Linfield University Fires Professor Who Spoke Out Against Sexual Misconduct
Oregon school has taken steps to curtail free expression related to ongoing controversies
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — Linfield University in Oregon last week abruptly terminated a tenured English professor following no apparent disciplinary process after the professor publicized allegations of sexual misconduct against members of the university’s board of trustees on Twitter. Professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner says he believed the university’s board was not investigating those allegations thoroughly despite his repeatedly raising them in his role as a faculty trustee.
The university explained Pollack-Pelzner’s dismissal by saying he “deliberately circulated false statements about the university, its employees, and its board,” and said he was not entitled to a hearing since the conduct in question was not that of a faculty member but that of an “employee.” Pollack-Pelzner also says the president and board chair used anti-Semitic comments in undermining him and defending their conduct.
“This dismissal and the justification offered are preposterous—that can’t be overstated, and the attempt to label Pollack-Pelzner an employee rather than a tenured faculty member completely disregards why faculty are granted tenure in the first place: to shield academic freedom,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education at PEN America. “This is a blatant, retaliatory response to Pollack-Pelzner publicizing serious allegations that the board and president were refusing to bring to light. Pollack-Pelzner appears to have tried to work in good faith with the board to respond to these allegations for some time before raising them publicly, and the anti-Semitic comments allegedly directed at him as a result are shameful.”
In recent weeks, the university has taken dramatic steps to curtail free expression on campus in response to this incident and the sexual misconduct allegations. Administrators shut down a faculty email list after a no-confidence vote and calls from a Jewish organization for the president and board chair to resign. Campus security removed posters in the windows of some faculty offices that proclaimed support for Pollack-Pelzner. And the university has hosed down sidewalk chalk messages from students, and told residential advisers they cannot put up flyers in support of Pollack-Pelzner because they are student employees paid by the university. The trustee funding Pollack-Pelzner’s position has resigned from the board in protest.
“Even beyond the firing of Pollack-Pelzner, Linfield leaders appear hellbent on chilling and silencing a broad swath of criticism among students and faculty. That effort will surely backfire, but not before it adds to the worrying picture of an institution that is utterly failing to uphold the norms of dissent and open exchange that are supposed to make the university a unique space. This firing should be rescinded; and the university should immediately move to rectify its mishandling of these allegations against its leaders.”