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 This threat was later rescinded by President Trump by his own recognition that such an act would have been illegal.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.

Our Response to the UW System's Title & Total Compensation Plan

The UWM AAUP deplores the recent announcement of imminent changes to UWM instructional academic staff job titles under the UW System’s Title and Total Compensation (TTC) plan. This initiative, being carried out through a reported $900,000 arrangement with Mercer Consulting, plans to collapse the three titles of Associate Lecturer, Lecturer, and Senior Lecture into the single title of Lecturer. The process that has led to this plan is deeply flawed, and the plan itself riddled with worrying implications and unanswered questions.

The plan to fold three job titles into one has not given the lecturers themselves—those who best understand their own jobs and are most directly affected by these changes—a voice in the decision-making process. Neither the lecturers nor their colleagues on the faculty, most of whose academic programs cannot function without the work our lecturers do, have been offered an opportunity to offer feedback on these proposed changes. The path to this plan thus subverts long-established norms of due process and shared governance.

Communications to academic staff from HR professionals have raised more questions than they have answered. Administrators have failed to offer a compelling rationale for:

  • why a trio of titles, each clearly defined and with a clear path to promotion from one level to the next that is accompanied by a significant boost in pay, should be collapsed into one;
  • what mechanism will exist in future to give these professionals a path to advancement, in terms of both higher compensation and titles befitting their professional achievements;
  • why professionals who have earned the title of Senior Lecturer—through years of hard work and a rigorous peer-review process—should now have that title taken from them: in essence a demotion, even if it does not affect their paychecks in the short run;
  • why lecturers have been denied an opportunity to explore, through a reasonable feedback process, the other potential negative consequences of these changes to lecturers, their students, and their academic programs.

It is little wonder, then, that numerous lecturers, at all three exisiting ranks, have come away from recent information sessions with HR staff feeling disrespected, dismissed, and demoralized.

We share our colleagues’ dismay and support a decision-making process that gives them a voice, recognizes their countless contributions to UWM, and addresses many questions that have yet to be answered. We urge the UW System to refrain from reaching a final decision on possible changes to lecturers’ job titles until all of these vitally important goals are achieved.

In solidarity with UWM instructional academic staff,


UWM AAUP Statement on DACA, November 2019

We assert our continued support for undocumented students, whether or not they are currently certified by the DACA program.  We call upon our campus and UW System administrators to strengthen existing practices and create additional, viable practices that ensure the collective well-being of all our students, and that continue to extend the “beneficent influence of the university to every family in the state.”

Undocumented student access to public higher education in our state and across the United States is crucial. Nowhere in the Wisconsin Idea’s assertion of wide access to the resources of the University of Wisconsin system is citizenship status specified as a prerequisite.

The federal assault on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program violates the spirit and practice of the Wisconsin Idea. We recognize this as an attack not only on foreign-born communities, but on the continued vitality of public higher education. Undermining DACA discourages broad student access, resulting in declining enrollments and further disinvestment in public education. This assault on tuition equity and student access weakens education for all.

Statement on Proposed Revisions to Chapter UWS 17

(Note: The following is cross-posted from the AAUP Wisconsin blog with the author’s permission. A pdf version is avalaible here.)

In October 2017, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents adopted Regent Policy Document 4-21, which prohibits “misconduct that materially and substantially disrupt[s] the free expression of others” and “[p]rotests and demonstrations that materially and substantially disrupt the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity.” RPD 4-21 specifies a mandatory punishment regime for students found to be in violation of those prohibitions—a one-semester suspension for a second violation, expulsion for a third—and the Board of Regents now seeks to bring the Wisconsin Administrative Code into line with its own policy by amending Chapter UWS 17.

AAUP Wisconsin opposes the mandatory student punishment measures found in RPD 4-21 and urges that the proposed modifications to Chapter UWS 17 be rejected. Far from ensuring safe spaces for free expression, the policy institutes a targeted speech suppression regime aimed at curbing student protest. The policy’s broad wording virtually ensures highly selective enforcement. The net effect will be a chilling of free expression on campus, precisely the opposite of the policy’s ostensible goal.

