March 7, 2003
FIRE burns Citrus College
You know Lynn Weber, whose guidelines for class discussion require students to adopt a certain politics if they want to speak. You know Dartmouth's sociology and Spanish and Portuguese departments, which voted to use college funds to send students to an anti-war rally in Washington. You've met a host of ideologically challenged professors on Luann Wright's new website, NoIndoctrination.org. Now meet the latest addition to academic thought reform's hall of shame: Rosalyn Kahn.
Rosalyn Kahn teaches speech at California's Citrus College. Recently, she required students to write anti-war letters to President Bush, and penalized the grades of dissenting students who refused to do so. Kahn also compelled students to write letters espousing a particular political viewpoint to California State Senator Jack Scott. Kahn then delivered the letters personally to Scott's office, and apparently did so under false pretenses. When FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) asked Scott's office about the letters, it was told that the letters were unsolicited.
FIRE got involved when one of Kahn's students asked the campus civil liberties group for assistance. After successful negotiations with the Citrus College administration, FIRE is proud to announce that the college has mended Kahn's ways and will not be endorsing further attempts at political coercion by her or any other members of the faculty. Kahn will be sanctioned, the students will receive formal apologies and reassurances that their grades will not be affected by Kahn's inappropriate assignments, and Citrus College will write to both President Bush and Senator Scott acknowledging its violation of students' freedom of speech, apologizing, and formally rescinding the letters Kahn made her students write.
FIRE CEO Thor Halvorssen had this to say in a press release:
While Professor Kahn is free to hold and espouse her views on appropriate matters of public concern, it is, of course, absolutely impermissible for her or any professor to coerce students to share her political orthodoxies. This was an unconscionable abuse of classroom power. ... A college in which students are not allowed to disagree reasonably with their professors on fundamental issues is incapable of intellectual innovation, critical dialogue, meaningful discourse, or true scholarship. ... It is a great day for freedom of conscience and a great day for Citrus College. It is heartening to find a college president who defends the principles of freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. ... FIRE is committed to an academic world in which free speech and freedom of conscience are rights independent of the politics and ideologies of the individuals involved. It is very heartening when such an issue can be decided on behalf of liberty by a college itself, without recourse to the courts.
First let your head stop spinning at the incredible antics of Professor Kahn. Then read all about this case and many, many more on FIRE's website.
It's good that the administration is taking action...*but*...I can't imagine any appropriate "sanction" short of termination in this case. In fact, I would think that the college would have a cause of action to recover part of this professor's salary, given that she apparently misused university resources for the exclusive propagation of her political views. Any lawyers out there have an opinion on this?
Color me consumer minded--I'd want my money back--and dock Commissar Kahn's pay. Has she any explanation for these antics?
Excellent! That is great news. Way to go, FIRE. And kudos to the student for making an issue.
1. Color me shocked, a post calling for a lawyer to respond. I hope I am up to the challenge. As to whether the professor, presumably non-tenured, can be fired it depends on the terms of her employment contract, any labor agreements in place that might impact the Universitiy's ability to terminate her, and any California-specific labor laws that might protect her job status. If she is deemed an at-will employee she can be fired with or without cause. If she was operating under an employment contract the University might be able to fire her "for cause". This conduct seems eggregious enough to fall under this definition. If I were her lawyer I could concoct a couple of (albeit tenuous) defenses. This letter-writing campaign ocurred in the conext of a speech class and one could argue that training in oral and written advocacy is a critical component of the course. Further, requiring a student to advocate positions with which he/she disagreed is important to developing analytical skills. Moot courts and debating classes are two cases in point. (N.B. That would only work if the Professor did not actually require the letters to be sent. If she kept them to herself and graded them for example.)
2. Legal analysis aside, the professor's conduct strikes me as crude and assinine. Perhaps she is hoping for a position at Brooklyn College.
When I got FIRE's announcement, I was genuinely shocked. I've seen read about (and witnessed) all manner of abuse from the academic podium, but this is perhaps the most egregious instance yet. I agree that the real travesty is that Kahn didn't lose her job over this.
I'm willing to bet that she's already a hero among her peers. And to think: she teaches speech. You can't even parody this one, folks.
Here's Kahn's bio from some consulting group--it's not like she's an Ivy grad with a PhD in neurolinguistics:
"Rosalyn Kahn is a native Southern Californian who is bilingual in English and Spanish. She recently completed her MA in Communications Studies at California State University, Northridge. Rosalyn spent ten years employed in the Spanish language media, where she learned first-hand the values and unique differences of the Hispanic market. Recently, she began conducting communication and job-search training in the manufacturing sector. These workshops include individuals of many different nationalities, languages and cultural heritages."
Well, that's what you get when people are hired on the basis of their knowledge of "unique differences" among various "communities" of "diverse" "values" and "cultural heritages." I know that sounds dismissive and cynical, but it almost seems that a professor's mulit-culti credentials are inversely proportional to their intellectual honesty.
If you were an expert in Middle-European poets of the 17th Century, that's what you'd probably put on your resume. If you were an expert in metallurgy and strength of materials, then you would emphasize your expertise in that area.
And if you were an expert in nothing at all, you'd probably talk a lot about postmodernism and multiculturalism.
It appears to me that Rosalyn Kahn is looking to move on to Columbia or Harvard, where this type of "teaching" technique is accepted as proper.