Fran Quinn suspended at Butler 

Controversy created on campus

Controversy created on campus
With the suspension of Fran Quinn, poet in residence and co-coordinator of the English Department’s Visiting Writers Series at Butler University, for charges of sexual harassment, school officials this week have found themselves embroiled in controversy.
 
Fran Quinn, poet in residence and co-coordinator of the English Department’s Visiting Writers Series at Butler, has been suspended.

 Students and faculty alike began debating the nature of the charges, as well as the larger issues of censorship in the classroom versus academic freedom at an open forum Friday on the Butler University campus. “I am ashamed of the academic leadership of the university on this issue,” professor Jim Watt said. “Seriously ashamed.” At issue is Butler officials handling of sexual harassment charges leveled against Quinn by a former female student. Because the allegations apparently stem from comments and remarks made by Quinn in the classroom, many students and faculty have been left wondering where the line is drawn between censorship and academic freedom. “Students and faculty should have a space to say the things that need to be said without fear of repercussions,” said creative writing professor Susan Neville. “We have to have the freedom to explore tangents, go off topic and sometimes offend.” While school officials have stated that an investigation is ongoing, there have already been serious consequences doled out to Quinn, who has been relieved of teaching duties for at least the next year. “Mr. Quinn will not be teaching in the fall,” Paul Hanson, dean of liberal arts and sciences, said in a statement. “The class schedule has been amended to reflect this.” The suspension has touched off a storm of controversy amongst Butler students, especially Quinn’s former pupils. In an open letter to the university, 19 current and former students called on school officials to allow transparency to the investigative process. “We wish to discover not just whether Fran has been treated fairly, but whether the integrity of the department has been compromised by the abrupt suspension of a professor known for his unguarded manner of speech and frank treatment of such sensitive subjects as sexuality, race and religion,” read the letter in part. However, while university officials — citing the need for confidentiality — have been mostly silent regarding the specific allegations, Provost Bill Berry denied that academic freedom and censorship were the core issues. “What provoked this occasion was not free speech,” Berry said. “This university stands behind their professors ready to do battle over controversial ideas. This was not about academic freedom.” That said, just what the charges are specifically related to remains something of a mystery. Quinn has retained an attorney and declined to speak about the charges on advice of counsel. What remains clear, however, is that Quinn’s suspension has touched a nerve amongst faculty and students alike. The feeling seems to be that — the university’s position notwithstanding — censuring teachers for language they use in the classroom is a slippery slope leading to censorship. “Censorship is about protecting people who cannot protect themselves — children,” said Dr. John Green, Theatre Department chair. “We use profanity as a teaching tool; you’re asking students to break through barriers.” “If my professors are censoring themselves I’m losing out on something I could have had,” said one student. “We have to take responsibility for our own education.” What comes next in the process remains unclear. Because Quinn is staff, rather than faculty, it’s not at all certain that the university will be required to follow the stringent guidelines laid out for full faculty members. But all sides agree that the controversy is far from over. “The United States is in danger of becoming a closed society,” Green said. “The purpose of the university is to hold the line against this. If we go in already censoring ourselves, we go in small — we go in tiny.”

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