On paper, at least, criticizing Duquesne University's administration has been a firing offense for the past 15 years. But faculty representatives are urging the school to change that.
Since 1994, Duquesne's faculty handbook has warned that instructors can lose tenure for the offense of "insubordination." And in an e-mail vote late last month, Duquesne's Faculty Senate voted 32-2 in favor of removing the insubordination clause from the faculty handbook. The final tally was reported at the Feb. 25 meeting of the senate, a 39-member body which represents each of the university's schools.
The clause is easy to overlook: It's tucked into a footnote along with a list of other potential reasons for removal, including discrimination and failure to meet academic standards. No professor has been removed for insubordination since the language was added.
"I have no idea why [the clause] is in there," says law professor Bruce Ledewitz. "It's ridiculous. ... There is no place for it in a university setting."
But faculty apparently gave little thought to the provision until recently. As reported in a City Paper cover story last month, some professors worry that, under the administration of President Charles Dougherty, academic freedoms are at risk and collegiality is disappearing from campus [See "Campus Insecurity," http://tinyurl.com/cpduquesne].
Senate members now must await Dougherty's response, and it's not clear when -- or if -- that will be forthcoming. In an e-mail, Duquesne spokeswoman Bridget Fare wrote: "There has been no determination about the vote, and it likely would be an internal matter [that] wouldn't be discussed by the administration with reporters."
Senate President Paula Witt-Enderby refused comment on this story, citing her desire to keep faculty-senate business private. But some faculty senate members agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.
In fact, one member told CP that Dougherty and Provost Ralph Pearson attended the Feb. 25 senate meeting to discuss the controversial removal of law-school dean Don Guter late last year, as well as faculty complaints about being excluded from important university decisions.
"[Dougherty] was told that there is an atmosphere of fear and intimidation" on campus, the faculty-senate member told CP. "He referred to [that claim] as a 'big lie.'"
Some say there's an easy way for Dougherty to prove those allegations are untrue.
By promptly removing the clause now, Dougherty "would send the message that [he] is responsive to the faculty's concerns," says Robert Kreiser, a program officer for the American Association of University Professors.
"The clause should be taken out," says Mai Nguyen, a graduate student studying biology. "You're suppressing someone's voice. Where's the freedom in that?"
"[Professors] need to be able to speak out," agrees Andrew Wilkens, a senior political-science and economics major.
Still, Ledewitz says some professors are taking the clause too seriously. Professors who are afraid to voice discontent "are being foolish and cowardly," says Ledewitz, who recently sponsored a "no confidence" vote in Dougherty among law-school faculty. The measure failed, but Ledewitz has suffered no reprisal.
Ledewitz says he's convinced that insubordination is why Guter was removed as dean of the law school (Guter, who remains a tenured professor, will soon be leaving Duquesne for Houston's South Texas College of Law, where he will serve as the private law school's president and dean starting Aug. 1.) But deans are considered administrators, he points out, and serve at the pleasure of the president. Dougherty "doesn't think he can remove a faculty member on the same grounds," Ledewitz says.
"It's not as if we're living in a reign of terror and fear," he adds. Firing a tenured professor for insubordination "is not something [Dougherty] would ever do."