Veterans Day Suspension: Fifth Anniversary November 11, 2002-2007

On this date November 11, 2002, I was suspended from teaching and removed from the classroom by then St Xavier University President Richard Yanikoski. The suspension had resulted from an e-mail I had sent on October 31, 2002 to Cadet Robert Kurpiel of the Air Force Academy. I had been notified Saturday evening, November 9, 2002, in a telephone call from then Vice President for Academic Affairs, Doctor Christopher Chalokwu, that the president was returning from an alumni fundraiser in the east and wanted the three of us to meet the following Monday. Twice I inquired if this were a disciplinary hearing and I was told “no” the agenda was merely a “conversation.” As then president of the A.A.U.P. chapter, I was quite aware of the differences between a disciplinary hearing and a conversation. The former would suggest the right of counsel, rigorous preparation and contacting relevant parties which was the reason for my inquiry. The latter would suggest a meeting that was collegial, casual and emphasising some reciprocity.

At the meeting which lasted well over two hours, I was presented with what seemed an endless series of sanctions, conditions and deadlines in a manner that was shocking if not horrifying. One of the planned sanctions was to convene a three-person review committee that would examine my teaching, scholarship and service. I knew at that point that the stakes were quite high and that I had to muster every survivalist impulse for this was no “conversation” but an event in which my future as an educatior clearly hanged in the balance. I insisted this special review would be a violation of the by-laws, in which tenured faculty were required to undergo a formative post-tenure review every five years. I had authored that provision of the by-laws and faculty handbook in order to avoid putting tenure on trial in a summative manner.

I argued strenuously, while sitting on a couch, with the V.P.A.A. sitting to my right in a chair and the president sitting on my left in a chair, that I would not accept such an extraordinary review that might conceivably lead to my dismissal. I was told, however, that the composition of the committee could be mutually agreed upon and that my appointment was not being terminated. I said I should be subjected to the same post-tenure review and the same procedures as all other tenured faculty. I indicated that the cadet was not my student, that there had been no complaints about my teaching, that I had won the Teaching Excellence Award, that I had published on a regular basis and was very engaged in both on-campus and off-campus service. The president agreed to skuttle the three-person inquisition but authorised an early post-tenure review, which I had suggested out of desperation, that would be conducted prior to the five-year sequencing in the Faculty Handbook.

My counterproposal was proffered because I feared there was an effort to terminate me by “death from a thousand cuts.” However, both the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the American Association of University Professors publicly criticised the imposition of a post-tenure review that was premature or that could be used in a politically charged manner to terminate my appointment. I am so grateful to the support of these entities in assisting me to protect my rights and to mitigate the national fury for vengeance and professional destruction that was descending upon the university.

This is an excerpt concerning the unexpected post-tenure review from University of Pennsylvania historian and founder of F.I.R.E., Dr Alan Charles Kors, which was released in a letter to my university:

In particular-and we shall stand by Professor Kirstein’s side in this matter for as long as necessary-it would be unbearable if Professor Kirstein’s post-tenure review were in any manner whatsoever affected by his exercise this past fall of his rights as a citizen of a free society. You have every right to apply your normal and regular procedures and standards to an evaluation of his teaching at Saint Xavier University (for which, we understand, he won an award for distinguished teaching) and of his scholarship. You know, however, I am certain, that you have no right to apply any standard that would threaten academic freedom, the liberty of a free nation, the civic rights of the American professoriate, and the core American value that free expression is a way of being human. Professor Kirstein may be judged, of course, in the court of public opinion for the exercise of his rights as a citizen. He may not be judged for that exercise in a post-tenure review. That latter judgment would cast a pall over freedom itself, and it would announce that the choice of an academic life entails a diminution, not an enhancement or even a preservation, of one’s civil rights. It would chill debate. It would introduce into a free society the ways of authoritarian regimes. [Emphasis in original]

This is an excerpt from the St Xavier A.A.U.P. chapter which was disseminated by History News Network:

3) Post tenure review must not be used as a punitive process. Article V of the Saint Xavier University Faculty Bylaws requires: “The purpose of the [post-tenure] review is to enhance and improve the tenured faculty member’s overall performance. The review process shall be formative and shall preserve academic freedom and tenure.” The procedures specified in the Faculty Policies Section of the Faculty Handbook regarding post-tenure review must be respected at all times. It is not the prerogative of either the faculty member or the administration to alter, amend, or revise these procedures.

On this Veterans Day we are supposed to ponder the meaning of  military service in war which I believe is an immoral act despite the personal attributes of those who may have served.   For me, as a veteran, one would hope that the notion of freedom–and in particular academic freedom–be protected as a basic constitutional right. As we glorify veterans who served, we should not forget that the propaganda of fighting for freedom, fighting for democracy, fighting for the “free world” be measured against their inevitable diminution on the home front. Veterans Day for me reveals the gap between nationalistic calls for war and service in defence of nation, and the reality that during war, many of our freedoms are attenuated and eviscerated in the name of conformity, rallying behind the flag and defeating the latest designer enemy.

I was suspended, reprimanded and publicly vilified for denouncing war, military tactics used in war and excoriating the notion of iconic reverence for those in uniform. That type of speech should be protected, even if irate and at times hurtful. Let freedom ring and academic freedom be protected and nurtured.

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