The Duck of Minerva

Keep Your Political Interference to Yourself: A Case for Academic Freedom and Shared Governance

19 June 2016

Hi, Ducks!  It’s me, Amanda.  It’s been a long time.  I’ve not blogged in awhile. There were many reasons for the break.  First, it was a busy spring: I finished up being the ISA Program Chair, got a new position I am excited about, and continued working on projects that I love.

It’s also been a very sad spring.  In fact, it was a pretty sad year at the University of Missouri, where I’ve worked for the past 4 years.

Mizzou faced a season of growth, some of it which I was super supportive of.   In August, I marched with graduate students when their health insurance was taken away (with less than a 24-hour notice).  In early November, I watched – somewhat like an ethnographer – as a group of student protesters were able to make racism and diversity issues on campus a national story, culminating in the resignation of Mizzou’s system president. The discussions I had with students this year about race and racism in Missouri are very important to me and I learned a lot.

I’ve also learned a lot from watching the backlash to the protesters and to incidents that occurred during the protests.  I was shocked and saddened when I first watched the Youtube video of an incident between an assistant professor of communications, Dr. Melissa Click, and students on campus.  In my mind, her actions were horrible and extremely detrimental to the very cause she was purportedly trying to help.

I was also shocked, however, when I saw the political pressure exerted from the Missouri legislature for Dr. Click’s removal.  In February, Dr. Click was fired.  In the end, I thought Dr. Click was terminated without attention to the University’s collective rules and regulations.  Regardless of whether Dr. Click’s actions would have resulted in her eventual termination, Mizzou’s board of curators circumvented the rules I thought governed our employment.

In such a climate, I decided it was best to just keep my mouth shut and not blog.  If the board of curators are not abiding by the rules I thought governed my employment, could my research or my blogging be now open to politically-motivated retaliation or summary dismissal?  It might be unlikely.  However, the legislators that had led the move to get Dr. Click fired without process were also speaking out against a lot of things at Mizzou.  Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) actually tried this year to block a social work PhD student from doing research on how Missouri’s 72-hour waiting law for abortions affected Missouri women. I don’t study abortion but I do study some human rights that Sen. Schaefer may be uncomfortable with. And, I’ve protested in support of Planned Parenthood with my family this year.  Could these actions be enough to get me legislative attention?   If the Missouri legislature didn’t like my research or advocacy, I now knew that I couldn’t rely on the rules of employment to be followed in deciding my fate. I study this kind of stuff in dictatorial regimes; I think it’s sad that the same type of silencing of academic voices happened on a college campus in the United States.

Yesterday, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) voted unanimously to put the University of Missouri on its censure list for its conduct concerning the dismissal of Dr. Click.  As the AAUP’s investigative report said:

In light of the board’s action against Professor Click and in the context of legislative threats to the institution and unresolved administrative turmoil, academic freedom and shared governance at MU are endangered.

As far as I know, no one at the AAUP is saying that Dr. Click’s actions were right, were protected by academic freedom, or that she couldn’t have been dismissed if and when the actual academic processes would have been followed.  However, the University of Missouri did not follow these processes and, as a result, I think it made a bad situation even worse.  Like the Mizzou AAUP chapter said in a letter to university administration, I fear that the AAUP censure will result in continued difficulty for the university to recruit and retain the faculty it needs to reach its mission for the state of Missouri.

Given yesterday’s decision, I think my blogging hiatus is now over. I think I will step up my vigilance about political encroachment on the principles of academic freedom and shared governance. In fact, I just gladly paid my AAUP dues. Political encroachment on the principles of shared governance and academic freedom is not just a problem at Mizzou; it is and has been a problem at many other colleges and universities. And, sadly, this encroachment can affect the ability of academics to do the jobs we were hired to do.