The December 23, 2002 Reprimand Analysed and Evaluated: Let Academic Freedom Ring!

Readers not familiar with my nationally publicised academic freedom case, may wish to read first the entry below this in order to understand the contextual circumstances of this auto da fe.

I won’t dignify the reprimand by reproducing it in its entirety. I have had a copy since it was deposited in my file by then-university president, Richard Yanikoski, on Dec. 23, 2002. I will critique some of its contents. I am free and will not be silenced or intimidated!!!!!

1) It stated that the e-mail to Cadet Robert Kurpiel was not “accurate.” It is true that a reference to his commission was premature and perhaps the reference to “Top Guns,” which I meant in a generic manner, specifically applied to naval and not air force airpersons. Yet the e-mail was accurate in most of its charges and I stand by the non-personalised contents.

2) The reprimand, again somewhat arrogantly citing AAUP guidelines as if they were not violated in the sanctions levied in this matter, stated I “failed…to show respect for the opinions of others.” As I have documented for three years in publications and numerous campus lectures across the U.S., I was not responding to an opinion on any issue of foreign policy or external affairs. I was responding to SPAM, an announcement of an event at the Air Force Academy that was sent to scores of instructors in “bulk e-mail.” Not one word of Cadet Kurpiel’s e-mail contained an opinion or an assertion on war, violence, empire or any qualitative aspect of military service.

3) I was charged in the reprimand of “failing…to make every effort to indicate that [I was] not speaking for the institution.” While I did not include a disclaimer, professors rarely do with publications, op-ed pieces, lectures, scholarly articles, press interviews or certainly in an e-mail. The failure-to-disclaim charge was also a trumped up excuse to justify the persecution of Dr. al-Arian by the University of South Florida. It is almost always invoked by administrators when speech is controversial or unpopular. One never and I mean never hears the disclaimer argument used in condemning speech that is non-controversial, or laudatory of an institution. I did sign my e-mail with my own name and academic position. It is beyond incredulity for one to claim I was attempting to speak for the university. Yes I was communicating as a professor on the faculty but in my OWN name. Hence disclaimer-absent arguments are used to sanction or coerce unpopular speech and is NEVER used to proscribe or constrain mundane, or non-controversial speech.

4) The reprimand contained a warning that I would be sanctioned further if “there were material breaches” of the above and other contents. The main material breach was the fact of my suspension. While AAUP guidelines were used somewhat cynically to suspend and silence me, I am using AAUP guidelines to demonstrate their egregious violation when my students lost their professor with just a few classes remaining in the semester due to my removal from the classroom.

5) Suspension can only occur “if immediate harm to the faculty member or others is threatened.” That was never cited as cause publicly or in any written document that I saw. AAUP guidelines, that I cite below from the AAUP Redbook, 9th Edition, reiterate the extraordinary condition under which a suspension may be imposed upon an academician in the United States. I remember being told at my unannounced disciplinary hearing where I was having to negotiate without presence of counsel, that my removal from the classroom would not be called a “suspension” but “reassignment to other duties.” That effort at rhetorical distinction was shortlived as the national press described it accurately as a suspension.

“Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure” page 26, Clause (c) subclause (1).

If you consult the last paragraph of the link, FIRE reproduced an op-ed I wrote over the summer that reiterates the inappropriate suspension that was levied upon me.

It is also repeated in the 1970 Interpretive Comments No 9 of the iconic “1940 Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure” on page 7.

It appears a third time in the “1958 Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings,” on page 12 clause 3.

This is one of the most frequently violated components of AAUP guidelines and I have often wondered why AAUP does not more visibly reiterate this in the numerous instances of violations. It does sometimes but episodically.

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