A Look Into Faculty Termination Processes

In the weeks following the release of a video showing neuroscience professor Paul Currie making racist and xenophobic comments to employees of a nearby establishment, the student body, through their protests, had made their main demands clear: firing Paul Currie. Paul Currie’s behavior has brought the systematic racism at Reed to the forefront of campus conversation, and there is widespread sentiment that systems must be changed. So within a litigious framework, how does this take place? This process is made considerably more challenging due to the protection offered by Currie’s tenure, but it is not impossible. 

It begins with a complaint filed against Paul Currie to the Committee on Advancement and Tenure (CAT), which proposes the investigation. In lieu of an individual complaint, CAT has made the complaint themselves and begun investigation.. Following this complaint, the committee will speak with Paul Currie to determine whether an investigation is warranted. They are required to, in good faith, try to come to an informal resolution with Currie, which could mean Reed utilizes a third-party firm for mediation or a personal arrangement with no formal sanctions on Currie. There is no timeline for this “good faith solution,” and it could happen at multiple points during the following process; however if CAT decides to go down this route, they will have 15 days to formalize a solution with Currie. After this chat, CAT can recommend a number of outcomes to the Committee on Tenure (COT), who will review the suggestion made by CAT.

COT will then appoint an Investigating Committee made up of 5 tenured faculty members, selecting one from 3 candidates nominated by Paul Currie, one from 3 candidates nominated by Reed President Audrey Bilger, one from 3 candidates nominated by CAT, and two more that they choose themselves. This Investigating Committee will get 30 days to investigate the situation, after which they could either choose not to proceed against Currie or come up with evidence against him. The Investigating Committee will then show their evidence to Audrey Bilger, who will give her input to the final response. After this, the Investigating Committee will present their final report to the Board of Trustees, who can decide sanctions against Paul Currie — options vary widely from a formal warning to termination —  or decide against them. If they choose the latter, the Investigating Committee can make a new report and show it to Bilger and then to the Board, creating one last opportunity for sanctions . If the Board of Trustees decides to fire Paul Currie, termination comes by default with 12 months’ salary. If the respondent (Currie) is indicted under Article VI, Section 1, Subsection C of the Faculty Constitution, the Board of Trustees is given the opportunity to revoke that severance package. 

This leads us to the next piece of the puzzle that must be considered, Reed’s Faculty Constitution, which details the faculty structure and the rules and regulations they must abide by. The Constitution is the document used to make these charges in the first place. Two articles of the Faculty Constitution are relevant to Paul Currie, the first of which is Article V – Academic Freedom and Responsibility. Article V Section 2 states, “When a faculty member speaks, writes, or acts as a citizen, he or she shall be free from institutional censorship or discipline, and he or she should undertake to avoid any implication that he or she is speaking on behalf of the institution.” Article V, Section 3 states, “No individual shall be excluded from initial appointments to academic rank, from continuation of appointments, or from academic tenure, nor shall any individual have his or her appointment terminated before the end of his or her stated term or have his or her academic tenure terminated because of his or her views or associations.” 

This section could potentially free Currie from any sanctions; however, it is unsure if the administration will follow this or the rules in Article VI – Termination of Appointment and Academic Tenure, the second part of the Faculty Constitution relevant to this discussion. Article VI Section 1, Subsection C states that a tenured professor can be fired based on “personal conduct in flagrant conflict with the purposes of teaching and scholarship.” To add to this, Article VI Section 2 states, “The President and the Board of Trustees recognize the necessity for judgment by an Academic Faculty member’s colleagues prior to a decision on termination of appointment.” This ensures that faculty are always involved in potential termination.

With all this being said, the process of firing Paul Currie is long and complicated, but not impossible. Throughout the process, Reed also has to mind the State and Federal laws that regulate employment and termination. If the college were to fire Currie without following the procedures outlined in U.S. law and in the school’s bylaws, it could be grounds for a lawsuit against them, and their determination could be overturned in court.

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1 year ago

Please clarify: is there a "Committee on Tenure" ("COT" in the article above or does "CAT" (Committee on Advancement and Tenure") do all the things attributed to "COT"? I do not see "COT" as a listed faculty committee

1 year ago

As biochemistry alum Matt, I think these woke special snowflake students should stop whining. Who hasn’t driven drunk and gone on racist rants, I did that all the time when I was student in early 2010s. Just to stick it to the annoying woke snowflakes, I also embezzled tons of student body funds to buy drugs

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