Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Seeing Through Pretexts


I was happy to see Candace highlight the Western District of New York’s opinion permitting Prof. Michael Filozof’s political-discrimination case to proceed. The facts of the case present a veritable “greatest hits” of pretexts for disposing of conservative professors.

We have an illegitimate sexual-harassment charge (he once kissed a secretary’s hand in an obviously joking “Shakespearian manner,” and his department chair, not the secretary, pursued the harassment charge), vague warnings that he did not fit in with the “culture” of the school, disparaging comments about a lack of “collegiality,” and criticism of his philosophy not because it is conservative (of course) but because he is “close-minded” and not open to exploring alternative ideas. Virtually any outspoken conservative professor in America is familiar with one or more of these critiques. 

A school or department’s “no conservatives allowed” sign is never in plain English. Instead, it is hidden in a fog of spurious charges and poor marks on vague and indefinite evaluation categories like “service,” “collegiality,” and “culture.”  It is also seen in an atmosphere of heightened scrutiny, where normal missteps (we are all only human, after all) are magnified and excruciatingly documented for the sake of “building a case” for termination or denial of promotions and tenure.

In race- and gender-based civil-rights lawsuits, courts are vigilant in locating and identifying “pretexts” — seemingly legitimate grounds for adverse action that are designed to mask invidious discrimination. For example, a black employee fired for consistent tardiness could demonstrate a pretext by noting that her white colleagues were as tardy and were promoted.

Until recently, conservative professors rarely saw the same judicial scrutiny applied to their university’s obviously pretextual actions. With this decision — and a similar earlier decision in the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom’s ongoing lawsuit on behalf of Mike Adams — the tide may be turning.


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