Want To Stop Rioting on Campus? The Answer Is Hiding in Plain Sight

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/05/01/want-to-stop-rioting-on-campus-the-answer-is-hiding-in-plain-sight/

Tumult on American college and university campuses has become a routine part of the news. Watching television or reading newspapers, one might wonder whether students are learning anything in college or are merely agitating on issues they little understand.

Blame for this state of affairs is often placed upon the students, the parents who failed to raise them with virtues such as humility and temperance, and the administrators who abdicate governance. Those are all culprits in many cases. But if we want to understand root causes, then we should not overlook the many colleges and universities that are doing their job well, where learning occurs without incident. Comparing successful campuses with unsettled campuses, we see the most important influence upon the identity and activities of a college or university might be the faculty.

When surveying the controversies in higher education today, from campus riots and disinvited speakers on secular campuses to battles over mission and the fight for liberties of conscience and association on religious campuses, the faculty is often the dog that does not bark. The faculty sets the tone. Professors determine much of the disposition toward rational inquiry and embody the institution’s commitment to core values. Just as important, where faculty members enjoy the rights and privileges of tenure, they also share responsibility for governing the academic enterprise of the institution. This requires the faculty to exercise its rights and to honor its duties to secure and advance the educational mission.

Governing the institution requires the faculty first to govern itself. Faculty must engage those with whom they disagree. They must also hire, reward with tenure, and promote only those teachers and scholars who support and can advance the mission. These responsibilities sometimes cause conflict.

Self-governance is often messy, controversial, and uncomfortably personal work. Academics, who tend to be bookish by disposition and neutral by training, are not often inclined to enjoy it. But the work must be done. And the work is entrusted to the faculty.

Consider the University of Missouri and the case of Melissa Click, the professor who helped to foment unrest and infamously called for protestors to use brute force to remove a student journalist from a protest. After an investigation, the university Board of Curators fired Click, with good reason. Her actions and stated commitments were manifestly hostile to the educational mission of the institution. A national organization representing professors condemned the university for firing Click without affording her a hearing in front a representative body of the faculty. Yet the faculty had time to initiate proceedings before the Board of Curators acted. For whatever reason, they did not.

Closer to Boston, controversy has again struck Gordon College, the Christian college on the North Shore. Recently the seven-person faculty senate resigned in entirety after the administration declined to follow their recommendation to promote a professor who had spoken publicly against policies that are central to the college’s mission.

As she candidly alleged in her complaint to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the complaining professor expressly disavowed and advocated against orthodox Christian commitments on marriage and sexuality. Undoubtedly, there is more to the story than what has been reported in the Boston Globe and other news media that are hostile to Gordon’s Christian mission. But it seems likely that something went wrong here. That someone whose personal convictions are diametrically opposed to Christianity could be hired, tenured, and recommended for promotion at a college whose life and conduct statement has long been expressly Christian suggests that faculty governance broke down somewhere.

We should not neglect to note that shared governance worked in these cases. Administrators at University of Missouri and Gordon College (and elsewhere) have come in for criticism for upholding institutional commitments. To be sure, administrators should sometimes be slow to act and should generally allow faculty governance to work. But administrators who defend the institutional mission when the faculty abdicates deserve our praise.

Also lost in these controversies is that many faculties do not abdicate. In an earlier controversy involving a disciplined Gordon College professor, the faculty senate did its job well, courageously voting to discipline the professor after she called for actions that would harm the institution.

Contrast Berkeley and Middlebury, where feckless faculty have not merely allowed but in some cases contributed to the illiberal and anti-intellectual antics of students and protestors, with the commitment made by the University of Chicago to protect free speech and rational inquiry. The Chicago Statement on Free Expression was a faculty-shaped initiative. More recently, Princeton philosopher Robert P. George (a conservative) and Harvard professor Cornel West (a left-liberal) joined to produce a statement of commitment to truth-seeking and freedom of expression. The statement has garnered the support of professors from around the United States and elsewhere who understand the purpose for which a university exists.

Some professors want to enjoy the rights and privileges of tenure without exercising the responsibilities of self-governance. But many other faculties quietly do their jobs well and take seriously the sacred trust bestowed upon them. Those faculties do not earn headlines in the Kansas City Star or the Boston Globe. Before investing in colleges and universities, parents and potential donors should look carefully at faculties. They should ensure that the professors to whom they entrust their children and resources are worthy of that trust.


Adam J. MacLeod, a graduate of Gordon College and Notre Dame Law School, is an Associate Professor at Faulkner University, Jones School of Law in Montgomery, Alabama.