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On suspending professors

It would be hard to find a faculty advocate opposed to the suspension last week of a University of Florida professor of veterinary science who was secretly taking videos of students’ body parts with a device hidden in his pen. Administrative -- and police -- action came swiftly, without any public objection from fellow instructors. But as InsideHigher Ed reports today: "Beyond such a clear violation of professional conduct, and, in this case, the law, faculty advocates often are quick to criticize institutions for jumping the gun with punishments. imagesA spate of forced leaves for professors in recent memory raises the question of what exactly constitutes suspension-worthy speech and action -- particularly a suspension made unilaterally by administrators. "In other words, does a line exist and, if so, where? "The answer, some experts said, is another question: Does the faculty member’s exercise of his or her rights violate anyone else’s? And some fear that institutions may be becoming too quick to suspend in cases in which faculty conduct may have resulted in hurt feelings but not actual harm. “The proper line to draw is where a professor's actions interfere with the legitimate rights of others,” said John K. Wilson, co-editor of the American Association of University Professors’ "Academe" blog, editor of AAUP’s Illinois Conference Academe journal, and author of the book Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies. "If, for example, a professor commits a crime against students (such as video voyeurism), it's punishable, Wilson said in an e-mail. So, too, is unfairly grading or meeting the “high bar” of discriminating against some group of students; making verbal threats in violation of the law; or engaging in academic fraud. And professors can be suspended for failing to do their jobs, such as refusing to teach. "Still, that’s all with due process – and the professor should keep teaching as his or her case is being adjudicated, outside of being an immediate threat to students or others on campus. (Even the Florida professor deserves the right to defend himself before fellow professors at some point, faculty advocates said.) "But a professor can’t be punished if he or she “merely says something that offends someone,” Wilson said. “When a professor is suspended for expressing controversial ideas, it violates the rights of students to hear those ideas, and the rights of everyone on campus who must live in a climate of fear about freedom of expression.” Read more: Inside Higher Ed
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