There was a famous case in 1900 at Stanford where a sociologist named Edward Ross was fired at the request of the main trustee Jane Stanford, the wife of the founder of the university, after Ross made public comments opposing Chinese immigration and favoring public ownership of utilities. Both of these ideas were deemed to be socialists at the time because they were positions by held by labor unions. The president of the university fired Ross. He lost his job.
The second famous case James Cattell and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana were both fired at Columbia University
in 1917 for writing and speaking against US involvement and policies in World War I.
These are examples that aroused enormous outcry among faculty because people were speaking in the public square and they were losing their job within the university.
I want to give one other example and it has to do with UNC Chapel Hill and it’s especially relevant, I think, because we know the history of our own university. This is an account of what happened in 1856 during the lead-up to the US presidential election.
An attack was made in the local press on an unidentified professor whose name was Benjamin Hedrick. He allegedly supported the anti-slavery candidate John C. Fremont, the Republican, and the Raleigh Standard, the newspaper, said this would lead to a disaster, a separation of the states, and this was the quote;
“Let our schools and seminaries of learning be scrutinized and if black Republicans [i.e., Fremont supporters] are found in them, let them be driven out. That man is neither a fit nor a safe instructor of our young men who even inclines to Fremont and black Republicanism.” In this same newspaper shortly afterwards a letter to the editor appeared from someone calling himself an alumnus of UNC who said; “Can the trustees of our own state university invite pupils to this institution under their charge with the assurance that this mainstream of education contains no deadly poison at its fountain head? We have been reliably informed that a professor at our state university [this man Hedrick] is an open and a valid supporter of Fremont and declares his willingness–nay his desire–to support the black Republican ticket. … Is he a fit or safe instructor for our young men? …[O]ught he not be “required to leave,” at least be dismissed, from a situation where his poisonous influence is so powerful, and his teachings so antagonist to the “honor and safety” of the University in this State? …We must have certain security,… that at State Universities we will have no canker-worm preying at the very vitals of Southern institutions.”
And what happened? The newspaper immediately said this (It’s like Fox News in 1856.):
“We take it for granted that Professor Hedrick will be promptly removed.”
And the next week the faculty disowned him; the parents threatened to withdraw their sons; and alumni joined the public in calling for his dismissal. He refused to resign and… he was terminated within a week, though his salary was paid to the end of the term. The only faculty member to defend him was a French instructor named Henri Herrisse who was also terminated immediately at the same time. Hounded by a mob, Hedrick left his native state.
So, I have shared these historical examples because I want to suggest that tenure came about for two important reasons:
- Number one, to protect the security and freedom of people to present whatever they believe to be the truth based on careful evidence in their classrooms and in their research
- And secondly, to prevent trustees from arbitrarily firing any member of the faculty who exercises free speech rights outside the university.