Never Tweet in a Red State
Back in December 2013, the Kansas Board of Regents kicked up a little dust among tenured faculty at Kansas tax-supported institutions of higher education by introducing a policy to punish profs for using social media in a way that put Kansas higher ed in a bad light. The BOR reacted to a Twitter post by tenured KU journalism prof David Guth who broadsided the National Rifle Association following yet another civilian shooting. In October, KU announced that University of Kansas Associate Professor David Guth ”was put on indefinite administrative leave Sept. 20 after posting comments on his personal Twitter account that caused disruptions in the university’s learning environment [and] will not return to classroom duties this year….”
But that was not enough for the mighty Regents, who wanted to muzzle all faculty. The BOR split the standard legal hair to justify censorship by making a distinction between protected speech and speech that is not. Nothing new there. Speech protected for tenured faculty can be narrowly defined as research publications and teaching only as long teaching is restricted to the subject matter for a given course. A prof can not just walk into a classroom or lecture hall and rant on about anything that pops into his or her head.
University of Kansas, Inc.
The KU and Regents’ operating assumption is that state universities act just like any other large corporation where the business is higher education. And, of course, many of the sanctions listed in the BOR policy for using speech that reflects badly on Kansas higher ed already exist for non-tenured faculty, meaning part-timers, grad students, and tenure-track profs. Say the wrong thing and your non-tenured contract is not renewed and you have no recourse without a good union. We had a tenure track acquaintance at Oregon State University who lost her job after complaining to the local newspaper about the hostile social environment on campus for lesbian couples. Oops. Her chair called her in and said he had four student complaints against her. He did not show her the complaints, never named the accusers, therefore never gave her the chance to respond, but he did give her the choice of resigning or being fired. Bullied and intimidated, she resigned. Oregon State University psychology professor, Robert Uttl, did fight back with lawyers when he was smeared and fired for resisting pressure from his dean to rig a grade for a graduating senior. Uttl won.
As expected, tenured Kansas State and UKansas faculty howled “Academic Freedom!” and 80 so-called “distinguished professors” wrote a letter complaining about the Regents’ speech policy and paid to have it published as a newspaper ad. Tenured faculty do that when their jobs are threatened, but say little if anything about the no-free-speech reality for non-tenured faculty who are the majority on campus and do most of the teaching.
In 2009, the American Association of University Professors reported that “In 1975, only 30.2 percent of faculty were employed part time; by 2005, according to data compiled by the AAUP from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), part-time faculty represented approximately 48 percent of all faculty members in the United States.” Universitybusiness.com reported in February 2013 that “Part-time faculty are also a significant part of the higher ed workforce, accounting for 700,000 of the 1.8 million faculty at U.S. two- and four-year schools.” National estimates vary from 40 to 60 percent, depending on how faculty are counted, who gets counted, and if universities offer data. The percentage varies from campus to campus.
Dodd Takes a Stand
Elizabeth Dodd, one of those distinguished (highly paid, high rank, tenured) people in the Kansas State English department, added her name to the letter, and she’s a perfect example of the thoroughly self-interested, short-sighted, duplicitous standard among tenured faculty who love to play the role of great defender of the First Amendment and academic freedom when in fact they participate in corporate censorship every single day. Dodd said absolutely nothing in December 2013 when the Association for the Study of Environment and Literature, an academic organization she lauds and once led, banned a member and instituted speech restriction rules after Dodd was criticized on the ASLE listserv.
The ASLE rules for allowed listserv speech include this: ”The list moderator reserves the right to remove anyone from the list for violation of [the rules].” No due process. The Kansas BOR allowed speech policy includes this: “The Board . . . recognizes the right of employers to take action in situations involving unprotected speech.” See any difference?
Odd, irrational, illogical behavior? Not in the least. Here’s a direct quote from Dodd’s comment on the ASLE listserv:
I think an English department whose faculty positions were divided 50% / 50% between practicing creative writers who deliberately eschewed scholarly study and literary critics/theorists would be an interesting place, but perhaps not the healthy environment we would wish for all of our students. Creative artists—and the students who wish to become such—need to have the fullness of appreciation of the traditions/genres/et ceteras that they will join/challenge/help-to-evolve.
Eschewed? Okay, let us translate that inflated, flatulent noise for those of you who have never worked in a university English department. Dodd is a hybrid. Dodd has been in school her entire life. After undergrad, she went right to an MFA program and quickly determined the only way to earn an easy living with a useless creative writing degree would be to stay on campus, get a doctorate, and act like a literature scholar by using inflated, flatulent prose, such as “fullness of appreciation.” The rest of the time she could play at poetry and essay writing.
Ergo, Dodd has to spout the party line about how important it is for students to work with writers and scholars, especially scholars, because they control the budget and her paycheck in Kansas State English where the list of graduate faculty includes just two MFA/PhD credentials. Writing other than creative writing at most universities is taught by part-timers who have no job protection and are told to teach and shutup or be fired. In short, Dodd’s job depends on the exploitation and speech suppression of most of those who teach writing in higher ed. If they were given equal status with lit profs, the power balance would shift and she’d lose her privileges or at least have to share them with a bunch of part-timers. Her worst fear and that of her tenured colleagues is that expanded use of cheap part-time labor will threaten their jobs. Why should a university continue to pay for full-time English profs when the market has a glut of PhDs willing to work to a song without tenure, without academic freedom, without health insurance, and no promise of work for more than a year at a time, if that.
For overwhelming evidence, read any of these three titles by Barry Roberts Greer: “Paper Graders,” “Notes from the Academic Underground,” or “Malamud and Corruption at Oregon State University.” The first title alone documents the reality of academic no-freedom in Alaska, Ohio, New Jersey, Oregon, Georgia, California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Texas, etc.
The common denominator for Dodd’s principled stand against the Kansas BOR and her defense of the ASLE institutional status quo is her paycheck, but Dodd does not want to talk about it: “There’s plenty in our professional lives to cause aggravation, dismay, even disbelief. But for many authors, ASLE has provided a welcome community that doesn’t exacerbate these annoyances (grievances, even).”
Tenure and the Stockholm Syndrome
Yes, the stench of condescension. You’ve got to love the irony of a Kansas State English prof protesting the “annoyances (grievances, even)” of the BOR policy while herself exacerbating the annoyance of censorship by remaining mute as the organization she lauds does the very thing she publicly condemned. When ASLE banned Greer, who has been an award-winning literacy worker in Oregon higher ed—including running an honors course on environmental writing and publishing a prescient 1990 interview on environmental lit with Princeton’s William Howarth, now an ASLE honorary member—Dodd did and said nothing. Signed no letter of protest. When ASLE banned Greer, a writer with over 30 years of experience–including publication in High Plains Literary Review, Orion, Appalachia, Buzzworm, Wild Oregon, Snowy Egret, Dog River Review, Pig Iron Press, and on and on—Dodd said and did nothing. She signed no letter because Greer threatened Dodd’s and ASLE’s image.
Dodd agrees with the Regents that unregulated use of English should not be allowed, and she will defend to the death the right of ASLE and the Regents to silence any voice they don’t like.