Campus Chemistry at RPI

In academia there's an well-known chemical reaction:

thin skins + arbitrary power → unexpected despotism

The reaction is also strongly exothermic, generating a lot of heat, not very much light.

The latest tale comes (via Inside Higher Ed) from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), where Research Professor Donald Steiner recently complained in e-mail to a faculty discussion group about a recent missive from President Shirley Jackson:

Sadly, I found more of the same subterfuge and insulting pabulum.
Prof Steiner sent another e-mail to the Provost (cc:'ing to the faculty discussion group):
Should not a ‘provost’ be the advocate for the rights of all faculty? You have not done so. Therefore you are not a ‘provost.’ Should not a ‘provost’ uphold the Faculty Handbook procedures? You have no done so. Therefore, you are not a ‘provost.’ Should not a ‘provost’ be truthful in dealing with the faculty? You have not done so. Therefore you are not a ‘provost.’
RPI's reacted according to the formula above: they yanked Prof Steiner's e-mail account. Their justification for the move was the RPI policies against "harassment" and in favor of "respect" for "diversity."

There's no indication in the article that any due process was followed in yanking the e-mail account.

This incident also illustrates the infinite elasticity of vaguely-worded "harassment" policies and how they can be used to cover arbitrary petulant actions by those in charge.

Unsurprisingly, RPI also earns (like UNH) a red light from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for its record in censoring student speech. It's too late for Prof Steiner, but people considering whether to attend or be employed by RPI might want to take that into account.


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:21 PM EST