Colleen Flaherty July 23, 2020
Tenure, once earned, is hard to revoke. That’s the idea behind it. Most institutions nevertheless have processes for stripping a professor of tenure where there is demonstrated incompetence, neglect of duty, academic dishonesty or serious personal misconduct.
Fewer institutions have clearly outlined processes for denuding emeritus professors of that honorary status. The University Senate at San Diego State University this week considered a proposal on adopting one.
No one at San Diego State outwardly opposes the idea of taking back emeritus status when a professor is revealed to have, say, sexually harassed someone or committed some other serious crime. Instead, what rankled professors was proposed language on revoking emeritus status “when it is determined that an individual’s conduct, before or after emeritus status has been granted, causes harm to the university’s reputation.”
Herman, who does not know Hurlbert, also linked his case to the broader “cancel culture” decried by some academics, including the co-authors of a recent (and much criticized) open letter in Harper’s magazine.
“Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial,” that letter says. “Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.”