A story out today is about how Glendale Community College Math Professor Walter Kehowski could be fired for an email he sent out with a link to Pat Buchanan's website.
I should mention right here that though I work in the same field as Professor Kehowski and I am certain that I know some people who also know him (including several of his colleagues in the math department there), I don't remember meeting him. I may have met Professor Kehowski at a professional conference (though the name doesn't bring to mind a face) but if I did then I don't remember the introduction, nor have I ever attended any professional conferences where I listened to him present anything. I've been to Glendale Community College several times for various reasons and find it to be a pleasant enough place, but have never had any contact with their administration.
I will also mention that I am certain that I disagree with virtually everything political that Professor Kehowski believes concerning immigration, and have been an outspoken proponent of immigrant rights on this blog and elsewhere.
However, I disagree even more strongly with the idea that he should be fired for exercising his right to free speech within the context of an academic environment.
A Maricopa Community Colleges professor could be fired after he sent an e-mail to district employees that contained a link to Pat Buchanan's Web site and a transcript of a George Washington Thanksgiving proclamation.
Math Professor Walter Kehowski, who has sent controversial e-mails in the past, was placed on paid leave from his job at Glendale Community College. A national free-speech group, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has taken up his cause and is asking the Maricopa County Community College District to exonerate him.
Greg Lukianoff, president of the Philadelphia-based group, said Kehowski is being targeted because of the e-mail, sent Nov. 22, with the 1789 proclamation and the link to the site of Buchanan, a conservative commentator and former presidential candidate. Lukianoff said five employees filed complaints because the Buchanan site criticized immigration policies.
Glendale Community College is claiming that he is being fired for violating the district's electronic communications policy, which prohibits using district e-mail for private or personal matters.
Fair enough, if it were a private or personal matter. If he were sending out emails touting his side business or exchanging raunchy emails with a hooker in Hong Kong then they might have a point.
However, this email propounded a political viewpoint. Whether one agrees with it or not is irrelevant. It is hard to argue that it is either private or personal. It is instead an academic argument. What this amounts to is an attack on academic freedom. Academia is supposed to be a place in which ideas can be exchanged freely, debated and responded to (there's a thought-- why didn't they just send out an email rebutting his?). If Professor Kehowski is fired the clear message will be that only those political views which pass muster with Maricopa Community Colleges will be tolerated or will be allowed to be expressed on campus (because let's face it, they certainly have similar policies governing what can be posted on bulletin boards and otherwise distributed on campus.) Perhaps the view here is that academic freedom on campus doesn't extend beyond the classroom.
And that would be a true irony. As I mentioned earlier, I work in the same field as Professor Kehowski. And teaching math, I have no reason to discuss politics in the classroom, so I very scrupulously check my politics at the door and go in and talk about quadratic equations and logarithms. As Professor Kehowski's professionalism on the job has not been called into question, I can only assume that he does likewise. Do you really think it is wise then, to implement a policy in which he (and for that matter any of us in academia, if this policy becomes universal) has to propound his views in the classroom because that is the only place on campus where free speech will be protected?