• October 20, 2014

Denial of Tenure to German-Studies Professor Brings Angst at Emory

An assistant professor at Emory University has alleged that top administrators there violated commonly accepted college-governance principles. Joined by the American Association of University Professors, he has charged that administrators blocked his bid for tenure, which had been endorsed by a faculty committee and a dean, and then denied him any right to appeal their negative decision.

H. Erik Butler, an assistant professor of German studies, asked the AAUP to take up his cause after being informed of his tenure denial last month. The association, in a July 2 letter to Emory's president, James W. Wagner, questioned the reasoning behind the administrators' decision and urged them to give Mr. Butler a chance to appeal their decision to a faculty grievance committee.

A spokeswoman for Emory, Elaine Justice, on Tuesday said administrators there would be responding directly to the AAUP and had declined to make further comment.

In a letter sent to Mr. Butler last month, Emory's provost, Earl Lewis, said he and Mr. Wagner had chosen not to recommend that the university's Board of Trustees grant Mr. Butler tenure and a promotion to associate professor because some of his colleagues had described his interactions within the department of German studies to be "consistently unprofessional."

"Indeed, it was noted that your behavior at times interfered with matters of teaching and curriculum, which is of paramount importance," the letter said.

The letter acknowledged that the two administrators' decision, made in consultation with the president's advisory committee, conflicted with the decisions of nearly everyone who had previously considered Mr. Butler's tenure request. His bid for promotion was approved by Robert A. Paul, who was then dean of the Emory College of Arts and Sciences, and it was unanimously endorsed by the college's tenure and promotion committee. The German studies department was divided on whether he should be granted tenure but ended up voting 4 to 2 in favor of him getting it.

Mr. Butler said in an interview Tuesday that his tenure bid had been derailed by opposition from a small faction of his academic department. "Basically, what it boils down to is a department that has been dysfunctional for years," he said. "All of my outside reviews were glowing."

In response to a question from Mr. Butler about his right to appeal, Provost Lewis said the appeals process in place at Emory applies only to negative tenure decisions at the department level or the dean's level, and there is no appeals mechanism applicable to his case. "Indeed, your file has been through multiple levels of review, and this is a final decision," the letter said.

The university's refusal to offer Mr. Butler an avenue of appeals is the primary focus of the letter sent to President Wagner this month by Gregory F. Scholtz, the director of the AAUP's department of academic freedom, tenure, and governance. "We fail to see the logic of such a policy," said the letter, which notes that the support for tenure for Mr. Butler among the dean and faculty is, ironically, what precluded him from making an appeal. Under principles of shared governance, the letter said, administrative decisions in areas where faculty members exercise primary responsibility should not normally outweigh the decisions of faculty bodies. Further, such administrative moves should be at least as appealable as the decisions faculty bodies have made.

The AAUP letter said the association is wary of any evaluation of faculty members based on collegiality, which can threaten academic freedom by subjecting professors to negative consequences for disagreeing with others.

Mr. Scholtz's letter said the AAUP recognizes that it has gotten its information about the case solely from Mr. Butler and invites Emory's administration to offer its side. It said, "We understand that there is a history of conflict between Professor Butler and his department chair, Professor Peter Höyng," and that Mr. Butler had requested a postponement of his tenure review because he had leveled charges of bias against his department chair. "Given this context and the prominent role his chair would have played in the review process, it seems to us particularly imperative that Professor Butler be afforded the opportunity to challenge the basis of the tenure decision," Mr. Scholtz's letter said.

Comments

1. barbarapiper - July 14, 2010 at 04:52 pm

"The AAUP letter said the association is wary of any evaluation of faculty members based on collegiality, which can threaten academic freedom by subjecting professors to negative consequences for disagreeing with others."

I was not aware that junior, untenured faculty members enjoyed the benefits of academic freedom, which is usually a feature of tenure.