The policy’s history points to its highly partisan and political nature. In June 2017 the Wisconsin Assembly passed AB 299, a bill based on model legislation from the conservative Goldwater Institute that sought to regulate student protest under the guise of protecting free expression on campus. The bill died in committee in the Wisconsin Senate. The Regents nonetheless chose to enact much of AB 299’s content as Regent policy in the form of RPD 4-21. The proposed amendments to Chapter UWS 17 thus must be understood as part of a nationwide partisan policy agenda, one that ill serves our public universities.

In the interest of preserving free expression for students throughout the UW System, we urge the rejection of the proposed changes to Chapter UWS 17 and the rescission of RPD 4-21.

Of Predators and Police

-Benjamin Balthaser

I didn’t think it could happen to a student of mine.  I know the statistics: the United States incarcerates more people than any other country on the planet, both per capita and in total numbers.  There are nearly two and half million people behind bars in our country; currently 65 million Americans have criminal records.  These shocking numbers are further intensified if one is poor, black, trans, and/or Latinx.  African-Americans, for instance, are 10 times more likely to be arrested in Berkeley, CA than white people; African-Americans are 5 times more likely to be in prison than whites; in African-American suburbs such as Ferguson, MO, there are more arrest warrants than people.

One can know these things, and yet, when one of your own students is arrested and brutalized by the police, it is a gut punch.  I spent finals week, poring over papers and exams in a daze, wondering what, if anything, the novels and films I discuss in class do to protect students from the night sticks of police or other slow, and often more subtle violences of class and race.

I know, the idea that I might shed a special tear for a college student over anyone else might strike one elitist — after all, everyone has the right to be safe.  And yet, I teach first-generation students, working-class students, students who may have known precious little safety or security as high schoolers.  For every daughter of professors or lawyers who want an affordable education closer to home, I have students who are former sex-workers, ex-convicts, students returning to school after bouts of unemployment, students for whom college is their one chance to escape poverty and violence.

That a university should serve not only as a place to learn but as a safe place to experiment, grow, even play, is central to my idea of its function, even for a small state college.  It is even more radically crucial when the mission of the campus is to allow the poorest Hoosier at least once chance to see what doors, and worlds, will open if granted the security needed to explore books, ideas, and self-discovery.

Tiara Nelson is one such student.  By her own description, she grew up in rough neighborhood in Detroit — she deeply identified with the young characters we read about this term in Mike Gold’s Jews without Money, immigrants who lived among the hustlers, gangsters, and corrupt landlords of what were 100 years ago the tenements of New York City.  And yet Tiara showed up every day to my creative writing class wearing a bow-tie, suspenders, and crisp button up.   She sat in front, always ready to deliver her insights on a classmate’s poem or the story we read for the week.

She described, in one of her short-stories,  “a fourteen year old boy, as quiet and subtle as the rotation of the Earth,” the same story narrating the life of a sensitive teenager who would rather “count the holes in the ceiling” than do his homework.  In my multi-ethnic literature class, she wrote about W.E.B. Du Bois’ theories of “double-consciousness” and the middle-class African-American family in Ann Petry’s “The New Mirror.”  She could quote literary critics in the same essay as Kanye lyrics, all the while making subtle points about politics, racial identity, and literature.  She told me the pride she felt reading books while her friends watch TV or play sports.

And yet, this is the student who wrote me last week to let me know she could not turn in her final paper because she had been arrested by the Elkhart Police Department.  After I asked if she were OK, she revealed over email that she had been bruised, arrested without charge, forced to use a hole in the floor to urinate.  She was stripped naked in front multiple police officers, some of whom were male.

According to a friend’s social media post, Tiara related this story to her with tears streaming down her face.  Needless to say, her academic career has been derailed, while she attempts to recover from this violence, this horrific sexual assault.

