Wheaton College’s Latest Academic Freedom Transgression: Firing Professor Kent Gramm for Divorce

Wheaton College is more medieval than modern; more oppressive than enlightened; more radical than measured; more intolerant than tolerant.

First: They fired Professor Joshua Hochschild for converting to Roman Catholicism. Yes in the United States of America, the beacon of freedom and liberty, a college fired a philosophy professor for committing the grave offence of converting to Roman Catholicism. I fail to see how such a conversion would reduce one’s capacity to teach, publish or perform service. It is beyond belief that a faith-based institution would harbour such bias and prejudice.

Professor Kent Gramm: Photo courtesy of Chicago Sun-Times

Second: Kent Gramm, an English professor at Wheaton College was fired for divorce. Precise reportage would concede he would have been allowed a final terminal contract year, but he refused that opiton. Yes in the apogee of the free world that bills itself as the enemy of the Axis of Evil and the paragon of democracy, a professor can lose his or her livelihood because of a marriage that did not perdure. Presumably, Wheaton College tolerates and retains those professors who are separated, married without love, or married without a harmonious relationship. While Wheaton College occasionally allows its employees to obtain a divorce, they must provide a transparent explanation of its cause. No-fault divorce may be legal in every state but a backward, vicious institution of higher learning may actually fire professors who cannot justify their divorce according to Pauline scriptural utterances.

What is equally egregious about this facade of an open and democratic society is that faith-based institutions can get away with this monstrous intrusion into an academician’s private life. The limitations clause of the American Association of University Professors 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure does appear to permit such a violation of academic freedom:

“Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.”

I say appear because in 1970, the Statement was updated including a Third Interpretive Comment. This comment stated, “…we do not now endorse such a departure.” Well which is it? Does the limitations clause represent an appropriate denial of academic freedom or does it not? A.A.U.P. appears to be disavowing this component of its 1940 iconic document and, therefore, ought to immediately launch a Committee A investigation of Wheaton for its blatant violation of the “human rights” of its professorate. I think firing professors for religious conversion or divorce does not merit an exception for the autonomy of faith-based institutions but a robust denunciation and censure of this draconian and immoral administration running wild at Wheaton.

Wheaton College, you may fire a professor who is proven to be incompetent, fails to perform her or his duties, is guilty of moral turpitude or fired as a result of a legitimate declaration of financial exigency. To fire professors for merely attempting to be happy in terms of marital choices or religious denominations is totally irrelevant in assessing the academic and professional qualities of an academician. This is utterly shameful and a disgrace to higher education in the United States.

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