One of the most frustrating things students and faculty members face in campus proceedings is the lack of information they are routinely given about their supposed offenses. Ohio Northern University law professor Scott Gerber, an Allen Harris client, took to the Wall Street Journal today to tell the outrageous story of his treatment at the hands of the ONU administration:
Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” tells the story of Josef K., a man arrested, prosecuted and killed by an inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader. I’m Josef K.
Around 1 p.m. on Friday, April 14, Ohio Northern University campus security officers entered my classroom with my students present and escorted me to the dean’s office. Armed town police followed me down the hall. My students appeared shocked and frightened. I know I was. I was immediately barred from teaching, banished from campus, and told that if I didn’t sign a separation agreement and release of claims by April 21, ONU would commence dismissal proceedings against me. The grounds: “Collegiality.” The specifics: None.
Josef K. never learns what he’s alleged to have done wrong. The offenses I’ve allegedly committed haven’t been revealed to me, either. But I have an educated guess.
Like many universities, ONU is aggressively pursuing “diversity, equity and inclusion” initiatives. I have objected publicly as vice chairman of the University Council, an elected faculty governance body, and in newspaper op-eds and on television, to DEI efforts that don’t include viewpoint diversity and would lead to illegal discrimination in employment and admissions.
While my opinions obviously ruffled some feathers on campus, I wasn’t a pariah. My teaching evaluations are excellent, and my fall 2023 courses filled to capacity on the first day of registration this spring.
But this semester, for no apparent reason, ONU launched an “investigation” into me, without saying what it was about. My lawyers and I asked for specifics multiple times. ONU refused to provide them. Now, rather than level with me, ONU is demanding that I gamble the remainder of my career at a table where the administration holds all the cards. With my sudden free time, I rack my brain to think of rules I might have broken.…
Check out the whole story at The Wall Street Journal.
Professor Gerber’s story is particularly noteworthy as he is a tenured professor—a class of people who, for good reason, are supposed to be difficult to fire. Lack of collegiality isn’t even grounds for dismissing a tenured professor at ONU! But it’s all too common when students or faculty members run up against schools and colleges, for any reason. Tactics like secret investigations, anonymous accusers, and keeping someone in ignorance of the allegations against them are powerful tools to intimidate people into compliance. They are so powerful that it’s a rare case where schools don’t take advantage of them, often ignoring their own policies (as well as common decency) in order to browbeat them into accepting whatever sanction the school sees fit to dole out.
However, as Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote, “sunlight is the best of disinfectants.” Demanding proper procedures be followed, even when they are minimal—and, if necessary, hiring an attorney to make sure that happens—is critically important, because it usually offers the best chance a student or faculty member has to make those decision-makers do the one thing they desperately do not want to have to do: explain themselves. Not every case of abuse like this will make the Wall Street Journal. If it did, the newspaper would consist of nothing else. But the attention drawn to individual abuses like this is critically important, not just to help to put a stop to them all over, but to let those out there facing similar situations know that they are not alone.