As the only professor on campus with a reasonably widely read blog (in my own arrogant mind, of course), I figured I'd better throw my hat in the ring.
Of course, there is very little in the public record to go on in interpreting this case. As a personnel matter, the administration here can't say anything publically. Read between the lines regarding what that says about the facts that are publically available. One note though - the Provost here is not part of the predominant Utah culture.
The students are, of course, pretty vocal on both sides of the issue. There is even a pro-Roberds student-authored website called OnlyInUtah.Org.
The legacy media have also picked up on this, but if you read the articles available on the internet, you'll notice that most of them are rewordings from a very few original sources.
And the blogosphere (particularly its liberal part) has gotten hold of this in a big way. daily KOS is leading the way with a post entitled "Right-wing Politically Correct: Could Dick Cheney pick up this fired professor's job in Utah?" Other blogs on top of this are onegoodmove with a post entitled "WTF", Critical Mass with a post entitled "Only In Utah", History News Network with a post entitled "Academic Freedom, Southern Utah Style", heat death of the universe with a post entitled "What's the Real Story?", The Third Avenue with a post entitled "SUU Prof. Fired for Swearing", Scrapbook with a post entitled "Utah university to prof: 'No, f— you!' [#]", and Sleeveless in Southern Utah with an untitled December 16 post. Of course, a lot of this is just legacy media styled repetition of the same small set of facts and rumors.
Here are the facts as known to faculty members on campus:
- Roberds has been involved in well documented outbursts on other occassions. (There is even videotape of this behavior taken at a public function).
Roberds was up for tenure this year.
- Roberds' application was apparently approved by his department LRT committee.
- Roberds' application was (apparently) approved by his chair.
- Roberds had an outburst in class involving that dreaded word. (In the spirit of the season) as Ralphie says "the F dash dash dash word".
- Roberds' chair solicited student views about this matter in a closed door meeting.
- Roberds' chair changed his recommendation.
- The college LRT committee gave a recommendation that was neutral regarding tenure.
- Roberds' firing became public the first day of exam week. He will be paid for the entire Spring semester.
Here are the rumors that I hear.
- That there is more to this case than is public (I've heard what this is, but I'm not dumb enough to spread the rumor further). (This is from one source who got it from two sources).
- That these other issues have been confirmed, and involve at least one confession of involvement by a third person (from one source).
- That there has been concern for a few years that Roberds was a potential troublespot for faculty in his own department (I have that from two sources). One of those sources was relieved that Roberds former department had been split, and that Roberds and his colleagues were now in a different department.
- That the widely reported "Professor of the Year" award that Roberds won is a popularity contest that only students can vote for. I do know that the faculty and students jointly make other awards that Roberds has not won.
- The "distinguished lecture" that Roberds recently presented is one in which faculty are invited to make nominations, and that self-nominations are common. I heard from one student that the presentation bordered on incoherent.
- Even so, the last two points should make clear that Roberds was well treated here.
- Roberds was a pretty tough teacher that made students think.
Here's what's inside my head:
- I don't know Roberds well. We have been to a few parties together, and sat on a roundtable together once.
- Everyone knows that Roberds is a liberal. Big deal.
- Everyone knows that Roberds is a hothead. He even has had an annual debate on campus with a conservative who I'm sure is seen as a hothead by the other side (forgive me JB).
- I don't see a lot of scholarly work that could make Roberds tenure case a slam dunk if he was in my department. However, in his department he may be OK.
- Personally, I don't have the time to nominate people for distinguished lectures, myself included. Who does?
- I've worked at 4 other universities (all of which have better academic reputations than this one). The administration at this school beats all of them hands down for intelligence and professionalism.
So, what do I make of all this as an economist?
- Roberds and his supporters have nothing to lose by creating a media firestorm. The true test will be if this ever makes it to court. If it doesn't, you know that this was just a game of chicken.
- Administration has everything to lose by divulging evidence that might support its position, since personnel records must be kept confidential in current legal atmosphere.
- Roberds did not have tenure. Therefore, the last several years were his best behavior, and if awarded tenure there is every reason to believe his behavior would get worse.
- Roberds clearly may have made his own colleagues uncomfortable. Tenure decisions are often about whether you want to work with someone for the rest of your career.
- Public choice theory tells us that small vocal minorities can be overrepresented in vote-determined decisions like "Professor of the Year" awards.
- In many cases, tenure decisions involve a lot of signalling between committees and administrators. Administration usually pulls the trigger.
Personally, I wouldn't have voted against him based upon the facts that I know. But that's just me. But I can read between the lines and I know how I would've voted if the rumors I'm hearing are even half true.
P.S. Thanks to KB whom I met just this morning for excellent proofreading services. Of course, I did add more to this so any remaining errors are still my own.