George Mason Law School

Nichol supporters suppress debate

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February 19, 2008

9:40 AM

p. A few days after Provost Geoff Feiss reportedly giggled in public at the prospects of a faculty strike and Dean of Arts and Sciences Carl Strikwerda offered full assistance to the new president while expressing his intent to devote his class to student discussion of Board of Visitors’ failures, Chemistry Professor Gary Defotis stood before a hastily called meeting of the faculty of Arts and Sciences. He supported the BOV’s decision not to renew former College President Gene Nichol’s contract and argued that the BOV did not bend to ideological pressure from the extreme right. Economics Professor Robert Archibald followed with an expression of anger at his colleague’s assumptions about the BOV. Separately, English Professor Colleen Kennedy criticized in the press Nichol’s self-serving e-mail that fueled the attack.

p. All this took courage. It takes courage to speak up in a hostile environment carefully cultivated to ensure conformity, which is true among the faculty of Arts and Sciences. We write to support such laudable dissent.

p. The revolters need to look in the mirror, because they are guilty of the very charges they allege against the BOV: of allowing ideology and politics to get in the way of a rational decision and ignoring established members of the College community. It’s time to deconstruct the practice of politicizing everything.

p. Last spring, we publicly accused the administration of abusing its authority in reviewing the philosophy department and made factual claims in the press never denied by the administration. If our factual claims are true, then there has been serious executive failure in the administration.

p. To make this vivid, imagine that, without affording any prior opportunity for rebuttal and without the knowledge of those accused, the administration releases as a public document a report containing unspecific, unsubstantiated and anonymous accusations against unnamed but easily identified women faculty. Imagine the accusations detail misconduct that, if substantiated, would ruin reputations. And imagine that two women from that department make public the very same kinds of factual claims of abuse that we provided. What would the reaction of students and faculty be? No doubt, an impassioned call for investigation of serious executive failure.

p. Yet, when precisely this form of abuse was perpetuated against a group of male faculty in philosophy, not a hint of outrage was expressed. Not even a word of concern. Why? Because students and faculty now raging against the BOV don’t want to know the truth about anything that would interfere with the political goal of retaining a popular president. Ideology and politics become reasons for ignoring members of the College community and prevent a fair assessment of the president. Procedural justice is ignored.

p. The same applies to the Faculty Hearing Committee. It dismissed our grievance as “unworthy of consideration” on a gratuitous technicality and denied us a formal hearing to present
evidence. Why? Not because of the nature of our case, since the FHC would never have denied women faculty a formal hearing under the same circumstances. So why deny us? Politics and ideology. The fear that such a hearing would jeopardize a popular president. Ideology before fairness and truth.

p. Ditto the Faculty Assembly. We filed a complaint against the administration with the accreditation agency (SACS), informed the Faculty Assembly of our complaint and asked to meet with the Executive Committee to discuss it. Not even a reply. Why? Ideology and politics? A threat to retaining a popular president?

p. The Arts and Sciences Faculty Affairs Committee is similarly politicized. If our complaint had come from women faculty rather then men in philosophy, the FAC would have aggressively called for an inquiry. Emergency meetings, a faculty strike and classes canceled. Why not in our case? Because the abuses endured by some colleagues (but only some) are less important than the politics of saving a popular president.

p. And why did the FAC write a letter to the BOV calling for Nichol’s renewal without taking a vote after open discussion of the faculty of Arts and Sciences? They said because they already knew from countless e-mails of majority support. Of course, that deprives the minority of faculty an opportunity to engage in discussion that might change some minds. The politics of protecting the president justifies ignoring dissent.

p. We applaud the courage of our dissenting colleagues and the foresight of the BOV. To students and faculty who have turned their backs on members of this community legitimately seeking your help: you are in no position to accuse the BOV, state legislators or Jim Jones ’82 of politicizing the process. We are not “in solidarity” with you. The motives you falsely ascribe to others are clearly your own.

__Professor George Harris and Associate Professor Paul Davies are members of the College’s philosophy department.__

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