2. utchron9 - July 14, 2010 at 05:12 pm

Not knowing the details of Professor Butler's case, readers should avoid passing judgment on his tenure. But when there are no mechanisms for appropriate due process, the university's organizational culture is seriously flawed. My advice to Professor Butler is to run, don't walk, from the university before his career is irreparably destroyed. Those who want him out will be courting his closest supporters and colleagues, doing their best to divide and rule. He will likely be isolated and shunned over time, making his devastating ordeal even more devastating. As he defends his reputation, he will increasingly face character assassination. Those outside Emory can support him by inviting him to give presentations, apply for jobs, and write letters of support. Those inside Emory can support him and still protect their own careers by providing him with anonymous letters or messages of support and not engaging in the gossip that is sure to ensue as the administration -- and his colleagues -- seek to justify any injustices as necessary and right, no matter how unncessary and wrong. Janice Harper, www.janice-harper.com/blog/

3. redweather - July 15, 2010 at 09:31 am

"I was not aware that junior, untenured faculty members enjoyed the benefits of academic freedom, which is usually a feature of tenure."

I wasn't aware they weren't. Maybe the academy is in worse shape than I thought.

4. redweather - July 15, 2010 at 09:33 am

I should have written, "I wasn't aware they didn't enjoy the benefits of academic freedom."

5. seejay - July 15, 2010 at 09:52 am

I think caution in rushing to judgment is called for here. I note with concern that the article quotes Prof. Butler's strident allegations featuring words like "dysfunctional" and "bias" but lacks any sense of balance by not having consulted the other parties to this dispute. The article further edges toward implying the veracity of the allegations by prominently featuring the AAUP letter expressing wariness that such situations "can threaten academic freedom by subjecting professors to negative consequences for disagreeing with others," as if this might actually have occurred, but includes no statements of rebuttal from Emory and named Emory faculty. It may be that in our litigious society no such statements would have been forthcoming, but this article gives me the immediate impression of regrettable one-sidedness.

6. pschmidt - July 15, 2010 at 10:27 am

In response to seejay: Far from "not having consulted the other parties," I made a diligent effort to try to get comment from Emory's administration, but it declined to speak about the matter and characterized that refusal to comment as applicable to all administrators involved. For the sake of injecting balance into the story, I obstained--and extensively quoted from--the letter from Provost Lewis to Mr. Butler stating his reason for rejecting tenure and alluding to criticism of Mr. Butler from his colleagues. If you go back and read the story carefully, you will see that.--Peter Schmidt

7. drfunz - July 15, 2010 at 12:46 pm

""Indeed, your file has been through multiple levels of review, and this is a final decision," the letter said."

YES, his case went through multiple levels of review - ALL of which said he should get tenure and promotion. Dean said YES, the RT committee unanimously voted YES and 66% of his department voted YES. So from what looks like here, the two administrators decided to NOT listen to the Dean who is appointed to his position that they control and or the RT committee which is probably duly elected and put into place with the agreement of the same administrators. Instead they listened to two dissenting voices in the department.

I have to wonder what is really going on here.

8. drfunz - July 15, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Oops.. I missed a detail... the Dean was the former Dean. Did these two adminstrators have anything to do with getting rid of said Dean??

9. barbarapiper - July 15, 2010 at 05:28 pm

Redweather @4 says

"I wasn't aware they didn't enjoy the benefits of academic freedom."

Not in any of the several universities in which I've taught. To grant academic freedom to junior faculty interferes with the right of the institution to judge their work for granting tenure. After tenure the institution cannot fire you over your legitimate scholarship because tenure protects academic freedom and vice versa. This was an issue in a New York university about 15 or 16 years ago, when a junior faculty member claimed that he was denied tenure because his department didn't like his research -- and thus he was denied academic freedom. The court found that it was not possible for him to have academic freedom but not tenure as a junior faculty member, both because the institution needs to be able to make the kind of judgments it did in his case, and because academic freedom is a component of tenure, not of university employment.

10. seejay - July 16, 2010 at 08:12 am

Dear Peter Schmidt, I DID see that you quoted from the letter to Prof. Butler and also observe that you omitted the statement from the Emory administration declining comment -- until I raised the issue regarding litigious matters in my comment. Perhaps if you had written as carefully as you want me to read, this would not have been necessary.

11. pschmidt - July 16, 2010 at 11:16 am

No Seejay, that statement declining comment has always been in the story.

12. the_mezuzah_cruisah - July 16, 2010 at 06:52 pm

I'm a first time writer here and just a grad student (in German Studies, no less). So please pardon any forum conventions I might inadvertently violate.

