Report: Academic Freedom and Tenure: Johnson & Wales University (Rhode Island)

By Yellowitz, Irwin; Breines, Winifred | Academe, May/June 1999 | Go to article overview

Report: Academic Freedom and Tenure: Johnson & Wales University (Rhode Island)


Yellowitz, Irwin, Breines, Winifred, Academe


Johnson & Wales University, founded in 1914 by Gertrude I. Johnson and Mary T. Wales, began operation in Providence, Rhode Island, as a proprietary institution offering business education. In 1963, the state of Rhode Island authorized the Johnson & Wales Business School to operate as a nonprofit institution of higher education that could award associate degrees in the arts and sciences, and in 1970 the state extended the degree-granting authority to include the baccalaureate. In 1973, the school began its well-known program in culinary arts. The first master's degree programs were introduced in 1985, and in 1988 the institution changed its name to Johnson & Wales University. The university was accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) in 1993.

The university has also expanded beyond its original base in Providence, although that remains its largest site. Between 1984 and 1993, the university started campuses in Charleston, South Carolina; Norfolk, Virginia; North Miami, Florida; Worcester, Massachusetts; and Vail, Colorado. The Providence campus is home to approximately 7,500 students and some 225 full-time faculty members. While the majority of the undergraduate students pursue studies in the culinary arts, associate and baccalaureate degrees are also awarded in the university's School of Technology, Hospitality College, and College of Business. Programs offered in the Center for Business and the Center for Education (the two centers make up the Alan Shawn Feinstein Graduate School) lead to master's degrees and, in one program, educational leadership, the Ed.D. degree.

Johnson & Wales University presents itself to the public as "America's career university." Its mission is to "employ its faculty, services, curricula, and facilities to equip students with the conceptual and practical tools required to become contributing members of society and to achieve success in employment fields with high-growth potential."

Dr. John A. Yena became president of Johnson & Wales University in 1989, and he has served at the university in one capacity or another, including dean of the college ( 1968) and executive vice president (1987), since 1963. Dr. Clifton J. Boyle is dean of the university's graduate school, and at the time of the events discussed in this report was director of the educational leadership program.

This report is concerned with the decision of the Johnson & Wales University administration not to renew the appointments of Professors Stephen J. Nelson and Korynne Taylor-Dunlop. In separate meetings with Dean Boyle on May 18, 1998, Professors Nelson and Taylor-Dunlop were notified that their appointments would not be renewed for the 1998-99 academic year. The two professors sought assistance from the Association, alleging that the notice was not timely, that they were not afforded an opportunity to appeal the notice, and that the administration's decision was based in significant part on reasons that violated their academic freedom. Subsequent correspondence between the Association's staff and President Yena led to no resolution of the matter, whereupon the general secretary authorized the appointment of the undersigned ad hoc committee to investigate the cases of Professors Nelson and Taylor-Dunlop.

The investigating committee visited Providence on December 11,1998. The Johnson & Wales general counsel, Christopher T. Del Sesto, had informed the Association's staff by letter of November 18 that the administration would not meet with the committee, and that the committee would not be welcome on the campus. He contended that the AAUP's investigation was unnecessary because Professors Nelson and Taylor-Dunlop had filed a complaint with another agency (presumably NEASC), which had declined to act on it. "The matter was concluded," Mr. Del Sesto asserted, "and need not be reopened. Further, it has been the policy and consistent practice of the University not to discuss individual personnel matters with outside organizations. …

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