The Corner


A Lawsuit to Protect Academic Freedom in a Surprising State

Students walk at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C., September 20, 2018. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

Who would have thought that Arkansas would be a state where academic bureaucrats are especially hostile to tenure, but that’s evidently the case. In today’s Martin Center article, two law professors, Josh Silverstein and Rob Steinbuch, write about the battle that has been going on for several years in their state.

The essence of the problem is that new rules make it easy to remove a professor for cause.” The authors explain:

The new rules both quantitatively and qualitatively alter the definition of ’cause.’ The original policy set forth a list of four examples of conduct that constitute cause for dismissal. The revised policy has sixteen. And the four examples in the original policy all aptly reflected serious problems—for example, ‘incompetence’ and ‘moral turpitude.’ By contrast, several of the examples in the revised version are far from serious—for example, a ‘lack of collegiality.’

Vague standards like collegiality undermine the concept of tenure and open the door to administrative abuse. Whistleblowers could find themselves facing termination.

Silverstein and Steinbuch conclude:

We believe the lawsuit will be successful. But even if it is, a favorable ruling will only protect professors with tenure or on the tenure track. New hires will be governed by the dangerous new rules. Therefore, the fight for free speech on campus and academic freedom in Arkansas will continue, regardless of the outcome of the litigation.

Good luck with that.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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