21 October 2017 Register to receive our free newsletter by email each week
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US: Don't embarrass your masters

Bowdoin College, a college of liberal arts and science in Maine, threw a slew of charges against an economics professor who dared to distribute a research paper with conclusions that embarrassed the college.

Had he not come to these conclusions and distributed the paper to prospective students on campus, economics professor Jonathan Goldstein, who has been at Bowdoin for 29 years, would not have been investigated at all.

Goldstein was interested in the amount that a college's academics appear to suffer as a result of emphasis on athletics. His research showed that among 36 colleges, Bowdoin came in last, meaning it had the greatest amount of lost academic potential.

Because he was interested in what prospective students and their families thought about these results, Goldstein distributed summaries of his paper to them while they were on campus and at admissions events.

Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd quickly brought charges against him. Judd informed Goldstein that his distribution of the paper was being formally investigated "in the realm of harassment and hostile work environment, as well as the possible violation of other College policies".

Over the ensuing months, charges were added and dropped throughout the process. But almost all of the original charges failed to stick.

University judicial committees finally determined that Goldstein had failed to fully cite a source and had inappropriately published confidential data used in a table. But they could not demonstrate intentionality.

Although the faculty handbook exempts inadvertent errors from punishment, Bowdoin's president punished the professor with official censure. The investigation and punishment tell faculty members that they publicly criticise Bowdoin at their peril.

*Adam Kissel is Director, Individual Rights Defense Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education on whose website this report first appeared. Documents held by FIRE suggest other factors were also involved in the laying of charges against Goldstein.
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