Reason is among the latest to offer critical commentary of a proposal from University of Arkansas System lawyers to change the tenure policy so that a lack of collegiality could be used as a justification for firing a tenured professor.
The proposal hasn’t yet had a discussion before the UA Board of Trustees, but faculty at campuses in the system aren’t very, well, collegial about the idea, which has been characterized as an effort to conform UA policy with “best practices.”
The university professors association considers it a worst practice. “The elevation of collegiality into a separate and discrete standard is not only inconsistent with the long-term vigor and health of academic institutions and dangerous to academic freedom; it is unnecessary.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit organization focused on civil liberties in academia, warns of the chilling effect on professors’ academic freedom if policies enforcing vague “collegiality” standards move forward.
“Collegiality-related charges are easily and frequently thrown in as a laundry-list item in faculty investigations, and often it is the only charge universities can make stick,” Peter Bonilla, a writer for FIRE, explains. “It’s a difficult charge for faculty to fight — just about any behavior could be subjectively cast as un-collegial, after all—and therefore an easy charge with which to gain leverage.”
FIRE has also condemned a provision in Ohio Northern University’s faculty handbook. The provision reads, “faculty members are expected to treat colleagues and staff with civility and respect.”
“How is one to define ‘civility’? What constitutes ‘respect’?” Bonilla writes. “Of course, the Ohio Northern policy provides no answers, leaving it all too easy for administrators to conveniently define it however they please, whenever it suits their interests.”
The vagueness in U of A’s and ONU’s policies is the crux of the danger to academic freedom, leaving plenty of room for administrators to oust professors who don’t fall in line with their beliefs. These policies encourage homogeneous groupthink and disincentivizes professors from exploring different perspectives in academia. Daring to dissent should not be a reason to fire a professor.
Also: Another takedown by a California law prof.