Are Universities Sidestepping Faculty Due Process in Response to Social Media Crises?

In the social media age, one bad viral incident can outweigh an entire career. Across the country, a series of professor and faculty firings paint a troubling portrait of the way university administrators and trustees view the tradeoffs between employee due process and shielding their institution from the public relations hits that come with high-profile viral incidents.

Linda Katehi, chancellor of the University of California at Davis was removed from her position last month following allegations that she hired an Internet consulting firm to help scrub and minimize web postings about an infamous pepper spray incident at the university. In March, Sujit Choudhry, dean of UC Berkeley’s law school, was placed on indefinite leave and eventually resigned after details of a sexual harassment lawsuit became public. Melissa Click, former associate professor at the University of Missouri, was fired after being captured on video calling for “muscle” to forcibly remove student journalists from filming protestors. John McAdams, a political science professor at Marquette University, was suspended without pay in 2014 for writing a post on his personal blog criticizing a fellow Marquette teaching assistant caught on tape telling a student that opposition to same-sex marriage was not permitted in her classroom. McAdams contends he has been fired, but the university has stated he remains under suspension throughout the 2016 fall semester.

While each case has its own wrinkles, these incidents all follow a common trend: the faculty members in question were all fired or suspended after their alleged transgressions “went viral” and captured the attention of the outside world. Another commonality is that many of the fired are accusing university administrators of ignoring or sidestepping established faculty due process procedures in order to speed up the termination process or avoid further negative public relations. Choudhry and McAdams are suing their former employers for denying them due process, while Click has stated her intention to do the same. Choudhry filed an official grievance in April with the UC Privilege and Tenure Committee over his dismissal.
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