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Breaking: Phil (and Dean Elizabeth Smith) Respond to Professors Re: Mark Bray

As I read through yesterday’s letter to the faculty from Phil Hanlon about l’affaire Bray, I was struck by its thoughtful and precise tone. How nice to see crisp writing and careful reasoning from such an unlikely source:

Hanlon response to Bray.jpg

However, upon reaching the end of the letter, it was clear that a second hand had been involved in the drafting: newly appointed Dean of the Faculty Elizabeth Smith. Welcome!

That said, unexpectedly, the name of the College’s Chief Academic Officer, Provost Carolyn Dever was nowhere to be found in the missive. But then Carolyn was probably out of town interviewing for a job as the supreme leader of a community college somewhere.

The Valley News reported that certain professors were far from mollified by Phil and Elizabeth Smith’s letter:

However, Bray and faculty said on Thursday that Hanlon and Smith’s emailed letter does little to ease their worries.

“I’m concerned that the Dartmouth president based his comments on email, phone calls and social media without checking in with me or my department to contextualize or get the full sense of what my arguments are based on in my historical research,” Bray, a visiting scholar at the Gender Research Institute at Dartmouth, said on Thursday afternoon. “To me, that seems unprofessional.”

Bray said neither he nor any other professor makes attempts to speak for Dartmouth, and so it makes little sense why Hanlon would feel the need to make that clear.

“Considering the threats that I’ve received and the damage to my professional reputation his initial statement caused, I find this response to be unsatisfactory,” Bray said.

At least three faculty members on Thursday also issued a rebuttal, saying Hanlon and Smith’s response “effectively chills research and public engagement.”

“Making academic policy in response to outside pressure undermines the core mission of colleges and universities and emboldens those with a stake in quashing original research,” history professors Pamela Voekel, Annelise Orleck and Bethany Moreton said in a statement on Thursday. The three authored the initial letter criticizing Hanlon that was signed by roughly 120 faculty members last week.

I wonder what the Trustees make of all this.

Addendum: Given the rapidity with which the faculty letter gathered its 120 signatures (not all professors were asked to sign), it’s hard to imagine that Phil has any support at all among the left wing of the faculty. And the Duthu débâcle showed that professors on the (relative) right don’t hold Phil in high esteem either. So just who supports our lackluster President. Anyone?

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

Hanlon’s and Smith’s letter defends Bray’s right to “pursue and disseminate his research.” However, Bray’s apparent advocacy of violence is not a product or finding of research; rather it is pure political advocacy. Academic freedom only covers the former.

As a private citizen, Bray is entitled to voice his political opinions like anyone else and should be free from institutional censorship. However, as a teacher, he has special obligations, and when his utterances raise grave questions about his suitability for that position, it is quite appropriate for them to be questioned. Advocacy of violence, i.e. criminal acts, clearly raises such questions.

Addendum: An eagle-eyed reader notes that, save for the first word of the third sentence (“we”), the entire letter is written in the first person singular (“I” is used three times) — and then signed by both Phil and Beth Smith. What does that tell you? Did someone, a hapless Phil, decide to join in at the last minute? After all, why let the new Dean of the Faculty put him in the shade with a fine piece of writing?

Another supposition is that the whole missive was drafted by the new College counsel, Sandhya Subramanian.


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