An Academic Freedom Tussle in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

Ever lose a job opportunity based on your opinion? Tom Emmer allegedly has.An ugly argument over academic freedom has broken out at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Tom Emmer, a Republican who narrowly lost to Mark Dayton last year in Minnesota’s gubernatorial election, has been pursuing an academic post following the election. Emmer believed that he was lined up to teach a course in business at Hamline, only to have the offer suddenly withdrawn. While Emmer was never officially hired, the Minneapolis Star Tribune has published several e-mails in which it seems clear that Emmer had the job entirely lined up. According to Emmer, Dean Anne McCarthy told him the offer was withdrawn due to the protests of a “very vocal few” professors.

What sparked the outburst? One reason is that the job offer went around the ordinary process of faculty review for new hires, drawing the ire of territorial academics. More disturbing, though, is that several facultry members appear to have objected to Emmer’s right-wing political beliefs, in particular his support for traditional marriage. Jim Bonilla, a professor of business at the school, has admitted to writing to dean McCarthy to express his opposition to the hire, and says at least two other professors did the same. Emmer’s views on marriage and other issues, according to Bonilla, would hurt the school’s bottom line and would not be “congruent with [Hamline’s] values.”

 


 

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If Emmer’s political beliefs played even a small role in the decision to revoke his hiring, we should all be concerned. While absolute academic freedom does not exist even in a university environment (no good school would hire an ardent National Socialist or tolerate a professor who openly racially discriminated in grading), schools must still allow a wide degree of leeway in order to fulfill their missions of open inquiry and the free exchange of ideas. To state that Emmer is unemployable due to an opinion he shares with half the country and with the state law of Minnesota sets a disturbing precedent. If only one opinion on a contentious issue like gay marriage is to be allowed, students and professors might wonder if they could face retribution for opposing abortion, affirmative action, or any other issue which has become firmly enmeshed with left-wing orthodoxy. The resulting silencing effect will extend far beyond the marriage issue and hurt us all

–Blake Neff