Response to Babson College’s Firing of Mr. Asheen Phansey

The UWM AAUP is deeply concerned by the news of Babson College’s termination of Mr. Asheen Phansey, who had taught there as an adjunct professor in its MBA program since 2008, and Director of Sustainability since early 2019. The college fired Mr. Phansey just days after he posted sardonic comments on his Facebook page in response to Donald Trump’s threat to bomb 52 sites of cultural significance in Iran should that country attack any American citizens or assets. In response, Mr. Phansey wrote, “In retaliation, Ayatollah Khomenei should tweet a list of 52 sites of beloved American cultural heritage that he would bomb. Um… Mall of America? Kardashian residence?”

It is clear that Mr. Phansey’s remarks on a social media site in no way advocated violence. Just as Jonathan Swift was not advocating the poor be eaten in “A Modest Proposal,” commenting on the childhood squalor in 18th-century British-ruled Ireland, it is abundantly evident that Mr. Phansey’s remarks were a commentary on the threat made by President Trump to destroy cultural sites in Iran. This threat was later rescinded by President Trump by his own recognition that such an act would have been illegal. 

Whether one applauds or approves of Mr. Phansey’s sense of humor is beside the point. Long-established standards of academic freedom, as well as due process, make it clear that the college’s actions are both wrongheaded and hasty. The AAUP’s 1964 “Committee A Statement on Extramural Utterances” speaks to key issues at play in Mr. Phansey’s situation:

The controlling principle is that a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness to serve. Extramural utterances rarely bear upon the faculty member’s fitness for continuing service. Moreover, a final decision should take into account the faculty member’s record as a teacher and scholar. In the absence of weighty evidence of unfitness, the administration should not prefer charges…

Babson’s administration claims to have undertaken a “thorough investigation” of Mr. Phansey’s comments before reaching its decision to terminate his employment. That claim cannot be taken seriously. The Facebook post that prompted the “investigation” appeared on January 5. The college announced on January 8 that it was suspending him with pay pending the outcome of an internal investigation. The next day, it announced that it was firing him for his statement.

Committee A’s 1964 statement speaks to obvious due-process violations here as well. “In cases involving … charges [that a faculty member has breached obligations to the institution in his or her public utterances], it is essential that the hearing should be conducted by an appropriate–preferably elected–faculty committee…” The college would not have had time to assemble such a committee in this case, much less give that committee the time and space to carefully review all the facts before considering whether to terminate a colleague’s employment.

For the above reasons, we join the chorus of voices calling for Babson College to reconsider its actions and restore Mr. Phansey to the positions he previously held there.