi-million dollar salaries paid by Uncle Sam

What? I used to work for the CEO's of several multi-nationals, and currently am a CEO. And believe me, not only doesn't Uncle Sam pay my salary, he takes a considerable amount of my salary every quarter (some of which winds up in the pocket of that professor). Some companies do receive contracts from the government - for which they had to compete, and for work their employees do (I can only assume this is what you're referring to here) ... but what do you suppose would happen to an employee of one of those companies - from CEO to secretary - that wrote an email like that professor's?

I realize it is commonly accepted folk-wisdom on MeFi that all companies receive huge federal handouts and corporate welfare, and all CEO's are wildly rich, selfish people who just take take take, but the entire point is that they ARE quite constrained in their behavior, in a way that that professor simply isn't.

(Wait. CEOs should be held to a lesser standard, according to yourself.)

Interesting (and incorrect) re-statement of what I said. I asserted that tenured professors paid by tax dollars should be held to a higher standard than CEO's, because while in the case of a CEO, either customers or investors do have the power to punish - or even remove - the CEO (some of whom have been removed, over the years, for public statements far less inflammatory than that professor's), tenured professors are largely protected from any public outcry.

The point wasn't that CEO's should be held to a lesser standard - it was that tenure produces a weird situation in which professors get a level of job security - at public expense - that no CEO does, and for that protection, one can legitimately expect them to hold themselves to higher standards.

I can't think of a single CEO I've ever met that would even consider sending a response as crude as that guy sent. (I can just imagine going to my investors, or clients, and saying "by the way, I am CEO for life, and I have absolutely no responsibility to you or anyone else" ... I'd get laughed out of the room.) The average CEO is responsible to far more constituencies than a college professor is. And most assuradely does not have tenure.

Please. You made a big boo-boo by not looking further into the story, Midas.

Terribly sorry for not just rolling over, but I'm unaware of any boo-boo. I certainly knew St. Xavier is a Catholic institution - but I also know that it - like most public or private colleges - receives a good deal of it's funding from federal and state tax dollars.

My main point was that tenure means that people whose salaries are paid by tax dollars cannot be touched by those taxpayers themselves. They get this very unusual benefit because (it is argued) it is in society's best interest to allow its intelligensia to pursue challenging directions of study. When they use this protection, however, to behave well below standards anyone else can get away with at work, they are abusing that protection.
posted by MidasMulligan at 7:27 PM on November 11, 2002


Oh, Midas. You called it a flat-out public institution by implication in this sentence: As a public employee, this guy's salary is paid by state and federal tax dollars ... i.e., he is employed by that cadet and his parents. If anything, he should be held to a higher standard of discourse than an employee of a private corporation. The cute little semantic game is just that . . . cute, and too cute by half. You were writing off the cuff, and screwed up.

CEOs, of course, never screw up and get away with it. I never meant to imply otherwise.
posted by raysmj at 7:44 PM on November 11, 2002


The rest of the "money corporate America recieves from Uncle Sam" story can be found here. Or a good bit of the rest of it, but by no means all of it.
posted by raysmj at 7:47 PM on November 11, 2002


Also, tenure is not necessarily "for life," as with a federal judge. In fact, it pretty much rarely is. Tenured appointments are regularly renewed, and I read somewhere that around two percent of all tenured faculty are fired every year.
posted by raysmj at 8:17 PM on November 11, 2002


Correction: Tenure is not so much renewed as evaluated. Here are samples of evaluation rules, one from the University of South Carolina and another from the Univ. of Oregon.
posted by raysmj at 8:35 PM on November 11, 2002


"A lack of collegiality, however, is not grounds for revoking tenure"

Well, there's your first problem - tenure. People who bitch about overcompensated union janotors don't blink an eye when someone mentions tenure, go figure.
posted by MikeMc at 9:02 PM on November 11, 2002


As a public employee, this guy's salary is paid by state and federal tax dollars ... i.e., he is employed by that cadet and his parents. If anything, he should be held to a higher standard of discourse than an employee of a private corporation.

I have no problem paying taxes to fund public education, but I do think the people who receive comfortable paychecks, and job security at a level most taxpayers can't even dream of, should at least remember who they work for.


Sorry to disrupt your little money-grubbing fantasy there, but thankfully The Academy ain't anything at all like the business world -- a world where a few dollars buys permanent sycophancy.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 12:11 AM on November 13, 2002


The professor, for anyone still caring, has been suspended for a year. Doesn't sound like his future is too bright at Saint Xavier, either. From a press release:

After careful deliberation, I have decided to take the following actions on behalf of the University:

Effective on the afternoon of November 11, 2002, Professor Kirstein was relieved of his teaching responsibilities for the current semester and reassigned to other duties.

An administrative reprimand will be delivered to Professor Kirstein and placed in his personnel file.

While on sabbatical leave during the spring semester of 2003, Professor Kirstein will submit his teaching, scholarship, professional development, and service record to peer evaluation within the norms of the University’s procedures for periodic review of tenured faculty. Professor Kirstein volunteered to have this review conducted earlier than it otherwise would have been.

Any future faculty contract(s) extended to Professor Kirstein will include a binding addendum specifically requiring him to adhere both to institutional policies and to the norms of the American Association of University Professors in matters relating to the proper exercise of academic freedom and extramural activities.

posted by raysmj at 8:31 PM on November 16, 2002


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