The firing of a tenured professor at Linfield University in Oregon without a hearing has sparked a controversy involving allegations of anti-Semitism, racism, and claims that sexual harassment allegations against members of the Board of Trustees were not properly handled.
Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, a tenured professor of English and a Shakespeare scholar, was fired from the university on April 27 without a hearing. Pollack-Pelzner had brought forward sexual misconduct allegations by students against members of the Board of Trustees a month earlier, and he claims his firing was retaliation.
“The Board’s lawyer threatened me with public humiliation if I continued to report sexual misconduct by Linfield trustees,” Pollack-Pelzner wrote on Twitter.
“It’s shocking — and telling — that Pollack-Pelzner was forced out without an opportunity to defend himself,” attorney Adam Steinbaugh, who works with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said in a statement.
Prior to his firing, Pollack-Pelzner had also accused Linfield president Miles K. Davis of making anti-Semitic remarks, including a comment in 2018 about “measuring the size of Jewish noses” during a conversation about Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice. Two others have reported hearing Davis make anti-Semitic remarks. But Davis has denied the allegations, telling the New York Times that in that particular conversation, he discussed physical characteristics of Jews and Arabs and told Pollack-Pelzner that “this portrayal of Shylock with the hook nose is just ludicrous.”
“It becomes an echo chamber that I have to spend my time defending,” Davis said.
Davis became the university’s first black president in 2018, and the local chapter of the NAACP said last week that Davis has been forced to contend with racism, including during the current controversy over Pollack-Pelzner’s firing.
Linfield’s trustees “failed see that deeply held resistance to Black leadership and culture fueled the ferocity of resistance to organization change,” the NAACP said in a report.
“We find that President Davis has been subject to numerous instances of unfair treatment since his arrival in July 2018, and this unfair treatment of personal attacks were due to being a Black man,” the report continues. “President Davis has been accused of being divisive, intimidating, combative, aggressive, disrespectful and abusive. This coded language plays off racist and toxic stereotypes with a long history in this country.”
Davis defended his decision to fire the professor without a hearing, saying that he’s not entitled to one under the school’s policies because his termination wasn’t related to his teaching duties but was instead the result of his conducting a “smear campaign” against Davis and board members.
A Linfield professor filed a complaint in 2019 alleging that Davis had touched her inappropriately at a university event. An outside investigator found that while the incidents occurred, the touching did not violate Linfield’s harassment policies, and Davis apologized for causing discomfort.
The most serious allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled at former trustee David Jubb, who resigned in 2019. Jubb was indicted last May on seven counts of misdemeanor sexual abuse and one felony count of sexual abuse, following a lawsuit filed by a student.