DePaul Philosophy Department Sends Unsolicited Letter to Faculty Council on Namita Goswami Academic Freedom Case

The Illinois Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) concluded in its widely publicised Committee A report that the Department of Philosophy had violated the academic freedom of Assistant Professor Namita Goswami in its review of her credentials for tenure and promotion. A faculty Review Board at DePaul University, in citing the ILL AAUP report, also independently concluded that the academic freedom of Professor Goswami had been violated.  Professor Goswami is the first faculty member to appeal successfully an academic freedom violation at the Review Board level. It was preemptively and arbitrarily rejected by the President of DePaul University, Reverend Dennis H. Holtschneider. The Faculty Handbook requires that the dean either recommend a new contract or a hearing with the structural manifestations of a dismissal for cause. Both the national office of the AAUP and the DePaul Faculty Council have urged the president to either “suspend” or “withdraw” his decision to deny tenure and promotion and adhere to the Faculty Handbook guidelines under 5.1.1.

The Department of Philosophy’s unsolicited letter to the Faculty Council is problematic and unwarranted. Unsolicited materials in a tenure and promotion case on many campuses are rejected outright and deemed inappropriate. The DePaul University Department of Philosophy has no standing at this stage of the Goswami case. There is nothing in the DePaul Faculty Handbook that authorises a department to submit any additional evaluations, much less statements, that defend a prior action. The appeals process at DePaul does not provide a department, at this stage, a second opportunity to render a judgment on the tenurability of a colleague. The letter is merely an effort to justify a decision that has received both internal and external assessments of opprobrium. Their letter is curiously silent whether one of their colleagues is entitled to due process as defined in the Faculty Handbook. Is it conceivable the department would oppose such an action in a nation that prides itself on the rule of law and procedural justice? They know the controversy this case has generated and are trying to deflect it. Instead their unsolicited letter exacerbates it with their transparent effort to influence the appeals process at a critical stage subsequent to the Review Board finding.

Substantively the letter is both evasive and defensive. The Philosophy Department letter to the Faculty Council avoids the issue of academic freedom and the substance of their non-recommendation for promotion and tenure. Their claim of allotting significant time for its deliberation is unexceptionable but ILL AAUP did not address or find relevant the degree of effort expended in its composition but the rationale behind the report’s decision not to recommend tenure. We found the department report to be fatally flawed, arbitrary and in repeated violation of numerous AAUP guidelines in its denial of Professor Goswami’s academic freedom. We determined there was academic discrimination that included prima facie examples of sexism, gratuitous ad hominem attacks on the candidate’s competence and an excessive privileging of “continental” (European) philosophy. NB: There are non-European continents with philosophers! The letter fails to even acknowledge the judicious seven-person minority report that recommended tenure and promotion and rejected the majority’s bias against tenuring a professor who dared to challenge the canon of the department. Good faith by decree after the fact is one thing. Content of a flawed report that is on the record is another.

See letter below:

January 26, 2011

To Faculty Council:                                                              

We, the undersigned members of the Philosophy Department, write to you in the wake of the motion passed in your January 12, 2011 meeting calling upon “President Holtschneider to withdraw his final judgment in the Namita Goswami tenure case in order to allow for the full consideration of academic freedom.” Since this motion was occasioned in large part by a tenure denial within the Philosophy Department, we thought it might be helpful to remind you of the process we followed in making this difficult decision. Though most of these facts are or should be well known, we would like to reiterate them here so that Faculty Council can continue to debate issues related to this case with those facts in mind.

The Philosophy Department met on January 8, 2010 to discuss three tenure and promotion cases, one a promotion to full professor and two tenure cases. The departmental meeting lasted nearly nine hours, with just over two hours devoted to each of two cases and then close to five hours devoted to the one tenure case that resulted in a negative vote from the department. It was clear from the discussion of all three cases that faculty members had done their job and read the entirety of the dossiers made available to them by the candidates. We thus debated in depth and in detail the merits of the three candidates’ respective records in the areas of teaching, research, and service. This is the process we have always followed in cases of tenure and promotion. In the first two cases, there was near unanimous agreement about the merits of the cases, and the vote, taken by secret ballot, was unanimously in favor of promotion to full professor in the one case and promotion and tenure in the other. The third case was much more difficult and led to a discussion that was more than twice as long. While opinions were sharply divided, they were aired freely and openly in a discussion that remained respectful and professional throughout. After thoroughly debating the candidate’s record in teaching, research, and service, the case was put to a vote, once again by secret ballot. To the question of whether the candidate should be granted tenure, a majority of the eighteen tenured faculty members present voted in the negative. The substance of our discussion was subsequently written up by the departmental Chair in a report of some seventeen double-spaced pages that tried to represent the varying views of faculty members in this case. Sixteen of the eighteen tenured faculty members signed this report. A minority report was also apparently drafted and signed by two faculty members, though it was never made available to the department as a whole. 

We point to the length and depth of our deliberations in order to emphasize that none of us took this vote lightly. No one simply voted either for or against in this case  without a full review of the candidate’s record and without making an informed judgment based on the materials presented by the candidate. As the first tenure denial in the Philosophy Department in more than twenty-five years, it was a vote many of us agonized over. While we had different views about the merits of the case, it was on the basis of these merits alone that our individual judgments were reached. The majority vote of the department can thus in no way be construed as the department’s rejection or devaluation of any of the candidate’s areas of specialization, and most notably Postcolonial Theory. On the contrary, we as a department affirm Postcolonial Theory as an essential and vital part of contemporary philosophy and we are committed to offering courses in this area. One section of PHL 394, Topics in PostcoloniaIism, is thus currently being taught in the Philosophy Department and a second section will be offered in the spring quarter. 

Since our meeting in January 2010, the case has moved forward to the Personnel Committee of the College of Liberal Art & Sciences, the University Board on Promotion and Tenure, the President, and then to an Appeals Board. We have respected this process throughout and have at no point tried to influence the outcome of the case within DePaul or even answer allegations and statements (many of them erroneous) reported in the media about it. We have considered it inappropriate for us to respond in a public way to any such statements or allegations regarding a personnel issue that comes with certain expectations of confidentiality. Our attitude has been and continues to be that we did what was expected of us as faculty members during our meeting in January 2010: we debated the case in a serious and thoughtful manner and each of us made what we considered to be an informed and responsible judgment based on the record before us.

We thank you for giving us this opportunity to remind you of the way the Philosophy Department has proceeded in this case and hope that these comments will be useful to you in your deliberations. 


Peg Birmingham, Professor & Former Chair 

Jason Hill, Associate Professor 

David Farrell Krell, Professor & Former Chair 

Rick Lee, Professor & Former Chair

Bill Martin, Professor

Will McNeill, Professor  

Elizabeth Millan, Professor 

Michael Naas, Professor & Chair 

Mollie Painter-Morland, Associate Professor 

David Pellauer, Professor & Former Chair

Elizabeth Rottenberg, Associate Professor 

H. Peter Steeves, Professor 

Kevin Thompson, Associate Professor

Patricia Werhane, Professor

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