The Kansas Regents’ (Unintentional) Honesty about Academic Freedom

By William K. Black

I published a column this morning about the Kansas Regents’ effective elimination of academic freedom of tenure.

In thinking about the rule I realized that I had failed to make in blunt terms five points about how radical a rule it was.  I circulated these five points about an hour ago to a number of my contacts.

  1. The Regents’ rule allows the CEO to terminate tenured faculty upon their arrest for a felony.  There is no requirement for a conviction and no provision for reinstatement if not convicted.
  2. Truth is no defense.  The comment that tenured faculty makes can be accurate and the faculty member can still be fired by the university’s CEO.
  3. Lack of ill intent is no defense.  The faculty member can make an accurate statement of fact or well-founded statement of opinion for exemplary purposes and can still be fired.
  4. There are no meaningful “standards” so the statement by the faculty member could unknowingly subject him/her to dismissal because the faculty member did not know that the CEO was a global climate change denier (or partisan) and believes that those with the opposite view pose a grave threat.  The concepts are so vague and subjective (“harmony” and “efficiency”) that a faculty member’s only sure means of safety is to say nothing.
  5. The rule creates different levels of (not very) protected speech.  The same statement by a professor in a traditional physically published journal – if not posted online (recall that most print publishers also make one’s article available on line) — enjoys greater protection that any comment published “online.”

But upon further review as they now say in the NFL, I realized that I failed to point out the most fundamental aspect of the Regents’ rule changes.  In an odd way, this aspect suggests a certain degree of (unintentional) honesty by the Regents.  There is nothing in the Regents’ rule changes that evidences any understanding that universities are not businesses run for the purposes of whatever the CEO defines as “efficiency.”  There is no fig leaf provided by any clause in the rule changes that suggests that the Regents believe there is any value to academic freedom.  The Regents have not crafted a word in the rule changes purporting to value vigorous debate and inquiry, the expression of diverse and unpopular views, or academic integrity in “speaking truth to power.”  Instead, they had their lawyers craft the most draconian restriction on “online” academic free speech that they believed could pass constitutional review.  They never inquired whether that was a good way to run what was, until yesterday, a top university system.  The Regents have made clear that they want to crush academic freedom because they do not value it.


21 responses to “The Kansas Regents’ (Unintentional) Honesty about Academic Freedom

  1. political economist

    It’s time to circulate this among Nobel Laureates.

  2. Hope whatever academic accreditors that allow KU system to issue degrees will step in.

    “Accreditor Warns Penn State Over Handling of Sex-Abuse Scandal”

    What do the Regents do if the KU system can’t issue degrees or even academic credit?

  3. “Their lawyers”? A majority of the members of the Kansas Board of Regents *are* lawyers.

  4. Pingback: Links 12/20/13 | naked capitalism

  5. It’s Kansas. Better not teach evolution.

  6. Academic freedom is a cornerstone of higher education. Public approval — nor even “CEO” perceptions of it — is not part of that equation. Academic freedom is not absolute, but neither should the power of the Regents or the CEO be.

  7. roger erickson

    Academic freedom is not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

    “The Regents have made clear that they want to crush academic freedom because they do not value it.”

    Right. What they want are compliant lackeys.

    May as well round up some desperately loyal stiffs off the street, and let them act like educators and researchers.

  8. Interesting that just after I read an interview with William Black where he mentioned a professor being fired for exposing corruption in a bank that might contribute to the university, I stumbled upon an article on that describes insider trading as a “victimmless crime.”

  9. These rules are completely subjective, open to abuse, vague and can be arbitrarily enforced … so basically they are like the campus speech codes that students operate under.

  10. I, for one, believe this was done to specifically stop all those who believe MMT can change our world!
    Never in history has any government ever had a Tax Code that would effectively set a limit, say $10,000,000, on the accumulation of the corrupting power of personal wealth.
    MMT would be a game changer, and those hoarding all the wealth know that, so it is clear that UMKC wants you to STFU and go away, as do all the CRIMINALS on Wall Street who should be prosecuted for looting the US Treasury!!!!!!!!!
    Your courage to speak the truth has been admirable, you’ll probably be fired for this post, I will miss your candor and wisdom!

    • As Stephanie Kelton mentioned above in the comments, we (including Bill Black) are at University of Missouri Kansas City. This is taking place on the other side of the border in Kansas.

      • Misread – my bad!
        The fact remains our government is clearly NOT being run for the benefit of the 99%.
        Always and everywhere its about the money, and until WE THE PEOPLE – the 99% – demand the corrupting power of wealth be permanently eliminated we can expect things to get much worse!
        Distraction/Extraction Economics is now in total control of public policy and our own ignorance of that observed reality is clearly to blame!
        Financial Corruption rules American society! Trillion$ more will be extracted from the 99% and turned into ever more wealth for the ruling elite!

  11. That definition of who can be fired in provision iv: might as well be shortened to say, “anyone who makes the CEO mad.”

  12. Like at Harvard, education is being subjugated to the needs of the Plutocracy. Harvard runs intellectual cover for the ideology of greed known as neo-liberalism. That they are the academic home of Reinhart, Rogoff, and Niall ferguson makes this clear. Corporate interests are polluting institutions from top to bottom: academic hacks at the top and rampant grade inflation at the bottom. trickle-down corruption instead of trickle-down economics.

    • roger erickson

      back in 1985 when I was looking for a post-doc abroad, I was pleased & surprised to find that US PhDs were sought after abroad, not necessarily for basic skills, but for the saving grace of having the moxy to do what THEY wanted, regardless of what was desired of them, or even despite that

      if we lose that American audacity (by mis-developing faculty, and mis-educating students) … what differentiates us from “Old Europe” … or “Old Asia” ?

      (or, democracy forbid, “Old Gangster Russia”)

  13. The Kook: apt nomenclature

  14. H. Alexander Ivey

    Academic freedom is not for the faculty, it is for the students; teachers who speak their own minds provide higher quality education to the students who are paying for it.

    Refering to the destruction of university / school values as affecting “society” or other non-specific persons will not cut it. Tell the students to strike and not pay tuitions and fees and that will get the Regents attention and their pull back.

    • The students have zero power because they have no money.
      Real power, the kind of power that buys politicians and prosecutors and loots Federal Treasurie’s, is the accumulated wealth governments always permit the CentaMillionaire”s and Billionaire’s to hoard as personal wealth! Wealth extracted from labor and given to the Ruling Elite via corrupted TAX POLICY!
      The world’s CentaMillionaire$ and Billionaire’s only exist because all those without meaningful power/wealth -the 99.9%- are never permitted a moral alternative to their War producing GREED!!!!!

      • roger erickson

        What’d Gandhi say? The 1% loot & loot & loot … until, periodically, the 99% don’t permit it anymore.

        People who hoard riches are just that. Idiot savants who mindlessly hoard, because they don’t know how to invest in democracy or culture.

  15. roger erickson

    Florida is running a parallel experiment

    Academic freedom watch: corporate donors to decide economic hires at Florida State

  16. Pingback: Bill Black: They’re Back: The Poltergeists in the Kansas Senate Renew their Attack on Education | naked capitalism