Education

Academic group challenges Kirkwood over ousted professor

Campus got threats after TV report linked him to 'antifa' movement

Jeff Klinzman is a former adjunct professor in the English department at Kirkwood Community College in southwest Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Jeff Klinzman is a former adjunct professor in the English department at Kirkwood Community College in southwest Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

A century-old national association that advocates academic freedom on campus is criticizing Kirkwood Community College’s removal of a professor following provocative online commentary and demanding it reverse course.

If Kirkwood rebuffs those demands from the American Association of University Professors, the Cedar Rapids college could face censure.

“I can’t rule it out,” Gregory Scholtz, director of the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance, told The Gazette in an email.

But, he said, “Our goal when communicating our concerns with an administration is start a dialogue that ends in a resolution that honors our standards.”

In a letter last Friday spelling out its understanding of why Kirkwood removed longtime adjunct professor Jeff Klinzman from the classroom and “forced” his resignation, the AAUP urged the college to reinstate Klinzman “as soon as possible.”

The association cited nearly 80-year-old academic freedom guidance that affords faculty members due process before being dismissed, and indicates only unfitness on the job can qualify as “adequate cause.

“If your administration believes that his political speech demonstrates his unfitness as a teacher, then we would urge that he be afforded an opportunity for a hearing before his peers in which the administration would be obliged to demonstrate adequacy of cause,” Scholtz wrote.

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Kirkwood said it removed Klinzman from the classroom due to safety concerns, and said he decided by himself to quit and was not fired.

The Kirkwood case has attracted national attention as one of a growing number like it across American college and university campuses that call into question academic freedoms at a time of heightened political divides. The AAUP investigates complaints and issues sanctions and censures — compiling lists of non-compliant institutions, which until 2018 named the University of Iowa for the way it handled the 2015 hire of President Bruce Harreld.

Klinzman recently sought the AAUP’s advice after administrators on Aug. 23 removed him from the course he was set to teach and he quit.

The removal came a day after KCRG-TV aired a story about Klinzman’s online rhetoric and support for the left-wing “antifa” movement — a story that caught fire nationwide and led to threats against Kirkwood.

Kirkwood President Lori Sundberg told The Gazette safety concerns compelled the decision to pull Klinzman from class. Sundberg producing an email from Klinzman resigning his post at the college.

Klinzman maintains his resignation was coerced — the he was given the choice of only “to resign or be terminated,” he told the AAUP.

Based on information from Klinzman and public comments from Kirkwood administrators, the AAUP determined his resignation was “forced” and “tantamount to a summary dismissal in disregard of AAUP-supported standards of academic due process,” according to the letter.

Although campus safety is a legitimate concern, the association said, it can be handled without dismissing a professor through increased security, remote instruction or paid suspension.

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Kirkwood had not replied Monday to the AAUP’s letter, although Kirkwood spokesman Justin Hoehn said the administration plans to.

If a dialogue doesn’t bring resolution, the AAUP will consider launching a formal investigation. If the AAUP’s governing council were to approve a recommendation of censure, Kirkwood would be listed among other censured administrations.

Klinzman, in response to the AAUP letter, said he would welcome reinstatement as an adjunct professor “even though I feel I have been badly treated by the Kirkwood administration.”

“As far as I’m concerned, my duty is to the students and my colleagues,” he said. “The administration is a necessary evil through which the money flows.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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