Magazine article Academe

Faculty Rally Behind Professor Who Criticized Coach

Magazine article Academe

Faculty Rally Behind Professor Who Criticized Coach

Article excerpt

A PLEASED BUT SOMEWHAT SURprised Murray Sperber says he has received tremendous support from colleagues at Indiana University in the aftermath of his public criticism of IU's basketball coach, Bob Knight.

Sperber, a professor of English, has found fault with college sports before-his latest book, Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports Is Crippling Undergraduate Education, will be published this fall. But faculty have not rallied behind him previously. This time is different, Sperber notes, because the issue is not just sports but freedom of speech and classroom autonomy.

Last spring, Sperber, a perennial Knight critic, appeared on a cable television show and condemned Knight's conduct in an incident involving the physical abuse of IU player Neil Reed.

Videotapes of Knight with his hands around Reed's neck were shown publicly after the show aired. Shortly thereafter, Sperber began to receive anonymous threats. The decision of IU president Miles Brand to retain Knight prompted additional criticism from Sperber and intensified the threats against the professor. Sperber, concerned about the safety of his students, asked for an unpaid leave of absence from the university for the fall semester. He subsequently received a grant for research.

"I decided to ask for the leave after I received phone calls and e-mail threats to invade my classroom," he says. "I was scheduled to teach first-year English, and many sections are taught by teaching assistants," Sperber explains. "I feel responsible for them and would not jeopardize their well-being."

The AAUP chapter at IU wrote a letter to the Herald-Times in Bloomington upholding Sperber's right to express his opinions freely. …

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