In April 2022, administrators rescinded the appointment of religion and philosophy professor Edmund Santurri as the director of the St. Olaf College’s Institute for Freedom and Community, following an institute-sponsored lecture by Peter Singer, a controversial philosophy professor at Princeton University.
Santurri had been praised as an exemplary leader of the Institute in the past. His appointment had been set to run through August 2023, but was ended early after a series of events at the Institute – including a discussion of the New York Times 1619 Project, an event featuring the linguist John McWhorter, and Singer’s lecture – drew controversy on campus. Santurri reportedly alleged that in February 2022, following the Singer lecture, St. Olaf’s President David Anderson informed him of complaints by the school’s regents about the three events, stating that it was “not the time” to host such controversial speakers on campus. On March 28, 2022, Anderson reportedly informed Santurri that his appointment was being rescinded.
In a statement, St. Olaf stated that the “upcoming change in leadership at St. Olaf College’s Institute for Freedom and Community is not the result of the current Institute director’s decision to host any single speaker” and noted that the Institute went forward with the remainder of its programming for the academic year, through April 2022. The statement did not clarify the bases for Santurri’s early termination, however.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about professional retaliation against a scholar, apparently for decisions made under his leadership regarding academic events on campus. In addition to the professional harm to the immediate victim, professional retaliation against a scholar for exercising discretion within the scope of his administrative authority, concerning matters relating to expression on campus, undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.