The recent case of the State of New Hampshire v. Kristie Torbick has brought considerable negative attention to Plymouth State University and three of its faculty members, Drs. Gary Goodnough, Michael Fischler, and Nancy Strapko, who were asked to provide character reference testimony describing their academic, professional, and/or clinical assessments of the accused. These three have since been sanctioned and publicly rebuked by the University’s administration for statements made in response to this request.
The Plymouth State University chapter of the American Association of University Professors (PSU-AAUP) and the Plymouth State University Teaching Lecturers union (SEA/SEIU 1984 Chapter 30) hold that written and oral testimonies of the nature provided by these faculty members are protected as extramural speech under principles of academic freedom, which are articulated in the AAUP’s “1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure” and adopted in section 2.4.A.1 of Plymouth State University Faculty Handbook. According to the 1940 Statement:
College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline…
We additionally note that these academic freedom rights of faculty have been affirmed in the legally binding collective bargaining agreements that the administration of Plymouth State University has with both the PSU-AAUP and SEA/SEIU Chapter 30.
The PSU administration therefore violated our Faculty Handbook and collective bargaining agreements by improperly censoring and disciplining our colleagues as follows:
- Drs. Gary Goodnough and Michael Fischler were directed to complete “additional Title IX training” before returning to work
- Dr. Michael Fischler’s name was removed from the University’s counseling center
- Dr. Nancy Strapko will not be rehired as an employee of the University
As PSU-AAUP and SEA/SEIU Chapter 30 hereby consider the aforementioned sanctions against these faculty members to be illegitimate, we call upon the administration of Plymouth State University to rescind them and offer public apologies to Drs. Goodnough, Fischler, and Strapko.
Furthermore, we are concerned that the process used by the administration to impose these sanctions may have violated either or both the Weingarten rights of these faculty members and the provisions of our existing union contracts regarding faculty discipline. We are therefore considering filing formal grievances against the administration.
This statement should in no way be taken as support of Kristie Torbick. PSU-AAUP and SEA/SEIU Chapter 30 jointly condemn any and all acts of sexual harassment and sexual assault, including those to which Ms. Torbick has pled guilty and for which she has been convicted. We strongly support victims of harassment and assault.
We question the administration’s use of Title IX training as a form of discipline. These three faculty members in no way violated Title IX through their testimonies, nor have they been accused of any form of sexual harassment or assault. The use of Title IX in this way shows either ignorance or disregard for the actual substance of this important law.
We desire a collaborative relationship with the administration and believe these missteps could have been avoided, if they had consulted earlier with either or both unions. We have attempted to work with them on repairing the damage, without success. Nonetheless, we hope that we can take collaborative, concrete steps to prevent these types of situations in the future.
Finally, as educators, we encourage our faculty, our students, and our administration to take this tragic situation as an opportunity to raise awareness of Title IX issues and to hold conversations regarding free speech, academic freedom, and civic duty.