On April 27, 2021, the Linfield University administration fired English professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner after he publicly advocated on behalf of students and faculty who complained about alleged sexual abuse by members of the university’s Board of Trustees. Pollack-Pelzner also accused university President and Chair of the Board of Trustees Miles K. Davis of making anti-Semitic remarks.
On March 29, Pollack-Pelzner shared a 23-tweet-long Twitter thread describing events that he alleged transpired between himself and Davis. In the thread, Pollack-Pelzner, who was the faculty trustee on the Board of Trustees, described a report he prepared outlining sexual misconduct by four members of the Board of Trustees, three of whom he indicated were then still on the board. Pollack-Pelzner alleged that after being shown the report, Davis accused him of “harboring a secret agenda to grab power,” withheld the report from the board, and threatened him with “public humiliation” if he continued to report sexual misconduct. Pollack-Pelzner, who is Jewish, also said that Davis made comments to him about measuring the size of Jewish noses.
Following Pollack-Pelzner’s Twitter statements, faculty members at Linfield began communicating via mass email to share their disapproval of the university’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints. During the week of April 19, the university’s arts and sciences faculty voted 59-11 no confidence in the president’s leadership. On April 26, Linfield University canceled faculty listservs so they were unable to criticize the Board of Trustees and president to other faculty and students.
The next day, on April 27, Pollack-Pelzner was called to a mandatory meeting regarding his employment, and an email circulated one hour later informed faculty that Pollack-Pelzner had been terminated for “serious breaches” of his duties to Linfield. The university said in a statement that the tenured professor had “engaged in conduct that is harmful to the university; deliberately violated instructions to preserve the attorney-client privilege with respect to information that was entrusted to him in a position of trust and confidence; deliberately circulated false statements about the university, its employees and its board; refused to comply with university policies and, in doing so, has been insubordinate and interfered with the university’s administration of its responsibilities.” The university also stated that Pollack-Pelzner had no right to due process as his actions were unrelated to his “responsibilities and duties as a professor.”
The university’s policies state that “dismissal will not be used to restrain faculty members in their exercise of academic freedom or other rights of American citizens.” Additionally, Pollack-Pelzner never sat before a hearing committee, a right included in the terms of the university’s faculty handbook which states that “dismissal of a faculty member” with tenure will be preceded by settlement discussions and an inquiry by a faculty committee.
On July 12, Pollack-Pelzner’s attorneys filed a lawsuit against Linfield University, alleging that the university had violated his rights in the workplace.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the dismissal of a scholar and silencing of faculty speech in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and academic freedom — which includes the freedom of scholars to express freely their opinion about the institution or system in which they work and freedom from institutional censorship. Academic freedom and freedom of expression are expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States is a party. University authorities should refrain from retaliating against scholars for expression critical of their institution, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, dismissals aimed at restricting or retaliating against such activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.