Arkansas Universities Want to Be Able to Fire Professors Who Aren't Collegial

General counsel for the university system tries to slip in long-condemned policy.


In addition to plagiarism, theft of property and acts of violence, the University of Arkansas system is considering adding a failure to maintain "collegiality" as a reason to terminate tenured professors.

Using collegiality as an evaluation tool has long been blasted by the American Association of University Professors for its potential to create a faculty of "genial Babbitts" to which society is not likely to look for leadership.

Joshua Silverstein, a law professor at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, first drew attention to the proposal, quietly added to the second page of a draft provision by system's general counsel, flagging a "pattern of disruptive conduct or unwillingness to work productively with colleagues." Silverstein called this collegiality clause "a striking attack on academic freedom and tenure."

Richard J. Peltz-Steele, a former colleague of Silverstein and a law professor at the University of Massachusetts, blogged that a tenured professor can be terminated for showing a "pattern of disruptive conduct or unwillingness to work productively with colleagues."

"That provision would allow the termination of a faculty member who ignores instruction to teach the politically correct or anti-intellectual version of a subject in the classroom," Peltz-Steele wrote.

Nate Hinkel, a spokesman for the university system, told The Chronicle of Higher Education in an email in late October the proposed changes were part of a broader effort in recent years to update its Board of Trustees' policies so they align with "current law and best practices."

The university professors association considers it a worst practice. "The elevation of collegiality into a separate and discrete standard is not only inconsistent with the long-term vigor and health of academic institutions and dangerous to academic freedom; it is unnecessary."

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit organization focused on civil liberties in academia, warns of the chilling effect on professors' academic freedom if policies enforcing vague "collegiality" standards move forward.

"Collegiality-related charges are easily and frequently thrown in as a laundry-list item in faculty investigations, and often it is the only charge universities can make stick," Peter Bonilla, a writer for FIRE, explains. "It's a difficult charge for faculty to fight — just about any behavior could be subjectively cast as un-collegial, after all—and therefore an easy charge with which to gain leverage."

FIRE has also condemned a provision in Ohio Northern University's faculty handbook. The provision reads, "faculty members are expected to treat colleagues and staff with civility and respect."

"How is one to define 'civility'? What constitutes 'respect'?" Bonilla writes. "Of course, the Ohio Northern policy provides no answers, leaving it all too easy for administrators to conveniently define it however they please, whenever it suits their interests."

The vagueness in U of A's and ONU's policies is the crux of the danger to academic freedom, leaving plenty of room for administrators to oust professors who don't fall in line with their beliefs. These policies encourage homogeneous groupthink and disincentivizes professors from exploring different perspectives in academia. Daring to dissent should not be a reason to fire a professor.

Having a separate provision for collegiality only serves to stifle academic freedom. If universities are serious about fostering a healthy environment for learning then they should heed the advice of the AAUP and FIRE and ditch "collegiality" policies.

Punishment based on the subjective whims of administrators only further traps universities in a bubble of their own creation.

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  1. FACULTY CHAIRMAN: “So before we begin this meeting let’s have a moment of silence on this, the anniversary of Hillary Clinton’s devastating defeat.”

    REPUBLICAN PROF: “Wait a minute!”

    FACULTY CHAIRMAN: “Someone isn’t being very collegial…”

    REPUBLICAN PROF: “Never mind.”

    1. Republican professor? I wasn’t aware that they existed.

      1. Maybe in Arkansas.

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      2. Maybe somebody like Bill Kristol?

        1. His Harvard student politician debut was heading Young Democrats for Carter

      3. Existed? Don’t you know they are outed everyday? Somewhere, some professors thinks, “this is going a bit far …” and BAM! instant NaziRacistDrumpf-ist.

        Naturally, colleges need a new tool – and scores of commissars – to fight wrong-think.

      4. Maybe that’s why they want this collegiality clause. They’ve almost attained perfect ideological homogeneity, they just need some way to oust the last few non-conformists.

  2. I sensed that UofA was mentioned in this article, and was very disappointed to learn it was Arkansas, not Arizona.

    Bad article.

    1. Most Arizona professors are eaten by gila monsters before getting tenure anyway.

      1. Or get lost in the desert while tripping on peyote.

        1. First one, then the other.

          1. We already have enough gila monsters at our faculty meetings.

  3. “That provision would allow the termination of a faculty member who ignores instruction to teach the politically correct or anti-intellectual version of a subject in the classroom,” Peltz-Steele wrote.

