Freedom of speech questions engulf the UT community; Faculty senate blasts remarks

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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The University of Toledo’s faculty senate voted unanimously yesterday to condemn the comments that have caused a firestorm on campus – UT Board Chairman Ronald Langenderfer’s statement last week that he wanted to fire employees spreading false rumors about the university.

But, unlike the faculty union, the senate did not ask for Mr. Langenderfer’s resignation.

“I think we’ve lost respect for each other, and that’s the problem,” said Dr. Gary Moore, a business professor and a member of the faculty senate. “We don’t respect the board, and the board doesn’t respect us. I don’t think you go around calling people liars.”

At a board of trustees meeting on Feb. 23, Mr. Langenderfer said he was disgusted by what he called false rumors claiming that UT is near financial collapse or that key departments are about to be shut down.

He said that a small group of disgruntled university employees committed to the “total destruction” of UT is responsible.

“They will be investigated,” Mr. Langenderfer said. “If we can prove that, watch out. It will not be tolerated.” He said the employees “will be discharged immediately from this university.”

Many faculty and staff responded with outrage, saying the comments were an attack on freedom of discussion.

On Friday, the UT chapter of the American Association of University Professors voted to ask for Mr. Langenderfer’s resignation from the board. The union, which represents nearly 500 UT faculty members, voted unanimously in a meeting of its executive committee and its council of departmental representatives.

The faculty senate’s resolution states that the comments “alarmed the university community” and “resolved that we not only condemn actions that stifle democratic processes and academic freedom, but also will continue to speak out strongly against those injustices in order to rectify them.”

The resolution added that the senate wants its executive committee to continue meeting with individual trustees to improve relations between the board and the faculty.

Three trustees, James Tuschman, Richard Stansley, Jr., and Mr. Langenderfer, met with members of the faculty senate’s executive committee on Friday in what faculty senate Chairman Harvey Wolff described as “a real conversation, people trying hard to bridge the gap.”

Finally, the resolution requested that the board of trustees report back the measures it will take “to ensure that assaults against academic freedom and the democratic process will not occur again.”

But most of the debate yesterday revolved around a proposed amendment to the resolution.

Dr. Andrew Jorgenson, a chemistry professor who has been a frequent critic of the Kapoor administration, proposed adding language that would have resolved “that the interests of the university would be best served by the resignation of Mr. Langenderfer as chairman of the board.”

The amendment caused a spirited debate, primarily between faculty who said the senate should work on improving its relations with the trustees and those who said they want to make sure that Mr. Langenderfer understood the strength of their resolve.

“I think some of the people on the board are trying to undo the damage that’s been done,” said Dr. Debra Stoudt, a German professor who is vice chair of the faculty senate and who opposed the amendment. “They are making a clear attempt to mend bridges.”

Law Professor John Barrett agreed, asking, “Don’t we need to work in some ways toward cooperation, instead of a hostile relationship?”

But Dr. Al Cave, a history professor, said that without the amendment, the resolution was not strong enough. “I would not like our actions to be interpreted by the board as saying everything’s all right now,” he said.

Others, like history Professor Larry Wilcox, insisted that Mr. Langenderfer’s attitude toward faculty likely will never improve.

“He has treated faculty with utter contempt,” Dr. Wilcox said. “How much more will this body need to say ‘Enough is enough,’ to say ‘Would you please go away so we can try to fix some of the damage that’s been done?'”

In the end, the amendment was tabled by a 22 to 15 vote, after which the resolution was passed by a unanimous voice vote. But several senators emphasized that the tabled amendment could be brought back at any time.

Mr. Langenderfer did not return telephone calls seeking comment last night.

In response to the resolution, university spokesman Joe Brennan said: “We welcome the opportunity to work in a positive and constructive fashion with our faculty. We recognize the important role of the faculty in building a new UT.”