I couldn't help but notice one thing when I went through the CV's of all the tenure/tenure-track department members in Emory's German department. Namely, Professor Butler seems to be the sole American and sole **Jew** in this department. He works on a lot of important German Jewish topics. As far as I can tell, he's one of the very few scholars in the country (or anywhere for that matter) that can actually read and write about Yiddish literature in any sort of sensical and sensitive matter.

In other words, I can't help but suspect that there may be a degree of anti-Semitism behind this tenure denial. As a Jew in German studies who is about to on the dismal job market, I wonder if I will have any chance of making it in this field without also having to surrender my Jewish identity, which is the core of who I am as a grandchild of Auschwitz survivors. I think I should just give up.

My advisor told me that this sort of thing used to happen all the time to us Jews in German studies but that it is virtually non-existant any more. I showed her this article and what I found out about the department and she agrees that something is very fishy as Professor Butler has published more than anyone else in that department.

What got me thinking about this is that a guy in the department, Maximilian Aue, has the exact same name as the main character in Jonathan Littell's novel *The Kindly Ones* about a gay Nazi officer who decides to write him memoires.

Also, I just have to say this Peter Hjöng looks exactly like Bugs Bunny. It's really funny. Why do we import Germans and Austrians like these folks to teach our kids--many of them Jewish!!--German literature?

Sorry, I'm a bit sensitive about this issue. Does anyone else see what I see? Perhaps it's just my Jewish nose smelling something that is not there.

Shalom to all,
The Mezuzah Cruisah

13. jaydee - July 16, 2010 at 08:43 pm

Under AAUP guidelines, academic freedom applies to faculty at all ranks. It does not inhibit tenure decisions because, unlike generic free-speech rights, it does not preclude evaluations based on the quality or merit of what has been said or written. Such evaluations go on throughout a faculty member's career: e.g., promotion to full professor, appointment to named professorships, merit raises, grants, awards, acceptance of material for publication or panel presentations.

14. tetley - July 17, 2010 at 06:12 am

re: the_mezuzah_cruisah
did you truly read the emory.edu german studies page? your comment is in all ways false.

15. the_mezuzah_cruisah - July 17, 2010 at 01:40 pm

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16. the_mezuzah_cruisah - July 17, 2010 at 02:41 pm

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17. herikbutler - July 17, 2010 at 04:38 pm

@MC: there are forms of bias other than anti-Semitism. This article pertains to administrative procedure; departmental events are another matter. Thanks for what I take to be a show of support, but please refrain from inflammatory rhetoric.

18. barbarapiper - July 18, 2010 at 08:19 am

Jaydee @13 proposed that "Under AAUP guidelines, academic freedom applies to faculty at all ranks. It does not inhibit tenure decisions because, unlike generic free-speech rights, it does not preclude evaluations based on the quality or merit of what has been said or written. Such evaluations go on throughout a faculty member's career: e.g., promotion to full professor, appointment to named professorships, merit raises, grants, awards, acceptance of material for publication or panel presentations."

I'm tempted to start by suggesting that this shows just how irrelevant the AAUP is. The primary difference between a tenure review and subsequent evaluations is that tenure reviews are up-or-out. You are essentially fired if your tenure review fails, and this is the critical difference that the court pointed to in proposing that academic freedom does not apply to pre-tenure faculty. After tenure, academic freedom guarantees that you can pursue your own work, even if the quality/quantity is judged not to warrant further promotions, merit raises, etc. I'm not defending this, simply pointing to a legal precedent. If there are conflicting legal precedents, that would be good news.

19. the_mezuzah_cruisah - July 18, 2010 at 12:36 pm

@herikbutler

20. performance_expert2 - July 18, 2010 at 03:37 pm

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21. performance_expert2 - July 18, 2010 at 05:22 pm

Expressing best wishes and support to Professor Butler and every wish and thought for a positive outcome and resolution to this grievance.

22. rhett - July 21, 2010 at 05:27 pm

http://chronicle.com/article/The-AAUP-A-View-From-the-Top/49301/

23. rhett - July 21, 2010 at 10:15 pm

http://www.bulliedacademics.blogspot.com/

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