    Feature, not bug.

    1. Actual, it is even the main purpose

    2. Actually, it is even the main purpose

  4. Wow, it’s the university version of FYTW.

  5. You don’t get tenure without everyone knowing exactly how far you will tow the party line.

    You aren’t going to hide your libertarian feelings for 10-15 years of grad school and junior faculty appointments and then suddenly come out of the closet.

    By then you will have completely sold your soul.

    1. Yes, but there’s a few that don’t lean Left hanging on. They might live another 20 years. Something has to be done to protect the fragile minds of the students from these Right wing monsters!

  6. “Wow, Dean Weinstein, I had no idea that junior faculty were eligible for a Miss Collegiality award…and you say it might help me with the Tenure Committee?”

  7. Doesn’t it depend on who’s doing the dissenting and why?

    1. Sure, it doesn’t apply to courageous dissenters who #Resist President Hitler, just to nazis who use hurtful speech in, say, opposing more funding for the LGBTQ Center.

      1. …just to nazis who use hurtful speech in, say, opposing more funding for the LGBTQ Center.

        But doesn’t the ‘T’ in LGBTQ believe that all the other letters are really just the opposite gender than they think they are? Weird, it’s almost like it doesn’t belong in the Alphabet Soup.

        1. No, I don’t think that is the “T’s” think. But it also doesn’t really belong there with the rest. Maybe with the Q’s since that seems to mean whatever other weird shit you might be into.

          1. I suppose that’s probably more accurate given that transgender people might want to fuck the opposite gender that’s really the same gender, which essentially boils down to a more literal interpretation of ‘I was born a lesbian in a man’s body’.

          2. Referring to someone’s sexual preferences/ fetishes as “weird shit” is an othering microaggression. Not very “collegial” of you. Report for re-education at once, citizen.

        2. At what point do we realize that it is the alphabet soup that has a very narrow and oppressive definition of “male” and “female”?

  8. As long as they can still bang their students, I think we are ok.

    1. You know why Democrats cry after sex?


      FTR, I have no idea if that guy is a Democrat. I just like the joke.

  9. How they just get rid of tenure? Then they would be just like the rest of mundanes.

    1. See, there’s a bunch of hypocrisy flying around here.

      When professors have job security because of contracts and unions, that’s good; it prevents abuse from fire-at-will.

      When police have job security because of contracts and unions, that’s bad, because it prevents firing abusive cops.

      When civilian union workers have job security because of contracts and unions, that’s down to contracts, and that’s good.

      When government employees have job security because of contracts and unions, that’s bad, because government employees shouldn’t have unions.

      So this article is just plain fucked up.

  10. Using collegiality as an evaluation tool has long been blasted by the American Association of University Professors for its potential to create a faculty of “genial Babbitts” to which society is not likely to look for leadership.

    When I think of leadership, college professors are the first people that come to mind. /sarc

    1. “When I think of leadership, college professors are the first people that come to mind”

      For all values of leadership=abject abasement and capitulation to the demands of ‘marginalized’ students.

  11. Sorry, but just because it means something to FIRE doesn’t mean it’s at all relevant to Reason’s readers.

  12. How is one to define ‘civility’? What constitutes ‘respect’?

    Only one thing is certain. One standard will apply to the professoriate, and a stricter standard applied to all others.


    ABC “political analyst” explains why it is different when Progressive men assault and grope women.

    God I love Twitter. It is just a perfect vehicle for these stupid bastards to disgrace themselves. You would think they would learn but they never do.

    1. Intentions are magic.

    2. Thanks for that; you just can’t even make this shit up.

    3. Wow, that is dumb. Do these people ever read what they have written?

    4. The “Animal Farm” reference is priceless: some animals are more equal than others

      1. They really do think Orwell was writing instruction manuals instead of dystopian fiction.

  14. I’ve been in higher ed for over 20 years and I think this could be a good move. Tenure seems to protect a lot more than academic freedom. I’ve been in meetings where someone would rip into another faculty member with profanity and border-line threats.

    The faculty who act this way aren’t stupid. They’re just vile. They avoid harassment based on sex or race because that could actually get them into trouble. Everything else is fair game and they use it.

