Friday, July 06, 2007

John Lewis--Off to Bigger and Better Things

At the Chronicle of Higher Education (via Ergo), "Tenure Shrugged: A Scholar's Affinity for the Philosophy of Ayn Rand Cost Him His Job," (here is the link to a cached page at google) discusses why John Lewis was pressured to resign.

Objectivists Out

Officials at Ashland have made their discomfort with objectivism abundantly clear. In January the university, in Ohio, rejected Mr. Lewis's application for tenure, and officials told him in writing that his support for objectivism was the sole reason for the denial.

A memo from Robert C. Suggs, who was then Ashland's provost, to Frederick J. Finks, the university's president, said that Mr. Lewis's tenure application was "a unique and particularly thorny one." Mr. Suggs wrote that Mr. Lewis's publications, teaching, and service all met or exceeded the university's tenure standards, but said that his support for objectivism, an atheist philosophy, "stands in unreserved opposition to the Judeo-Christian values found in the university's mission and the beliefs of the founding organization, the Brethren Church."
Mr. Lewis appealed the denial, saying it was arbitrary and discriminatory. He also hired a lawyer. Among other things, he argued that only two of the 21 scholarly publications he had submitted in his tenure file mentioned objectivism at all. His book on warfare, which is under contract with Princeton University Press for publication in 2009, will contain no explicitly objectivist arguments, he says.
But Mr. Finks, Ashland's president, says it is entirely appropriate for Ashland to defend its mission and identity by drawing certain lines in the sand.

"Ashland has had a commitment to Judeo-Christian values since its founding 128 years ago," he said. "In our faculty rules and regulations, and even in our bylaws, we talk about having a faculty committed to Judeo-Christian values. We don't require faculty to be specifically of Judeo-Christian persuasion, but we do require faculty to support the mission."
John P. McCaskey, president of the Anthem foundation, said that if Ashland wanted to pursue a particular Christian mission, just as the Objectivist Academic Center pursues its own Randian mission, he had no objection to that. But he said he believes that Ashland acted wrongly by continuing to spend the foundation's money.

In a February letter to Mr. Finks that was sent after Mr. Lewis's tenure denial, Mr. McCaskey wrote, "If at some point the university decided that this was not a field in which it wanted its faculty working, there were several honorable options. This was not one of them."

No Objectivist could deny the university's right to grant tenure to whomever they wish--even if someone would be denied for reasons wholly unrelated to their actual performance. It is not smart or moral to remove an entirely competent professional, but it is their prerogative. I do not see it differently than the Ayn Rand Institute rejecting writers whose writings outside of the institute are in violation of Objectivism.

Even accepting money from an Objectivist organization does not obligate the university to tenure the faculty member who brought in the funds. Ashland University should not have accepted money from the Anthem Foundation and perhaps the Anthem Foundation should have considered the ultimate recipient of the funds and not just the professors. The university's church relations and devotion to traditional religious principles are easily found on the website.

I am disappointed that John Lewis's new book will not contain explicitly Objectivist arguments. Ayn Rand is not the only person who advocated for total war but I would be surprised if Objectivism didn't offer the best support.

I am sure this is quite upsetting for John Lewis and it does not bode well for Objectivists at colleges that embrace religious values. I hope John Lewis is able to find himself another position like C. Bradley Thompson did. Perhaps a more secular college or university would be less likely to use Objectivism as a reason to deny tenure. I also believe that this will be an additional piece of data to take into account for students who are looking for diversity in their professor's beliefs.

UPDATE: Fixed the mistake pointed out in the comment by Ergo! Thanks!

UPDATE 2: Added a link to a google cache of the original article.

Related Posts: Volokh Conspiracy Picks Up John Lewis Story More on John Lewis and Objectivism at Reason Hit and Run
FIRE Representing John Lewis
Reason Hits the John Lewis Story
John Lewis--Off to Bigger and Better Things (this post)

1 comment:

Ergo said...

Hi Kim,

You said: The foundation's church relations and devotion to traditional religious principles are easily found on the website."

I'm pretty sure that you meant to say "the University's church relations" and not the "foundation's" :) I only point this out for correction because some of your non-Objectivist readers might not realize this is an oversight.