The week prior Tiara and I discussed her going to graduate school for creative writing; now I am frantically emailing colleagues to find resources for sexual assault survivors and survivors of police violence.

That this is the Elkhart PD should come as little surprise to readers.  As has been extensively reported on by the South Bend Tribune and ProPublica, the Elkhart PD has long been mired in allegations of abuse, excessive violence, criminality, and negligence.  According to a November, 2018 story 28 of 34 supervisors have been disciplined or suspended, charged with crimes; seven have been involved in fatal shootings.  The year prior, two officers had been video-taped beating a suspect in handcuffs – an incident which the chief described as “a little overboard.”

This violence was defended by the outgoing chief as the necessary role of a “thin blue line” defending citizens from “garbage” and “predators.”  I would like the outgoing chief and the Elkhart PD to know that the “garbage” and “predator” in this case happened to be a young creative writer, an “A” student in my classes, and someone who – after the carework by her loved ones and family to undo the harm enacted by the police  – should by all rights go on to a bright future as a gifted writer.

Her charges, not that it matters, are for non-violent misdemeanors.

It makes one wonder who the “predators” of our society really are.  And while I will leave that question to the reader, I will pose another one that I will answer:  what lesson are we teaching our bright young people, struggling to make a better life for themselves, if that can be whisked away in a second by a police officer who believes the real lesson students should learn is that some people are “garbage” and can be brutalized at whim, because of their race, because of their sexuality, because of whatever a police officer feels like?  I would like to assign my students to read The Great Gatsby or American Pastoral, but Tiara’s is the real story of this country, should anyone care to hear it.


Benjamin Balthaser is associate professor of multi-ethnic U.S. literature at Indiana University, South Bend. 


Letter on White Nationalism & Anti-Fascism @ UWM

by Lane Hall

I read this at UWM faculty senate last week. It was not on the agenda. It is too long. People indulged me. This is in response to “Swastika Boy” at UWM last Monday. What is happening makes my heart ache and twists my gut. Maybe this is too long for you to read. But maybe you will read it anyway.
I work closely with a grad student who is a TA, the instructor of record, of one of our English Department’s core composition courses. The white supremacist student who held the swastika poster last week is one of his undergraduate students in the course. The other students in the course were freaked out by these events and felt seriously threatened. My graduate mentee was freaked out, and he felt he had to cancel classes because of the extreme risk of an unsafe environment. He felt that there was no one to turn to that would understand their fear, after reading the official UWM statement about the incident. This is what I feel is lacking in our institutional understanding. I continually witness this argument of the complexities of and protections for ”free speech,” when it is genocidal speech, murderous speech, as if such acts are without historical and current contexts that set dark and dangerous precedent. The symbol of hate isn’t just a violence in itself, which it is, but a signifier of rightwing grooming for larger acts of hate, of escalating violence that results in Poway, Pittsburgh, Oak Creek, Christchurch. We, as an institution and as intellectuals, need to understand the rise of neofascism in our times. These are not disconnected, stochastic events, but are campaigns on the dark-web, grooming sessions for disaffected and alienated young white men who everyone can disavow as “crazy,” “disturbed,” “attention seekers,” “losers…”. Until the next one, and the next one, and the next one that comes ready to “go all in.”

Here’s what I don’t understand about UWM policies: 1) We don’t allow guns on campus. 2) We don’t allow smoking on campus. 3) We don’t allow dogs (except in specific circumstances) on campus. 4) We would probably have issues with nudity on campus…. Yet, we proclaim the importance and necessity of allowing concrete and specific acts of hate speech in forms that are known to be both corrosive to civility, but also, and more importantly, constitutive of direct violence against specific people and groups of people. These are campaigns, not individual instances, and they are coordinated, with escalating consequences.

I am not referring here to controversial or extreme political positions. I am referring to concrete acts, signs, symbols and language that are premised upon the past, present, and projected future, slaughter of innocent people.

