Friday, January 27, 2012

Faculty Friday: Games Administrators Play

Note: I had intended to follow yesterday's post about how the fundamentalists destroyed journalism in the SBC with a post on censorship of student journalism at OBU.  But like any good journalist, I need to do some fact-checking before I finish my report.

Since we've had hundreds of new readers in the past week, some people may not know that on Fridays, we usually focus on faculty-related issues at OBU and in SBC "academic" life more generally.  Last week, we documented the administration's hostility toward faculty on Bison Hill.  Previously, we looked at fundamentalists' penchant for unethical and unwarranted firings and how administrators can use faculty turnover to diminish an institution's academic strength and turn a moderate-to-conservative faculty into a fundamentalist one in just a few years.

Today, let's examine a new tactic administrators are trying to use in order to gain leverage over faculty and tip the balance of power in the fundamentalists' favor.  We've already discussed how administrators have ignored faculty search committee recommendations and offered positions to candidates who were not our first or second (or even third or fourth) choices.  In this way, OBU now shows a clear preference for fundamentalists in its hiring practices, as the provost's recent job interview questions obviously demonstrate.

But they are also using tenure ("senior faculty status" in OBU parlance) as a weapon in their war against moderate professors building a career at OBU.  One current faculty member explains:
The administration's actions raise a red flag as to whether tenure and academic freedom are being consciously eroded to vest more power in administrators to change OBU from within.  Along those lines, the administration is beginning to move away from granting continuing contracts for newly tenured faculty to more five-year contracts.  The latter were rarely used before, only in those cases where the faculty member was deemed fit to join the senior faculty, but needed to improve in some way, usually related to classroom performance.  Now it is being used for highly regarded candidates who receive a strong affirmation from the tenured faculty vote and have strong student evaluations.
The first ideologically-motivated firing was indicative of this changed outlook.  The administration wanted the professor to accept a multi-year contract (rather than a continuing contract) but did not allow the professor to stand for tenure and would not guarantee the possibility of standing for tenure at the end of the multi-year contract.  Unsurprisingly, denying someone the opportunity to stand for senior faculty status is itself a violation of the Faculty Handbook.  So if anyone tells you that OBU parted ways with a wonderful, well-loved Christian philosopher over a "contractual dispute," that is a lie.  He was treated in the most shameful and insulting manner possible.  I know what you're thinking: It's getting difficult to actually keep track of all the violations and unethical actions administrators have taken against our beloved OBU faculty!

The current faculty member continues:
The standards in the Faculty Handbook, based on nationally accepted guidelines, are designed to protect academic freedom -- the integrity of the academic program, professors' right to teach and students' right to learn, according to the best standards of each discipline.  In theory at least, once a professor is deemed integral to the academic community through the tenure (or senior faculty) process, he or she can only be removed for serious and demonstrated causes, such as incompetence, dereliction of duties, moral turpitude.

This standard was ignored in the case of the second faculty dismissal.  While the faculty was justifiably outraged after the first dismissal, it was the second dismissal that truly rippled through the faculty.  This collective outrage led to Faculty Council resolutions sent to the administration.

Fortunately for OBU (I guess), we have not suffered the kinds of consequences that typically accompany these kinds of actions.  The first victim could have publicized his situation and brought widespread shame and embarrassment on OBU.  The second victim could have gotten a sizable settlement (based on violation of legal guidelines set forth in chapter 2 of the Faculty Handbook).  Not one but several attorneys with knowledge of the case believe that the second victim would have easily won a judgment against OBU in court, or at least a settlement out of court.

Obviously these two victims have much more integrity than they were shown by OBU administrators.

But the main point of today's Faculty Friday post is not actually about the two well-known dismissals.  Rather, the point is that administrators are now open to using tenure as a weapon in an ideological war to make the OBU faculty more fundamentalist.  Now that this practice has become widely known, there is a chance they will back down.  But don't be surprised if fundamentalist professors are fast-tracked for tenure and continuing contracts (just like they are now fast-tracked for hiring against the professional judgment of their colleagues) and moderate professors are denied their right to stand for tenure and/or asked to agree to multi-year or annual contracts.  The implications are huge.  OBU could become a majority fundamentalist faculty relatively quickly.  Of course, this would please BGCO elites (and at least one current administrator) to no end!

I truly hope that these unethical practices stop at once and that the two forced dismissals do not bring more shame and embarrassment on our alma mater (or harm our future application for re-accreditation). But what has happened is wrong.  There is no way to spin it.  It's just plain wrong.  While Save OBU brings together a number of constituencies (parents, students, alumni, etc.), our most passionate concern is for OBU's greatest asset: its dedicated faculty.  All the rest of us are free to raise our voices in protest against unjust actions and encroaching fundamentalism.  But in the current climate, professors' voices are effectively silenced.  We know many of them are cheering us on, albiet silently and anonymously, from the sidelines.  But let it be known to everyone: Until academic freedom is fully restored at OBU and all threats against it are eliminated, we will not stop advocating tirelessly for our wonderful faculty.

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