A Phi Beta Cons reader takes issue with an item George Leef posted here, a link to an NAS article. The article, by guest author and Case Western Reserve University law professor George W. Dent, tells about how the CWRU law school rejected a conservative dean candidate, Brad Smith, after a website raised objections to his conservatism.
The reader comments, “You know, it’s funny. I don’t remember the NAS rising the Hew and Cry when Timothy J. L. Chandler lost his job as provost at Kennesaw State, because he once, in 1998, cited Marx in a paper.” The comment includes a link to an Inside Higher Ed article by Scott Jaschik about “the would-be provost.” I was unfamiliar with the story until I read about it today, and I’d like to respond briefly to this accusation of hypocrisy. The implication is that NAS has defended a conservative dean candidate who may have been turned down because of his politics (we don’t know that for sure), but that we did not defend a Marx-citing provost in the same situation.
As I understand the facts, Chandler stepped down from his newly gained position at Kennesaw State University in March after columnists in the local newspaper the Marietta Daily Journal complained about a 1998 paper he had written in which he displayed “obvious fondness for Marx and vehement dislike of capitalism.” To be clear, Chandler did not simply quote or cite Marx (the Inside Higher Ed article title and the PBC reader’s comment are misleading) but acknowledged that he was writing “partly through a Marxist lens.”
Political “litmus tests” are rarely appropriate in academe, either in hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions for staff and faculty, or in admissions for students. (I say rarely, instead of never, in that there are no doubt situations in which political extremism might be a legitimate bar to academic appointment. Imagine a member of the Weather Underground, or unrepentant terrorist, as a candidate for academic appointment . . . oh — never mind.) Had Chandler been turned down for consideration in the hiring process — or had he been fired — as a result of his political point of view, Kennesaw State would have indeed violated his academic freedom. The Inside Higher Ed article treats the story as if this was the case — as if the university had ousted Chandler rather than Chandler stepping down. It quotes a representative of the Georgia AAUP chastising the university committee because it did not “rise up in defense of academic freedom.” It quotes a search consultant saying that Kennesaw State “just cut their pool of good people dramatically.”
But Kennesaw State did not cut Chandler. He stepped down. Nothing I’ve seen so far indicates his resignation was forced. That’s why this does not appear to be a case of a university applying a political litmus test or attacking academic freedom. The university’s statement said that “Dr. Daniel S. Papp [KSU president] emphasized that Dr. Chandler’s decision to remain at Kent State was strictly his own and is not related to any viewpoints that Dr. Chandler has expressed in previous academic work.”
Still, the nature of the uproar about Chandler’s paper remains unclear. I agree with George Dent, who remarked to me, “If the provost resigned because he didn’t like the criticism, he has no claim to our sympathies. If he resigned because members of the community threatened to disrupt or obstruct his administration, that’s different.”
If the latter was true, then Kennesaw State University did indeed succumb to inappropriate politicization. If, on the other hand, Chandler simply wished to avoid awkwardness, then his decision undercut his own academic freedom.