On March 28, 2022, the Soka University of America informed Aneil Rallin, a celebrated professor of rhetoric and composition whose work focuses on sexuality and postcolonialism, that they were being investigated for alleged violations of the university’s faculty handbook, which could result in the loss of their tenure.
According to a letter sent from Soka’s interim Dean of Faculty, Michael Weimer, multiple students in Rallin’s course “Writing the Body” submitted complaints about the course content, alleging that they felt “violated” and “triggered” and that the content included required readings that were “disturbing,” “gratuitously violent,” and “vaguely pedophilic.” The letter states that one of the complainants was a rape victim and another had been sexually assaulted. The letter went on to say that, based on these allegations, Rallin was accused of violating four policies in the faculty handbook, including violations that could serve as grounds for dismissal. As a result, a Faculty Adjudication Committee hearing was scheduled for May 17.
Rallin has denied the allegations and stated that they took all necessary measures to make students feel comfortable, including providing trigger warnings, offering alternate reading material, and assuring students that they did not have to engage with certain works or share their own work if they were not comfortable doing so. Speaking with Inside Higher Ed, one student said Rallin went out of their way to make students comfortable and expressed her surprise over the complaints because “Writing the Body” is “probably one of the most popular courses.” Rallin’s supporters have also expressed concern that the investigation is in retaliation to their public criticisms of the university’s diversity, equity, and inclusion. There are also concerns about the investigation since Rallin is the only tenured, queer person of color at the university and because the complaints, which include references to “vaguely pedophilic” material and “deviant pornography,” reflect historical trends of using those exact terms to target and condemn the LGBTQ community.
On May 17, only two faculty members showed up to serve on the Faculty Adjudication Committee. Given that the two could not agree, Weimer, who launched the investigation, will serve as the tie breaker and make a recommendation to the university’s president on how to handle the situation. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), which has taken up Rallin’s case, argues that the use of a two-person faculty committee and Weimer as the tie breaker violates Rallin’s right to due process. FIRE also argued prior to the hearing that Rallin should have been given the opportunity to hear the allegations and voice their response before the scheduling of a faculty committee hearing in which they could lose their tenure.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the investigation of a professor, apparently due to ideological or potentially discriminatory considerations (rather than academic ones), and reports of improper investigatory conduct and an apparent lack of due process. University leadership has an obligation to refrain from coercive actions intended to punish, restrict, or chill academic activity. In addition to harm to the immediate victim, ideologically motivated or discriminatory investigations of academics undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.