Academic Freedom and Tenure: Medaille College

By Moore, Robert K.; Cooper, Sandi | Academe, January/February 2004 | Go to article overview

Academic Freedom and Tenure: Medaille College


Moore, Robert K., Cooper, Sandi, Academe


(New York)1

I. Introduction

This report concerns events that occurred from June 2001 to April 2002 at Medaille College, a private, nonsectarian, coeducational institution, located in Buffalo, with branch campuses in Amherst and Rochester, New York. Founded in 1875 and initially accredited in 1951 by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, the college today awards associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees, the latter in business administration and education. The college has approximately seventy full-time faculty members and enrolls some 1,750 students, most of whom commute to campus.

The governing board of Medaille College is composed of seventeen members, and its current chair is Mr. Robert L. Stevenson. Dr. John J. Donohue served as acting college president during most of the events discussed in this report. He had previously served the college as dean and then concurrently as dean and vice president for academic affairs before being named acting president in February 2001 after the death of President Kevin I. Sullivan. Dr. Donohue was one of three finalists for the regular position replacing President Sullivan. Following the selection of Dr. Joseph W. Bascuas as president of Medaille College effective July 1, 2002, Dr. Donohue left to become vice president for academic affairs at D'Youville College in Buffalo. Dr. Joseph E. Savarese was acting dean at Medaille College throughout the period of concern in this report.

The cases to be discussed deal with actions taken by the administration and the governing board of Medaille College against Professor Therese Dillon Warden, a tenured member of the Department of Human Services, and Professor Uhuru Watson, a tenured member of the Department of Social Sciences, culminating in their dismissals for cause.

Professor Warden earned a BA in nursing education from St. John's University in New York in 1964. She received an MS in social science from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1978, and a PhD in cultural anthropology from the same institution 1985. She joined the Department of Human Services at Medaille College in 1986 and was promoted to the rank of associate professor with tenure in 1993. Professor Warden was active in campus governance and also served as president of the local AAUP chapter. In her earlier years at the college, she was instrumental in developing academic programs that resulted in substantial increases in enrollment, notably among minority students.

Professor Watson received a BA in political science and sociology from Kent State University in 1969 and an MA in political science from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1972. He earned a PhD in political science from SUNY, Buffalo, in 1980. He began teaching at Medaille College as assistant professor in the Department of Social Sciences in 1979, was promoted to the rank of associate professor in 1983, and was granted tenure in 1987, the first African American to gain a tenured appointment at the college.

II. Events of June 2001-April 2002

This section describes the background to the cases discussed in this report and the specific events of interest from June 2001 to November 2001 and from November 2001 to April 2002.

1. BACKGROUND TO THE CASES

Before and during his term as acting president, Dr. Donohue undertook steps to move the college in a new direction. He espoused a model for initiating change based on his research on and practice of martial arts, explaining his approach to reaching decisions in a speech before the Rotary Club of Buffalo on January 3, 2001.

He described his own academic specialization in East Asian culture, and stated that his preferred model for making strategic changes was to be found in the writings of Miyamoto Mushashi, a seventeenth-century samurai warrior. He revealed that he had incorporated Mushashi's writing in the MHA curriculum at Medaille College, and that students respond positively to the "ease with which this four-hundred-year-old guide for swordsmen can be adapted to a variety of circumstances requiring strategic visions today. …

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