In conclusion, I propose that we set up a serious investigation into this rise of rightwing nationalist populism, in order to understand its recruitment strategies and dynamics aimed at colleges and universities. We are contextually blind without this knowledge. I propose that we create specific mandates about speech guidelines in our public and classroom spaces regarding expressions specific to the killing of other people, and I propose that our administrative response in the future is less equivocal and more emphatic about these issues, not framing them as a vague understanding of the rights of a few disaffected individuals, but as the threat to our core values, and to the safety of our community that will not be tolerated.


Letter from a Graduate Instructor: Why We Need a Union @ Marquette University

by Steven Vickers

Twenty visits to a doctor, thirty-two tests or screenings, six doctors, and countless pills: this is my new reality. In the summer of 2018, I began feeling flushed and nauseated. I would wake at 3am and run to the toilet to empty the contents of my stomach. I would go purchase diapers for my newborn daughter and get so overwhelmed by the urge to vomit that I could barely stand. The worst part: I had no insurance. I am a graduate student and teaching assistant at Marquette University, and I do not have healthcare through my employer. We did once, but in the three years since I began working as a teaching assistant, I have witnessed the cost of insurance skyrocket, only to be taken away entirely. I can barely get by on the $16k a year stipend; I certainly cannot afford to pay hundreds a month out of pocket for insurance. So, I have gone without. Imagine how thrilled I became when my uncontrollable bouts of nausea and vomiting was joined by intense abdominal pain.

It took a few months after symptoms appeared for me to finally be approved for Medicaid, my only option since my employer denies me access to healthcare. Of course, I only qualified for Medicaid because my employer’s “discounted” child care rates are more than $1,000 a month, which meant that my wife stopped working to take care of our daughter. I’m lucky she made that decision, because once I had my Medicaid card in hand, I visited my doctor. It turns out that my spleen, normally around four inches, is nearly nine inches long, and after six months of tests and scans, the reason why it is enlarged remains a mystery. Both of my hematologists believe I could have an incredibly rare form of cancer that does not show up in bone marrow biopsies, which I have endured. So, I now await the results of the most recent blood tests, hoping they tell me why I am sick but also hoping I don’t have cancer. If they come back negative, the next step is a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, which may or may not accept my government insurance. If the Mayo Clinic does not accept my insurance, I may be forced to turn to GoFundMe to help end my torment. Without insurance and without addressing the underlying issues, the cost of removing my spleen alone is more than $67k.

In all the months since summer 2018 that I have sat through the fatigue of the tests, the visits, the continued symptoms, and the stress over financing it all, I never failed to complete my duties as a teaching assistant. I lead discussions. I grade papers and exams. I cover lectures when the professor is out of town or ill. I meet with students inside and outside of office hours to help them understand difficult material. I complete all reading assignments given to the students and take extensive notes so that I know the material well enough to teach or clarify. I hold review sessions after normal school hours to give students one last chance to ask a question or have material explained before the final exam. Despite my work as a teaching assistant, I continue to rely on government assistance for basic access to healthcare, something my employer should provide. I, like my fellow graduate workers, put our hearts and souls into our jobs to ensure the success of our students or the research projects to which we are assigned. Yet the administration refuses to acknowledge us as workers.

As universities increasingly rely on part-time contingent employees to keep personnel costs down, they also deny them basic rights they are owed as employees. Non-tenure track faculty and graduate assistants teach classes or conduct research, being paid a fraction of the cost fulltime faculty with the same teaching or research load. They are denied standard benefits like healthcare and childcare. Perhaps most importantly, they lack a voice in the administrative processes that oversee their employment, and they have no security that their jobs or stipends will remain from one year to the next. This is where a union is necessary. United, we have an equal voice in determining our contracts and work conditions. We can work together with the administration to create a better working environment for all employees. Marquette NTT and graduate workers do not want to stand in opposition to the administration but to work in partnership with them. That is what a union does. It will grant employees an equal responsibility to guide the success of the university as both an institution of learning and a fair and respectful workplace for all employees. I, for one, hope the administration will give us a fair process to win our union and will meet us at the bargaining table in good faith.