By KATELYN MASSARELLI & ANDREW FOERCH
Kenneth Storey, former visiting sociology professor, released tweets in Hurricane Harvey’s wake that caused controversy within the university and around the country. Administration was fast to take action, promptly dismissing Storey and releasing a public statement saying, “Storey has been relieved of his duties at UT, and his classes will be covered by other sociology faculty.”
Though many disagreed with Storey’s actions, some UT professors weren’t happy he didn’t receive due process before being relieved of his duties. Gregg Bachman, professor of communication and president of the faculty senate, found the tweets by Storey distasteful but said they did not warrant an immediate dismissal. “This is America,” Bachman said. “Freedom of speech, when coupled with academic freedom, also means people are free to make distasteful comments.”
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) promotes due process before action is taken against a faculty member. The association takes the position of ensuring professors are reviewed by a faculty committee in the face of accusations that warrant serious consequences.
“The purpose of this is to avoid a situation where somebody is dismissed in violation of their academic freedom, for instance if somebody is being dismissed because of their research,” said Hans-Joerg Tiede, associate secretary of AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance. “When it comes to statements that are extramural (that are not part of what happens within the university), our position is that they should only be used to dismiss somebody if they clearly demonstrate the person is unfit for the job as such, not that the statement is somehow controversial or objectionable.”
After AAUP expressed their concerns about the firing to UT, Tiede said, the university released a statement that Storey’s dismissal was rescinded and he was given the chance to resign from his position, which he did. The university accepted his resignation and determined that his classes would be taken over by other professors within the department.
Skylar Whitman, a senior communication major, took Storey as a professor during spring 2016. She said that even though Storey never forced his beliefs upon his students, his political affiliation was clear. She doesn’t believe the university’s hasty decision to remove Storey based on that affiliation was the right move.
“It was quick, a kind of damage control,” Whitman said. “I don’t think they should’ve just dismissed him like that right away. Since we go to a private university, it’s like our First Amendment rights go out the window.”
Though Bachman didn’t agree with the university’s decision, he does believe that UT has the best interest in mind for its professors. He said he has always felt free to express his own opinions and believes other faculty and students should as well.
“It’s always 20/20 hindsight to have an opinion on what should have happened,” Bachman said. “We need clearly articulated policies and procedures in place for any potential faculty disciplinary actions. I trust that administration will reiterate its support for academic freedom. I also think this is a great teaching moment. I’d like to see dialogue on campus and with our various constituencies on the principles of free speech and academic freedom; it wouldn’t hurt to be reminded of these privileges.”
Katelyn Massarelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Foerch can be reached at email@example.com