Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Academic freedom alert - Petition supporting Thomas Klocek (SPME)

[Also posted at Engage as Academic freedom and anti-Zionism at DePaul University.]

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) is circulating a PETITION to academics in the US and elsewhere in support of Thomas Klocek, a long-time adjunct professor at DePaul University who was fired in the Fall of 2004 for expressing the wrong opinions about the Arab-Israeli conflict in an argument with students (not his students) outside of class. Everything I have read about this case over the past year and a half indicates that DePaul University's actions did, in fact, constitute a blatant violation of basic principles of academic freedom, free speech, due process, and elementary fairness. I have signed this PETITION (see below) and I recommend that other academics consider doing so as well.

=> A piece by the Illinois chapter of the American Association of University Professors ("A Tale of Two Professors Under Attack at DePaul") in Fall 2005 said the following:
This fall, DePaul University has faced two academic freedom controversies, with mixed results. When the case involved a tenure-track professor, DePaul University has (so far) stood up for his rights, albeit quietly. When the case involved an adjunct instructor who [allegedly] insulted students outside of class, DePaul quickly got rid of the teacher.[....]

Thomas Klocek, an adjunct instructor, got in a heated argument with DePaul Palestinian students at an information table on Sept. 15, 2004. After the students complained, he was suspended on Sept. 24 and then fired. Dean Suzanne Dumbleton explained, “The students’ perspective was dishonored and their freedom demeaned. Individuals were deeply insulted…. Our college acted immediately by removing the instructor from the classroom.”

The DePaul administration accuses Klocek of “threatening and unprofessional behavior,” although it has never specified any threats made by Klocek. AAUP guidelines protect the extramural speech of all academics, including adjunct instructors. Removing an instructor for an argument outside of class is a violation of due process, and firing him is even worse. Extramural comments are only subject to punishment if they indicate professional misconduct, and hostile arguments may be unpleasant but certainly do not rise to that standard.

=> Sherman Dorn, whose website offers consistently fair and intelligent commentary on academic freedom issues, summed up the matter as follows in May 2005.
Foolish private universities

In the fall, DePaul University suspended professor Thomas Klocek without a hearing or a chance to confront accusers for having an argument with students outside class—not his students, either. And Yale University refused to renew assistant professor David Graeber's contract, and it appears like a possibility that he was fired either for being an anarchist and for siding with a graduate student active in the graduate-student union at Yale.

The salient differences between the possible outcome of these two cases are not the political viewpoints of the faculty. Nor is it the fact that Klocek has been reported to be an adjunct (though that's not consistent in what I've read), while Graeber is tenure-track, because normally that would lead one to believe that Klocek's position is much weaker. And generally, adjuncts are in weaker positions except where there are specific protections. But in this case, despite Klocek's probably adjunct status and what may have been a failure to file a timely grievance, Klocek has a chance of winning back his position because DePaul's administrators provided pretty clear evidence that they were taking action for impermissible reasons. Even though adjuncts at most places don't legally have to be given due process before being given a notice of non-reappointment, you don't fire someone and then give their public speech as the reason. And the post hoc claims about tossing papers seems a pretty flimsy pretext to me. I may change my mind if DePaul provides evidence of much more serious behavior by Klocek, but I suspect that won't be forthcoming. FIRE is an effective advocate, and they're going to kick DePaul repeatedly in the Chicago press.

Other comments on Klocek by Steven Plaut, Laura Putrie, and Nicole Zieglier Dizon. Crooked Timber weighs in on Graeber. Thanks to Erin O'Connor for the initial tipoff.

Posted in Academic freedom on May 18, 2005 09:27 PM | Comments | Trackback
=> The SPME PETITION follows.

--Jeff Weintraub

[UPDATE, February 2010: Klocek lost his job, and his suit against DePaul was dismissed, but when I last checked his case is still winding its way through the appeal process. See here.]
• SPME Petitions

To: Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., Ed.D., President and Susanne M. Dumbleton, Ph.D., Dean of the School for New Learning, DePaul University

We, the undersigned faculty members from around the world, stand solidly with Professor Thomas Klocek, a Roman Catholic, who was dismissed by DePaul University for allegedly offending Muslim students when discussing Christian interests in Israel, disputing that Israeli treatment of Palestinians was akin to the Nazi treatment of the Jewsand then terminating the discussion when it appeared that the students were more interested in Israel-bashing than discussing the issues.

We believe this case sheds serious questions on the commitment to academic freedom and civility in academic discussion with this egregious termination. We further believe that this action by administration has separated DePaul from the academic community.

It is our understanding that Prof. Klocek alleges:

1) He was never allowed to meet with his accusers.

2) He was never presented with a written list of the complaints or charges against him.

3) He was suspended by the Dean of the School for New Learning in clear violation of the University's own stated Faculty Handbook procedures.

4) He was never given a hearing.

5) A vote by the DePaul Faculty Council affirmed that the same rules that apply for a formal academic hearing apply to all professors, full-time and adjuncts alike.

As a result, we believe that Professor Klocek, a faculty member with a 15-year history of excellent evaluations and no prior complaints, was dismissed without due process and should be reinstated without penalty or prejudice and with back pay, restitution of benefits and compensation for his legal and other expenses incurred as a result of his being improperly terminated.

The Undersigned

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