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Back to July Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 137 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS JULY 1997

No Academic Freedom for the Politically Incorrect

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FRAMINGHAM, MA - The refusal of Framingham State College to re-hire English Professor Eugene Narrett has called attention to the double standard that exists on many campuses regarding academic freedom and First Amendment rights.

Dr. Narrett taught full time from fall 1993 to summer 1995, at which time he was asked to teach part time as a Visiting Lecturer. During his employment at Framingham State College, Dr. Narrett earned outstanding teaching evaluations from peers and English Department Chair Alan Feldman, who promised Narrett first consideration when a full-time position became available.

Narrett learned of his termination when students complained of not being able to find his name in the fall 1997 course listings. Dr. Feldman had failed to notify Dr. Narrett of his change of mind and, in apparent violation of union rules, failed to inform him in a direct and timely fashion of termination of employment.

For over two years, Dr. Narrett's colleagues have vehemently opposed his views as expressed in his newspaper columns that criticize abortion, divorce on demand, quotas, homosexual advocacy, welfare, and feminism. He has published more than 200 columns and articles on culture and politics which draw on his background in literature and history. Many of his columns have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, and Human Events.

Harassment began in March of 1995, said Narrett, when English Professor Mary Murphy ordered him to "stop writing columns criticizing feminism." Even after Dr. Narrett filed a formal grievance claiming interference with his "ability to work without intimidation," the college took no corrective action. Two years later, Murphy, a member of the state executive board of the Teachers' Union, opposed Narrett's contract renewal at a faculty meeting in May 1997 because she found Narrett's writings "offensive and not positive to women."

In April 1995, slanderous leaflets about Narrett's personal life were posted around campus. Neither the administration nor faculty promptly condemned the action. Anonymous notes from colleagues directed him to write his columns "on toilet paper." The campus Officer of Human Rights and Affirmative Action, Jack Ling, knew of the problem, yet took no action.

In response, Dr. Narrett requested a meeting to discuss his First Amendment rights and the need for reasoned debate. Before a large crowd of students, faculty, and administrators Narrett spoke on how leftwing ideology on issues of broad social concern has dominated the college campus. Numerous students spoke out, saying that Dr. Narrett is a considerate and dedicated teacher who does not politicize his classes and is concerned for all students.

The following week, 20 faculty and administrators, having invited Dr. Narrett to what was described as a "discussion group," angrily condemned his views and demanded that he "explain" his columns. When Narrett tried to respond, he was told to "be quiet" so his critics could have the floor to themselves.

In a memo dated April 23, 1997, Dr. Helen Heineman, provost and vice president of academic affairs, informed faculty and staff of a newly instituted "Quality Assurance Check of Publications." According to the memo, College President Dr. Raymond Kieft delegated to Heineman's office "the responsibility of performing a final 'check' of all publications that bear the name 'Framingham State College' or give the impression that the activity, program, or service being promoted or described is associated with Framingham State College." The memo stated that quality assurance was not a substitute for proofreading, but it implied a focus on content to determine its "quality."

Bradford Wilson, executive director of the National Association of Scholars, an organization devoted to preserving academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas, wrote in a letter to Heineman that "college and university administrators have traditionally had no authority to perform a 'quality assurance check' of documents that faculty members produce. Academic freedom, by its nature, requires that faculty be able to write as they see fit without administrative oversight."

Dr. Joseph J. Previte, professor of biology, wrote in a memo to college faculty that the loss of Narrett "will diminish diversity on a campus whose administration constantly espouses the necessity of expressions of multicultural diversity. His involuntary departure will be a clear sign of intolerance to differing views on a campus whose motto is 'Live to the truth.'"

Framingham State College is a key campus for implementing education policy in Massachusetts. It played a role in President Clinton's decision to sign his Goals 2000 Act into law at Framingham High School in 1994.


 
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