EXCLUSIVE: School admits tenure policy ‘limiting’ to free speech

Nikita Vladimirov
Investigative Reporter

  • Officials behind the University of Arkansas’ proposed tenure policy understood that the new revisions would be “controversial” and greatly limit free speech of faculty, new documents show.
  • The provision in question exempts professors from retribution for "mere expressions of opinions," but only if those opinions pertain “to the faculty member’s scholarship and assigned teaching duties.”
  • Officials behind the University of Arkansas’ proposed tenure policy understood that the new revisions would be “controversial” and greatly limit free speech of faculty, new documents show.

    The policy, which has been criticized for weakening tenure by making it possible to fire professors for “unwillingness to work productively with colleagues,” also includes a provision that drastically limits the scope of faculty free expression.

    "The statement also shows that the attorneys recognize precisely why their changes are controversial."   

    [RELATED: Profs blast proposal to weaken tenure at U of Arkansas]

    According to the documents reviewed by Campus Reform, one attorney working on the project clearly noted that the provision “is limiting and may be controversial, but I understand [the] rationale [for adopting it].”

    While the original provision concerning free speech underscored that “mere expressions of opinions, however vehemently expressed and however controversial such opinions may be, shall not constitute cause for dismissal [of faculty],” the new language only limits such expression “to the faculty member’s scholarship and assigned teaching duties.”

    CURRENT POLICY:

    PROPOSED CHANGE:

    “A Freedom of Information Act request has uncovered a remarkable admission by the University attorneys who have been privately drafting new rules that would gut tenure and academic freedom within the University of Arkansas system for over a year,” law professor Josh Silverstein, who first obtained the documents, told Campus Reform.   

    Silverstein added that the statement “demonstrates that the attorneys in the counsel’s office knew that their proposal makes ‘controversial’ changes, while at the same time they were representing to the world that the revisions merely ‘update’ existing policies.”  

    Although seemingly subtle, the changes to the provision have an enormous effect on free expression of tenured professors by limiting the protected speech to two specific categories, Silverstein maintained.

    “The statement also shows that the attorneys recognize precisely why their changes are controversial,” the professor argued, “because the proposal in fact critically limits the scope of academic freedom, one of the core tenets that define universities as places of higher education.”

    [RELATED: Univ. of Arkansas prevents prof. from studying race-based admissions data]

    Robert Steinbuch, a law professor who also previously challenged the proposed policy, argued that the changes “are not modest” and that “the university attorneys have drafted a proposal that undermines the public interest.”

    “The proposed revisions will jeopardize accreditation, put our state at a real competitive disadvantage for educators, and will negatively impact the learning environment," he added.

    The University of Arkansas did not immediately respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment.

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    Nikita Vladimirov

    Nikita Vladimirov

    Investigative Reporter
    Nikita Vladimirov is an Investigative Reporter for Campus Reform. Prior to joining Campus Reform, he wrote for The Hill, where he extensively covered the latest political developments in U.S. and around the world. Vladimirov's work has appeared on the front pages of The Drudge Report and The Hill, and has been featured by several media organizations including Fox News, MSN, Real Clear Politics and others. He has also appeared as a political commentator on numerous programs, including BBC radio.
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