Recently the President of Linfield University, Miles K. Davis, summarily fired Professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, a Shakespeare scholar who had held an endowed chair in the Department of English and had represented the faculty as a member of the Board of Trustees. According to the university administration, Pollack-Pelzner was terminated for reasons unrelated to his achievements as a teacher, researcher, or publishing scholar. Rather, the administration states that he was sacked because he had “engaged in conduct that is harmful to the university,” specifically that he had “violated instructions to preserve the attorney-client privilege” and that he had “circulated false statements about the university, its employees and its board.” In other words, Professor Pollack-Pelzner had publicly criticized the university and its president. President Davis fired him in retaliation. Pollack-Pelzner learned of his firing in an email, in which he learned that his termination was effective immediately.
This action by President Davis violates the principle of academic freedom on which all institutions of higher education depend to conduct their work with honesty and integrity. It is the final defense of free inquiry against the forces of political obedience and ideological conformity. No professor who has earned the protections of academic freedom can or may be deprived of it except for just cause and by due process. In Professor Pollack-Pelzner’s case, none of these conditions apply. Judging by Linfield University’s internal governance policies, Pollack-Pelzner was terminated without proper cause and with no process whatsoever. On its face, the action of President Davis appears to violate the Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure, adopted by the American Association of University Professors in 1957; when completed, an ongoing investigation by the AAUP will determine the scope of Linfield’s violation of academic freedom. All indications are that Pollack-Pelzner’s termination is precisely the sort of abuse that tenure and academic freedom are intended to prevent.
We, the United Academics of the University of Oregon, condemn President Davis’s actions in the strongest possible terms and urge him to reverse his decision. We also urge the Board of Trustees of Linfield University to register their opposition to this unacceptable assault on free, scholarly inquiry. And we stand in solidarity with Professor Pollack-Pelzner and all our friends and colleagues among the faculty at Linfield.