Wednesday, August 13, 2008
The following is an editorial column that appeared in the Western Herald on August 12, 2008. I am posting it here for interested people to have access. I am also interested in the difference of Cheryl Roland's reasoning in this quote vs. how she is quoted in the Kalamazoo Gazette article from June the link to which (and if it ever expires I will post the full text) is also posted here on this blog. I would welcome comments here and as always on the Facebook group, linked elsewhere on the blog. The column here is reprinted with permission of the author in its pre-edited form. Author: Kimberly M Schoetzow. Thank you for your time.
Western Michigan University prides itself on recognizing excellence in teaching contributions and allowing instructors academic freedom in the classroom. So why did Western Michigan University also recently cave in to a non-justified parent complaint that resulted in the unemployment of one of the highest ranked professors in the University?
Former professor Chris Tower of the Gender and Women's Studies department did not receive a contract for the Fall 2008 semester for, as he believes, displaying "inappropriate" music videos in class. Not only did he not receive a contract, he didn't receive anything, not even an explanation.
"Mr. Tower's not being asked back was a personnel decision," said Cheryl Roland, Executive Director of University Relations. "It would not be ethical to discuss why he was not asked back." Roland alluded to the videos being one of several factors as to why Tower was not given a contract.
"The administration has not revealed to me what these other factors may be," Tower said. "I think the University has been very negligent in not giving me an opportunity to defend myself. I'm 100 percent certain that I haven't violated any ethical standards of conduct so whatever they think they have on me is either rumor or is just not true."
Along with Tower's dismissal, the feeling of instructor control over academic freedom has also left WMU as well as any sort of respect for adjunct professors.
"I've been told by many of my colleagues that there are meetings, memos and a variety of warnings to adjunct professors since what happened with me," Tower said. "Many of my now former colleagues have reported to me that there is a lot of concern and a lot of fear that the same thing could happen to them. This is going to change the climate of academic freedom at Western."
When Roland was asked if a message to "play it safe" is now spreading through campus, she responded by saying students and faculty members have nothing to worry about. But according to Tower, who's the poster boy in this attack on academic freedom, we have a lot to worry about.
Most of the videos played in Tower's class can also be regularly seen on MTV or basically anywhere on the Internet. If such a simple and easily accessible form of media is now seen as "controversial", what's next? Will we not be allowed to dissect sexual organs in anatomy classes for fear of it being lewd? Will discussing rape in the use of war be seen as over-analytical?
Not only should "controversial" issues be talked about here, they should be magnified. A college campus is supposed to foster a community of learning, acceptance and progressive notions. By stifling what teachers can and cannot do for fear of overprotective parent complaints, we are bowing down to the world as it was, not as it will be.
WMU is entering a patch of thin ice since Tower's situation. Instead of other adjunct professors being worried about losing their jobs too for simply teaching, perhaps teachers and students alike should join together against ignorant parents and against a closed-minded administration to get those teachers contracts and get Tower back on staff.
For more information on Tower's situation and to learn how to support his return to campus, visit the online Facebook group titled 'Save WMS 1000 and Tower!'
Sunday, August 10, 2008
I thought this article was fair and balanced. Being interviewed by Paula Davis was a pleasure. She is a professional and very thorough.
I love that the university hedged and how it hedged. I knew there would be an attempt to deflect, but the sentence quoted truly says nothing at all: "When personnel decisions are made, quite likely there are multiple reasons behind them," she said."
Great sentence. I applaud Cheryl Roland. Well done. The quote does not explicitly state that I was "fired" (not offered a contract but after ten years it feels like being fired... I am out of work, same thing). The sentence does not confirm that I was fired for multiple reasons. But it implies that I was, though there's a clear out if there were to be a legal issue, ever.
My only criticism of the Gazette article follows from Roland's quote. I cannot fault Paula Davis because I know from personal experience having worked as a journalist how the process unfurls. But I wish this quote had followed Roland's: "I am 100% certain that I have not violated any professional or ethical standards of conduct," Tower said.
As the only male teaching in the Gender and Women's Studies Department, I thought it was important to be as professional as possible. Sure, I am a friendly person. Yes, I can be casual and even chummy with students. I joke with students, and I chat with students in a familiar way. But I have not ever broken any of the rules in the employee handbook regarding my interactions with students.
And yet, perhaps it is best that the issue was not addressed at all, except for the very abstract hint by Roland.
Other than my quote about professionalism, the article summed up the situation very well. The university's decision puzzles me. I still do not understand it. With luck and some help from those willing to advocate for me, I hope to have some answers some time soon.