MCMINNVILLE, Oregon, April 29, 2021 — A university embroiled in sexual abuse scandals has who criticized the handling of those controversies and alleged that the university’s president and chair of its Board of Trustees made anti-Semitic comments. In the process, Linfield University shamelessly conceded that it afforded the professor no due process, claiming that “termination for cause” does not require due process if the cause is not “related to their responsibilities and duties as a professor.”
On Tuesday, Linfield ousted professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner after he lambasted the college’s handling of sexual abuse allegations and accused college president Miles K. Davis of making anti-Semitic remarks, which Davis denies. Two other faculty members have subsequently come forward with allegations that Davis made similar remarks.
Yesterday evening, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sent an urgent letter to President Davis, calling on him to immediately reinstate Pollack-Pelzner and reaffirm the school’s promises of free expression.
“It’s shocking — and telling — that Pollack-Pelzner was forced out without an opportunity to defend himself,” said FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh. “President Davis has shown himself to be a bad actor, and this termination is a farce.”
Pollack-Pelzner, a tenured English literature professor and Shakespeare scholar, is one of many Linfield faculty members and students who have pushed back against the allegedly poor handling of sexual abuse and harassment claims by the administration. In one such case, a longtime trustee resigned in 2019 (for “health reasons,” the university said) after being accused of sexually abusing a student. (He has since been indicted.)
On March 29, Pollack-Pelzner posted a Twitter thread claiming that the school failed to protect the college community from the sexual abuse of multiple trustees. He also said he was threatened with “public humiliation” by the board if he continued to report incidents of sexual misconduct. The thread goes on to detail several incidents of anti-Semitism on the part of college employees, including Davis, who allegedly remarked on the size of Jewish people’s noses. In April, the Oregon Board of Rabbis called on Davis to resign, and Linfield’s arts and sciences faculty gave Davis a 59-11 vote of no confidence.
On Monday, the Linfield administration shut down faculty email lists. The following day, Pollack-Pelzner was fired and the university issued a public statement within an hour afterward. In an email to college faculty, aptly titled “Extraordinary step,” Linfield provost Susan Agre-Kippenhan announced the termination for “false public accusations that have, sadly, harmed the university.” Two university spokespeople also sent an email stating Pollack-Pelzner was fired because he “propagated false and defamatory statements.”
Linfield’s faculty handbook states that before being terminated, tenured professors are entitled to a statement of charges and to a faculty hearing, during which the administration bears the burden of producing “clear and convincing” evidence of misconduct. The handbook also declares that “[d]ismissal will not be used to restrain faculty members in their exercise of academic freedom or other rights of American citizens.”
Pollack-Pelzner was afforded neither due process nor protection from the university for his speech.
“Instead of adhering to the bright lines in the handbook, Linfield’s administration has drawn its own,” said Steinbaugh. “By skipping out on the part where it would have to actually prove its accusations, Linfield’s administration signals that the accusations can’t be proven. Giving yourself the authority to decide your critic is wrong — and then firing him without a hearing — is an obvious conflict of interest.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.
Katie Kortepeter, Media Relations Associate, FIRE: 215-717-3473; [email protected]
Miles Davis, President, Linfield University: 503-883-2408; [email protected]
Susan Agre-Kippenhan, Provost, Linfield University: 503-883-2270; [email protected]
Used with the permission of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.