Letter to the Editor From former MRC Dean Arthur Fisher

Since I understand that my name has been mentioned as part of the proceedings of the lynch mob, I am writing to clarify some facts. When I was dean, I fired, in mid-course, two part-time instructors. The first had a reputation as an expert teacher of English grammar and was at the time employed as a curriculum specialist by the Washington State Department of Instruction. Students began to complain to me that large amounts of class time were being given over to conventional discourse on “social justice”. In meetings in my office, I explained to the instructor that class time is precious, that students needed to be taught grammar, and that anything else was simply off the map: unacceptable. The individual replied that these concerns were very important to her personally and part of her mission as a teacher. I replied that, on the contrary, they represented a sort of violation of our implicit contract, that students had enrolled and paid to be taught needed skills in grammar, and that lengthy digressions therefrom constituted a sort of theft. When the problem continued, I fired the instructor via overnight registered letter in what I recall to have been the seventh or eighth week of the course.

A second episode took place when I sought from the College of Education a part-time instructor to teach the strategies and techniques of tutoring to first-year students in the Bachelor of Arts in Humanities for Teaching. Again and similarly, students complained. They brought their curricular materials, which indeed had little or nothing to do with tutoring but a great deal to do with race and educational inequality, subjects that had never been mentioned in my discussions with the instructor. Again what followed was a series of meetings in my office in which I was told that “this is what they need to learn!” When I explained that these topics were fully covered in other courses in our required curriculum, e.g. “Poverty in America” and “Education and the Polity”, and by experts with relevant doctorates, that cut no ice, and the problem persisted. Our students were out working in the schools, one-on-one with students needing help. I asked whether the instructor was able to teach tutoring. I even brought to the corner of my desk some fourteen books, texts on tutoring, and offered to lend them if it would help. The books were never opened. “I know all that!” I was told. The outcome was foreseeable, and I fault myself for not having taken action sooner.

During those same years, I found myself needing to speak sternly to two full-time faculty who were taking class time to launch into thinly-related “fervorinos”, short pious emotional homilies on moral or ontological themes. Fortunately both quickly saw that theirs was hardly a prudent path, and the problem disappeared. A podium is not a pulpit. I never saw my actions as infringing on academic freedom but instead as defending, and indeed enforcing, academic integrity. “Academic freedom” is in place to protect legitimate experts with well-grounded but nonetheless differing views on academic issues; it is not a license to enter the classroom to do whatever your heart desires to do to your captive students.

I want to add that I have known Jodi Kelly as a professional colleague for almost thirty years. The charge that she is a racist is an actionable slander. Her best friend as a girl was Natalie Cole, the daughter of Nat “King” Cole. That’s public information; you could look it up. See what Natalie had to say about Jodi in the months before her death. I have seen Jodi teach, year after year, respectfully and sympathetically, the autobiography of Malcolm X. Anyone who knows her at all well will tell you the same thing: a malicious, preposterous charge. Ironically, one of those who has known her even longer is Steve Sundborg. Dean Kelly’s accusers are plain liars, all heat and no light. Steve Sundborg knows perfectly well that Jodi Kelly is no racist. It was negligent and wrong, almost criminally so, to criticize those who called her that as “disrespectful”. Shades of Tawana Brawley and the “Reverend” Al Sharpton! What he should have said was this: “I’ve known Jodi Kelly for thirty years. I know that she is no racist! Her accusers are liars.” What is it that prevents him from standing up straight and saying what he knows to be true? What prevents others?

—Arthur L. Fisher: Dean Emeritus, Matteo Ricci College