The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) today issued an advisory letter saying Truckee Meadows Community College’s reasons for trying to fire Professor Lars Jensen amount to academic freedom violations.
It is the third national organization to weigh-in on TMCC’s attempt to fire Jensen for alleged insubordination.
Two deans testified at the first hearing that Jensen didn’t do what they wanted him to, and he “disrupted an official [Nevada System of Higher Education] event” by passing out a document with his opinion about proposed changes to the college’s math curriculum.
TMCC Dean Anne Flesher said, “Dr. Jensen has demonstrated a consistent pattern of defiance and disrespect by his refusal to apply the repeated directives and not responding to the dean’s requests in a timely manner.”
One of those directives was related to Jensen’s grading policy.
The AAUP’s Mark Criley said grading is the professor’s purview, not deans or administrators.
“The AAUP has long held that academic freedom protects instructors’ right to set course policies and assign grades according [to] their own professional judgment, provided they are consistent with institutional regulations and professional ethics,” he said.
“However, a faculty member’s professional judgment in these areas is not subordinate to that of their chair, dean, or other administrative officer,” he added. “It would therefore be preposterous to regard a faculty member as insubordinate for declining such a request.”
Criley also said insubordination as a reason for firing a tenured faculty member is suspect.
“The AAUP has long challenged the appropriateness of insubordination as a ground for dismissal,” he said. “When Association investigating committees have (all too frequently) encountered it, their members have questioned how a general requirement of subordination to authority can be reconciled with the faculty’s responsibility, under principles of academic freedom, to pursue truth wherever it may lead and to express views regarding educational policy institutional governance that may diverge from those of the administration and governing board.”
The AAUP, he said, will be following the case “given the apparent centrality of the academic freedom issues…”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education also said Jensen’s free speech rights are being infringed upon, and the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) also today wrote a letter in support of Jensen.
“We call on the college to end its proceedings against him,” AFA’s Keith Whittington wrote. “The disciplinary hearings raise grave concerns that Professor Jensen is being retaliated against for his constitutionally protected criticism of the college’s administration and efforts to communicate his concerns about the academic functioning of the college to his colleague and to other interested parties.”
TMCC’s spokesperson Kate Kirkpatrick this week said, “At TMCC, academic freedom and the rights of faculty are highly valued and recognized as an integral part of our college organization.”
TMCC has also said it cannot comment on personnel matters, but President Karin Hilgersom attempted to distance herself at a recent faculty meeting from both Cardoza and Jensen’s cases.
She said reporting by This Is Reno is part of a “disinformation campaign.” Inside Higher Ed also reported on TMCC trying to fire Jensen.
Public invited to attend tomorrow’s hearing
TMCC tomorrow is holding its second of two hearings to fire Jensen. Jensen invited people to attend the hearing in TMCC’s Red Mountain building, room 256 at 8 a.m.
“People [and] media who have called in to TMCC to get information have been told that they need a personal invitation from me to attend,” he wrote in an email to TMCC faculty. “Further, TMCC has declined to provide information about where at TMCC the hearing is being held.
“This is unfortunate, because TMCC knows that the hearing is public, and that no special invitation from me is necessary.”
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor, and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011, where he completed a dissertation on social media, journalism and crisis communications. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.