Guest Columnist

Iowa professors: Klinzman deserved due process in Kirkwood case

Iowa Hall is seen on the Kirkwood Community College campus in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Iowa Hall is seen on the Kirkwood Community College campus in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

The undersigned representatives of The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in Iowa write to protest Kirkwood Community College’s treatment of Prof. Jeffrey Klinzman. Because the Regents universities are partners with Kirkwood and the other community colleges in Iowa’s system of public higher education, sharing many students, academic projects, and important responsibilities to the people of Iowa, we have a strong interest in what happens at Kirkwood.

For more than a century, the AAUP has been acknowledged as the national repository of academic core values including academic due process. Its policies and procedures are the gold standard that guide the relationships between college and university governing boards, administrations, faculty, and students. These values also coincide with Iowans’ commitment to fairness and acting only after a diligent search for truth. In Klinzman’s case, neither Iowa values nor AAUP policies were honored by Kirkwood.

Recently, Klinzman learned that two of his personal social media posts prompted complaints to the Kirkwood administration. In the most recent post, Klinzman, a member of a local antifa (anti-fascist) group, responded angrily to President Donald Trump’s angry denunciation of the antifa movement nationally. Apparently, some of the complaints also looked back to an old post from 2012 in which Klinzman quoted two lines from a poem written by Ilya Ehrenberg, a Russian anti-fascist of the World War II era, as part of his expression of disapproval of the Christian right. Kirkwood does not claim that either post was made or quoted in the classroom, nor that either had any connection to Klinzman’s duties at Kirkwood.

Late in the week of Aug. 18, Klinzman was told that he could not continue to teach at Kirkwood and was offered the choice of resignation or forced termination. Confronted with this choice, he resigned. (The Gazette, “‘Antifa’ Report Pits Free Speech vs. Safety,” Aug. 28). Kirkwood’s reluctance to allow him back in the classroom seems to have stemmed from fear of violence from those complaining about his posts rather than from any fear that Klinzman might himself be violent. We write that Kirkwood’s decision “seems” to have stemmed from fear of violence from the complainants because the events happened very quickly without any sort of formal investigation or opportunity for hearing. Klinzman was not notified of any sort of right to appeal or challenge the decision to terminate his employment with Kirkwood.

Personal social media posts, and indeed any statements made outside the classroom and unrelated to professional duties, are considered “extramural statements” by AAUP. In other words, they’re not work-related. In a policy entitled “Statement on Extramural Utterances,” AAUP notes that a college or university administration may seek to discipline or discharge a faculty member “if it feels that … the professor’s extramural utterances raise grave doubts concerning the professor’s fitness for continuing service.” But the policy goes on to provide that “it is essential that the hearing should be conducted by an appropriate — preferably elected — faculty committee. AAUP does not countenance discharge of a faculty member without the requisite fair procedures. Of course, Iowans expect that all public employees will receive fair procedure before discharge. AAUP policy also urges administrators to act deliberately rather than hastily in these situation.

AAUP policies and procedures are standards, not law. Yet they share with the U.S. Constitution and parallel provisions in the Iowa Constitution a deep commitment to free speech and concern that full and fair procedures should precede any adverse action against an individual. They are designed to promote truth-finding and afford all interested parties the opportunity to be heard. Fair procedures were not granted to Klinzman, and other Kirkwood faculty members can reasonably be concerned that they would be treated the same way. To that extent, Kirkwood’s action must be suspect, however much its administrators claim to respect Klinzman’s free speech rights. We ask Kirkwood to rescind Klinzman’s discharge, afford him appropriate due process in any disciplinary or discharge proceedings, and, while that is happening, put in place some of the many protective measures at its disposal to ensure faculty, student, and staff safety.

Lois Cox, chair, Committee A, AAUP UI Chapter; Heimir Geirsson, chair, Iowa State Conference of AAUP Committee A; Loren Glass, president. AAUP UI Chapter; Mack Shelley, president, AAUP ISU Chapter; Becky Hawbaker, president, AAUP UNI Chapter and Nancy Reincke, president, Iowa State Conference of AAUP.

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