How should a Dean who understands academic freedom respond to public controversy about faculty writing?

Brian Leiter:

So we know from the unhappy example of Dean Ferruolo throwing a faculty member under the bus what not to do: you don’t publish a statement on the homepage of the school singling out a faculty member’s work, declare that not only do you, as Dean, disagree with it, but suggest that these are pariah views in “our law school community”, and imply that the offending views may implicate “racial discrimination” and persecution of the “vulnerable” and “marginalized.” Making an obligatory reference to academic freedom in passing does not undo the damage that this decanal misconduct causes.

The job of administrators is not to share their opinions about the views of members of the faculty, but to administer a university environment in which faculty and students may express points of view that do not otherwise violate anti-discrimination, sexual harassment or other laws. (The silly op-ed did not violate any applicable law obviously). So one obvious, and preferable, option would have been for the Dean to make no public statement at all. He could have met with concerned student groups, and educated them about academic freedom and reaffirmed institutional policies about equal opportunity. If a Dean makes any public statement in the context of such a controversy, it should not include any comment on a faculty member’s views; it would suffice, for example, to simply reaffirm the institution’s commitment to equal opportunity for all students and the like.

The Kalven Report got it exactly right fifty years ago, and all administrators ought to read and think about it. The university sponsors critics, it is not itself a critic or advocate (except for that narrow range of issues central to the university’s function). A Dean, or other university administrator, forfeits his academic freedom upon becoming Dean–in part, because Deaning is not a scholarly enterprise but an administrative one, and academic freedom exists only to protect the scholarly pursuit of truth. As an administrator, the Dean’s job is to protect academic freedom and protect an environment in which faculty and students can express their views in the appropriate fora, such as the classroom, scholarship, and sometimes in the public sphere. In order to preserve a community of open and vigorous debate, the Dean must not lend his authority to one side or the other. That there is an uproar about a faculty member’s scholarship or op-ed does not mean the Dean must speak out, except perhaps to educate people about what a university is and what academic freedom is and why it matters.