Ashland Outdoes Antioch

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Awhile back, I noted with some mirth that the famed leftist bastion, Antioch College (of the amusing "student survival guide"), had closed its doors, and recently, I reacted to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education concerning the dismissal of John Lewis from Ashland University as follows:

Regarding the full article, this looks like a clear-cut case of abridgment of academic freedom on the part of Ashland University, and one of dubious legality.
Apparently, a full review of all the evidence (available through links) by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) shows that my impression was correct:
Lewis' contracts dating from August 22, 2005 to May 18, 2007 all stated that "six hours per semester [were to be] reassigned for research funded by Anthem Foundation grant," and in fact the Anthem Foundation fellowship money was used to pay half of his salary throughout this period. Lewis was therefore not only free to pursue Objectivist scholarship, but was contractually required to do so from the fall semester, 2005, until the end of the 2007 academic year.

Lewis, who received rave reviews from students and superiors year after year, applied for tenure in the fall of 2006. But on January 26, 2007, Ashland informed Lewis that his application for tenure was denied. [An excerpt of the letter explicitly naming Dr. Lewis' personal philosophy as the reason for his dismissal follows. -- ed]


While the Faculty Rules and Regulations do indeed require that professors support Ashland's mission, there was no reason for Lewis to assume that Objectivist scholarship was opposed to Ashland's mission. Those same Rules and Regulations also state that "[t]he teacher is entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results subject to the adequate performance of his or her other academic duties" and that "[w]hen [a professor] speaks or writes as a citizen, he or she should be free from institutional censorship or discipline." Ashland has therefore explicitly made academic freedom a condition of professors' employment.[bold added]
Even if I weren't an Objectivist, I'd be loathe to apply for an academic position at Ashland University after this episode.

Ayn Rand's philosophy has been enjoying increased respect and visibility in Academia lately among non-Objectivist academics. Even some Christians find value in what she has had to say pertaining to their areas of academic specialization. Will Ashland fire them next if they have the temerity to express such agreement?

And what other points of view, philosophies, or personal convictions will Ashland suddenly realize are inimical to its mission? Everyone else in the world -- except, apparently, the search committee that hired John Lewis in 2001 -- was hip to the fact that Objectivism was an atheist philosophy, and well before the death of its creator nearly two decades before. The folks at Ashland may have been born yesterday, but, boy, they've been up all night thinking about how atheist philosophies detract from their mission!

Academics -- the good ones anyway -- work long hours and accept personal privation as the price they have to pay for the chance to pursue the truth about the field that most strongly resonates with their interests. The ability to follow that path, wherever it takes them is what they find so attractive about the prospect of earning tenure. Apparently, Ashland no longer has use for such people on its faculty.

In other words, Ashland has just announced to anyone worth his salt that it may call itself a University, but that it is not, in any meaningful sense of the term. If you care about your field, but your inquiries take you somewhere that Ashland regards as against its mission, you would have two choices as a member of Ashland's non-tenured faculty: (1) Pretend that what you discovered does not exist; or (2) Pronounce the verdict of your mind and get fired.

So Ashland's mission -- for the purposes of any academic job hunter out there -- can be summarized as "to wage war against the mind". At least Antioch, by closing its doors, will not dishonor the truth like Ashland, nor will it stand in the way of free inquiry. In that respect, Ashland has succeeded in becoming worse than no school at all!

-- CAV

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