July 06, 2007

The Danger of Being an Objectivist

One of the reasons I merged my old blog into this one was to put some brand distance, if you will, between my professional life and my real life.

If you're a regular reader, you've probably picked up on my opposition to things like environmentalism, multiculturalism, and the like. You can guess that I think "corporate citizenship" is a lot of baloney as well. But these things carry a fair amount of weight in the professional world and although my views are perfectly rational and as justified as they are righteous, it is possible that potential employers will find my views threatening.

Well, Dr. John Lewis who used to teach at Ashland University in Ohio ran into this problem full force.

Officials at Ashland have made their discomfort with objectivism abundantly clear. In January the university, in Ohio, rejected Mr. Lewis's application for tenure, and officials told him in writing that his support for objectivism was the sole reason for the denial.

A memo from Robert C. Suggs, who was then Ashland's provost, to Frederick J. Finks, the university's president, said that Mr. Lewis's tenure application was "a unique and particularly thorny one." Mr. Suggs wrote that Mr. Lewis's publications, teaching, and service all met or exceeded the university's tenure standards, but said that his support for objectivism, an atheist philosophy, "stands in unreserved opposition to the Judeo-Christian values found in the university's mission and the beliefs of the founding organization, the Brethren Church."

In the memo, Mr. Suggs conceded that Mr. Lewis had not proselytized objectivism in the classroom. But he argued that Mr. Lewis's scholarly publications expressed ideas that were contrary to Ashland's mission. He pointed in particular to Mr. Lewis's chapter in an edited volume, Essays on Ayn Rand's Anthem (Lexington Books, 2005). There Mr. Lewis celebrated Rand's "break with the Judeo-Christian condemnation of ambition and pride."

Mr. Lewis was floored by the rejection. "I was denied tenure explicitly on the basis of objectivism," he says.

The entire article is an interesting read and chronicles Dr. Lewis' fight and the conservative school's disgraceful, cowardly approach to the whole situation.

Diana Hsieh is going to blog this later. She recommended the article which she found over on the Primacy of Awesome.

As a note, I guess I should point out that I do support private universities' right to hire and fire whom they please, but they must explain the terms of employment up front. And I would also point out that this incident does provide some grounds to argue the hypocrisy of the conservative perspective.

Case in point:

Mr. Lewis and Mr. Thompson added that the mission argument was especially weak in this case because throughout Mr. Lewis's six years at Ashland, the university accepted grants from the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship, a California-based organization that encourages the study of Rand's thought. The grants were used to pay for release time that allowed Mr. Lewis to concentrate on his research. "That release time was always approved by the dean," he said. The grant, he said, "was used to hire adjuncts."

Mr. Finks, however, said the grants Ashland accepted, while initially intended for the study of objectivism, were significantly revised in response to the university's concerns. "If you would read the grants, they are not for the promotion of that at all," he said.

Mr. Finks declined to share the text of the grants with The Chronicle. A copy of the final Letter of Understanding provided to The Chronicle by the Anthem Foundation appears to contradict Mr. Finks's account. "The primary purpose of the fellowship is to fund release time so that Professors Thompson and Lewis can pursue research and writing on Ayn Rand's philosophy of objectivism," it reads.

Anyway, it's a good article. Check it out.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at July 6, 2007 09:10 AM | TrackBack

Yeah, I know what it's like to be the only one in the room. Of course, I was head of Quality Assurance, so nobody liked me anyway.

Posted by: Brian J. at July 10, 2007 09:31 AM