    In my pre-higher ed career this would not have been tolerated, they’d be fired. But tenure is being used as an all-purpose protection instead of protecting academic freedom. At some point, incivility should be grounds for firing.

    As for academic freedom – it should be about research, not teaching. If a department picks a textbook/curriculum for a course, academic freedom shouldn’t allow an individual teacher to go off on their own and teach whatever they want. We actually had an incident where a new hire got angry because one of the experienced teachers gave him the textbook, course objectives, list of major projects, and a sample syllabus. We offer 6 to 10 sections of this course per year and the department has clear expectations of what the students will learn but the new instructor thought that “academic freedom” should allow him to teach anything he thought was important as long as it was related to the course title. He didn’t last long, but he didn’t have tenure either.

    1. So using “collegiality” as a criteria for keeping your job, or not, is a good idea? This may or may not have anything to do with how a teacher plans their syllabus.

      1. I can see how it could be abused, but overall I think it’s a good idea. That would make higher ed like the rest of the world. In any normal job, you can’t keep your job if you’re consistently a total jackass to your colleagues and clients.

        I’ve seen too many faculty members kept on the job after years of disrupting meetings by screaming at colleagues and yelling at students in class. Schools are afraid to fire them because groups like the AAUP will claim it’s a violation of some warped definition of academic freedom.

        1. “yelling at students in class”

          But would that be un-collegial? I thought collegiality was about getting along with other professors.

        2. Why not leave discipline to the Board of Trustees?

          The concern with “collegiality” is the heavy concentration of progressives who would abuse that standard (I don’t know what the progressive situation is like at your institution).

          Trustees can be progressives, but I think compared to faculty governance they look like the Tea Party Caucus.

          1. I think to many problems at universities, we can simply ask “would a more assertive Board of Trustees help?”

            Maybe not in all situations, but (maybe I’m naive) I don’t envision a panel of trustees berating a professor for using the wrong pronouns.

  15. They should be able to fire at will.

  16. Well, they can already fire college professors for not being universal enough, so it’s only fair that it work both ways.

    1. Get it? The headline says “universities want professors to be collegial”, so I, like, reversed it, and… Oh, never mind I guess.

  17. What ever happened to free speech and independent thought? Aren’t they supposed to be the bastions of the university system? Wasn’t tenure invented to protect teachers who had or espoused unpopular ideas from being fired because of them? This focus on “collegiality” sounds like an effort to promote “group think.'” Once we start adopting those policies, schools will turn into giant propaganda institutions where the students minds, instead of being opened to new ideas will be forcibly closed to anything but what the university regents believe is “common knowledge” i.e. what everybody believes to be true, even if it isn’t.

    1. Wait, your comments make sense now?

    2. The answer to your first question is “progressives”.
      That also answers the other questions.

  18. *Since we have adopted these policies, schools have turned into giant propaganda institutions where the students minds…
    There, corrected to what you meant to imply. For Real.
    UofA 1981

  19. Tenure was created to protect professors from exactly such pressures. Being liked is incompatible with doing your research. You might discover that the experiment your colleague did cannot be replicated or that they fudged some data. “Collegiality” prevents you from pointing this out. Many junior profs or job applicants are indeed denied tenure/a job because they aren’t liked or in some cases because they are Christian or Republican.

  20. Boo fucking hoo, start your own school if you want to be immune from getting fired by your boss. Like everyone else.

  21. Would this matter if a college degree mattered?

  22. I once worked for a company that gave me a bad review for not eating lunch with the team I worked with. First I asked if I were a prisoner. Then I explained I couldn’t eat their favorite foods anyway for medical reasons. The supervisor said I should go see a doctor to prove it then take medications so I could eat the food anyway and be part of the team. When layoffs came around I volunteered. ‘Social’ people are needy, sick fucks when it comes down to it.

  23. How about just getting rid of the tenure system altogether? Along with public funding of universities?

  24. Works both ways. Could also fire education’s overgrowth of belligerent PC bigots teaching black kids how to hate white kids, women how to hate males and everybody how to hate Christians.

    And why, I wonder is “disruptive conduct or unwillingness to work productively with colleagues” not instantly fired anyway.

    Should also fire any asshole who labels as “genial Babbitts,” teachers preferring cooperative interaction and quiet classrooms, to the perpetual disruption currently ruining education for decent kids trying to learn something besides how to hate each other.

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