Phi Beta Cons

The Growing Divide

I just returned from my annual Army Reserve “onsite” — an event that includes continuing legal education and a snapshot of Army Reserve goals and priorities for the coming year.  One thing that struck me in the presentation was a strong emphasis on productivity and efficiency from our civilian employees.  One slide (the Army absolutely loves PowerPoint) said simply: “Message to civilian employees: Do your job, or you’re out.” 
That’s quite a contrast to the recommendation of the University of Colorado’s Privilege and Tenure Committee regarding Ward Churchill.  Putting aside his controversial speech (which should not be considered by the Committee), Churchill has been found guilty of plagiarism, outright fabrication, and other forms of research misconduct that strike at the heart of his role as a scholar and professor.  Yet despite this wrongdoing, the Committee has apparently recommended that Churchhill be suspended for a year, not fired.  In the words of the Committee report, Churchill is guilty of “misbehavior, but not the worst possible misbehavior.”
In what sort of alternate universe can an employee be fired only when they commit the “worst possible misbehavior?”  And what is the “worst possible misbehavior?”  This is exactly the kind of news that drives a wedge between academia and the general public.  There is absolutely no justification for job protection so extreme, so ironclad, that not even fraud can lead to termination.  The academic freedom debate and the conservative critique of the academy is only going to grow more prominent in the coming years, and the public is much less likely to support the academic mainstream if they see it as completely disconnected from the market (and performance-based) realities they live with every day.