Middlebury gets all the attention. Before that, Berkeley. But progressives’ attack on intellectual freedom is wider and deeper than these spectacles of student outrage and violent protest.
Take, for instance, Springfield College in Massachusetts. Springfield College sounds like the school Homer Simpson may have dropped out of, but it is not a figment of Matt Groening’s imagination. It ranks as No. 27 on U.S. News “Best Colleges” rankings for “regional universities” in the North. But this middle-tier, vocationally-oriented, and very ordinary college is currently waging a bureaucratic war on one of its own faculty members, English professor Dennis Gouws.
On March 27, Anne Herzog, the college’s dean of Arts, Sciences, and Professional Studies, wrote a letter to Gouws placing him on “Official Warning Status.” Herzog’s letter proffers a good deal of smug condescension and a small harvest of details, but none of that will explain what is really happening. The true story is this: a feminist jihad aims to remove from Springfield faculty an English professor who has refused to submit, even after two years of nearly constant bullying.
Gouws Is Guilty Of Teaching A ‘Men In Literature’ Class
I wrote about this case almost a year ago, and will refer the reader back to “Springfield Purges Men in Literature” for a detailed account. Brief synopsis: Gouws, a tenured English professor, was asked in 2005 by his department to teach a new course, “Men in Literature.” He liked it and kept on teaching it, eight times between 2005 and 2015. The college approved the course as a regular offering in 2010.
But in June 2015, Herzog wrote to him, demanding that he revise the course because an unnamed student had complained about its content because it dealt with men in literature. Since that was the title of the course, the content of the syllabus, and the substance of the class, it is a bit perplexing that Herzog saw merit in the complaint, but so she did.
Gouws attempted to hold his ground. His professional life at Springfield College, however, has been in jeopardy ever since.
Gouws Now Suffers The Death of a Thousand Cuts
Early on in this campaign, Gouws discovered that he stood in considerable risk if he agreed to meet with Dean Herzog in private. He found his recollections of what was said at such meetings were at wide variance with what Dean Herzog reported to others. And he found that his problems with teaching “Men in Literature” had spilled into almost everything else he tried to do. His sabbatical request, during which he had planned to complete a book under contract, was denied. His syllabi for other courses were called into question. He was beset with dozens of petty directives that, to the best of his knowledge, no one else in his department or the college as a whole was subject to.
Nonetheless, wherever possible, he complied with the directives. He did, however, adopt the subversive habit of asking why he was being asked, and requesting that the answers be put in writing—or failing that, that he be allowed to record the meetings or bring a witness. The college denied all three. No written explanations; no recordings; no witnesses.
Dean Herzog has now taken the first step to fire Professor Gouws for cause: “if you do not comply with the above, I will recommend to the Provost your termination of employment at Springfield College.”
Springfield College Is No Berkeley, It’s True
Let me grant immediately that this case has none of the rocket fuel of Middlebury College’s collective assault on Charles Murray and Professor Alison Stanger. Dennis Gouws is a relative nobody (sorry Dennis) at a no-name college (not sorry, Dean Herzog). Trader Joe’s, the trendy grocery chain, playfully offers knock-offs on popular brands, such as “Scandinavian Swimmers” for “Swedish Fish.”
Springfield College is a Scandinavian Swimmer among English Departments. It says it teaches English literature, but the course catalog includes “The Athlete in Literature,” “Sports, Gambling and the Media,” “Post-Colonial Literature,” “Grammar and Usage,” “Student Newspaper Practicum,” and “Literature of Journalism,” in addition to more traditional offerings such as “American Literature” and “The Victorian Period.” Incidentally, Springfield offers “Women and Literature,” which seems not to have occasioned any of the trouble raised by “Men in Literature.”
Liberal academics across the country have risen by the thousands to decry the threats to free speech and intellectual freedom they discerned in the Middlebury fracas. The March 14 post-Middlebury statement, “Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression,” drafted by Robert George and Cornel West, has gained over 1,200 signatories. The American Political Science Association, representing 13,000 professors and students, issued its own statement condemning “Violence at Middlebury College.” Op-ed writers of nearly every persuasion have penned condemnations of the Middlebury events, including Frank Bruni in his Sunday New York Times column, “The Dangerous Safety of College.”
Don’t Forget About The Not-Middleburys
But let’s spare a thought for the not-Middleburys. Springfield College and its like can be every bit as intellectually intolerant, closed-minded, and even oppressive as the mob at Middlebury and their faculty enablers. Moreover, the Springfield goons operate with greater impunity because they can count on the indifference of their alumni and the broader public.
I’ve watched over the last year as the harmless Gouws has been turned into a symbol of white male patriarchy and defiance of feminist authority. I’ve called on his college president, the board of trustees of the college, and Springfield alumni to do something about it. But he has been left to fend for himself.
This is the everyday reality of progressive domination of our colleges. If we cannot rescue Gouws from these snares, whom can we rescue?
I think Gouws needs a good lawyer and a legal defense fund. Maybe he also needs a good suit against Springfield College for its numerous breaches of contract and its steps towards constructive dismissal. I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t know how those steps might play out. But I intend to do my part. Because in the end, Middlebury and Springfield are the same place.