Naropa University administrators and religious studies professor Don Matthews are at odds about his suspension last week over complaints that he threatened students and refused to speak during classes.
Matthews was placed on paid suspension for the rest of the semester early last week.
He said the suspension was racially motivated and the university didn’t grant him “due process” before suspending him. University officials, however, said Matthews’ actions posed a threat to the Naropa community and warranted immediate action in the form of suspension.
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Matthews acknowledged that he implemented a silent protest against racial bias on campus during his classes last week. He said he walked around with a piece of paper explaining his protest and answered questions during the last 10 or 15 minutes of his classes to make sure his students understood the materials.
Matthews said he wants students to be able to file complaints at Naropa, however, he sees his situation as unfair because he was not given “due process” to respond to or address the complaints.
Obviously, this issue is a tangled mess of allegations and controversies. I’m not too terribly interested in the legalities of what’s going on here. There are too many unknown variables: his contract language, school policies, Colorado law… the list goes on.
What I find interesting about this is actually a more hypothetical issue dealing with academic freedom. If a school hires a professor or teacher to teach, general principles of academic freedom suggest that the professor shouldn’t be removed or disciplined for pursuing truth, even if it leads in directions some find offensive or controversial.
But what if a professor or teacher is hired to teach, and doesn’t teach? Because that is apparently what happened. You might argue that this was some sort of “teachable moment” and that the professor in question was “teaching” in the sense of advancing some sort of political point — but is that what he was hired to teach?
It’s not at all clear to me that even the most generous principles of academic freedom requires you pay a professor’s salary in such cases.