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The Case of Prof. Stastny

To the Editors:

We want to bring to your attention a case, now in the courts, which we regard as of great importance to the future of academic freedom and civil liberties in the United States. We represent the membership of the National Committee for the Defense of Academic Rights, a group of more than sixty academics from all types of institutions of higher education and all parts of the country. We hold diverse views on many social and political issues. But we are united in our belief that the dismissal of Professor Charles Stastny by the trustees of Central Washington University constitutes both an individual injustice and a highly dangerous precedent in higher education.

Professor Stastny had been a member of the Political Science Department of Central Washington University for fourteen years, eleven of them with tenure. He was dismissed in February 1980, ostensibly for refusing to obey an arbitrary and, in our view, unjustified order of a dean, which would have forced him to cancel a professional trip to deliver a lecture on his research at the Hebrew University Law School in Israel.

To Professor Stastny, the order appeared to be the climax of a campaign of administrative harassment against him and a threat to well-understood faculty rights. He had already prepared videotaped lectures to cover the four days of classes he would miss, and had invited a guest lecturer to one of his classes. After unsuccessful attempts to enlist the mediation of newly appointed. President Donald L. Garrity, Professor Stastny filed notice of a grievance and carried through with his trip.

Upon his return from Israel, he found all his classes had been canceled over the objections of the students. Within two weeks, President Garrity had recommended dismissal to the Board of Trustees. The principal charge against Stastny was “insubordination,” the first of eleven grounds for the dismissal of a tenured faculty member under a controversial faculty code.

Two more charges were added. “Willful and grievous violation of published institutional rules” was also related to the Israel trip. An attempt was made by the university administration to transform this clearly professional trip into “personal travel” in order to invoke other, nonapplicable sections of the code.

The third charge, “gross misconduct,” was explained by the university’s attorney to mean “excessive” absences and latenesses in Stastny’s fourteen years at the university in the context of his trip to Israel. These, only later divided into “excused” and “unexcused,” included: attendance at professional meetings, a sabbatical leave, several brief—and authorized—leaves without pay, and one sick leave. Representative of the six “unexcused” absences or latenesses in fourteen years was one late return to campus in 1974 from a professional meeting because of an overbooked plane, an exchange of summer school registration hours with a colleague in 1967, etc. All such details were catalogued in a dossier for future use.

No one familiar with academic norms in this country can fail to suspect a hidden agenda here. Professor Stastny’s personnel file, which he obtained during the administrative hearings on the case under the Freedom of Information Act, contained more than 1,000 entries. It included evidence of covert surveillance of an off-campus class, with weekly reports to the campus administrator and memos from the chairman to the dean about Stastny’s class activities.

Stastny was clearly perceived by the administration as something of a “boat rocker.” He had founded the first ACLU chapter in this conservative eastern Washington county, and had on numerous occasions come into conflict with administration and town officials over civil liberties and human rights issues. He was on the executive board of an administratively unrecognized union and had strongly backed his wife’s discrimination complaint when she was administratively removed from a joint research grant for reasons of marital status.

We are convinced, from careful examination of the record, that Professor Stastny’s behavior did not violate professional standards. If he can be dismissed, so could the bulk of the faculty at most of our institutions of higher education. Some of us see this case as a trial balloon for broad administrative claims, leading to the imposition of an increasingly authoritarian mold on our universities.

Two leading professional organizations have expressed dismay at what is occurring in the Stastny case. The American Political Science Association Committee on Professional Ethics and Academic Freedom has investigated the case and issued a report sharply criticizing university authorities, and concluding that their action represents a threat to the tenure system. The American Anthropological Association unanimously passed a resolution at its most recent national meeting endorsing the APSA’s finding and urging moral and financial support for Stastny.

The case is now on appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court. Stastny’s principal attorney is Professor David Danelski, a political scientist at Stanford University and constitutional law specialist. Danelski is challenging the constitutionality of the Stastny dismissal and of the faculty code provisions under which it took place. The cost of the appeal is high and Stastny has no resources to pay legal expenses. We are confident that, understanding what is at stake, the American intellectual community will give its generous support. Without it, the Stastny case cannot be won. Please send correspondence and contributions to: NCDAR, P.O. Box 177, West Somerville, Massachusetts 02144.

Stanley Hoffmann, Harvard University; Sidney Verba, Harvard University; Adam Ulam, Harvard University; Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Stanley Rothman, Smith College; Joseph Blasi, Harvard University; Judith Granada-Dewey, Boston University; Richard H. Dewey, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Kathleen J. Adams, Central Washington University; Karen Rosenblum-Calé, Northeastern University; Howard Zinn, Boston University.

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