Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of The James G. Martin Center. The author of this post is Richard K. Vedder.
Observers of the American collegiate scene are likely well aware of the academic jihad against University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax and the disgraceful shouting down of federal judge Kyle Duncan at Stanford, led by a woke DEI apparatchik. But in terms of outrageous violations of American norms of academic conduct, due process, and civility, nothing compares with the treatment of Professor Scott Gerber of Ohio Northern University (ONU).
Unlike elite coastal schools like Penn or Stanford, ONU is a Midwestern private school of so-so reputation, not on lists of the 10 best colleges in Ohio, much less the nation. The university is located in the sleepy town of Ada, an hour's drive from any metropolis, whose 2021 estimated population of 5,256 was lower than in 1970. Its greatest claim to fame is possibly not ONU but the fact that it is the home of the manufacturer of NFL footballs.
Professor Gerber teaches in the ONU law school. U.S. News ranks ONU in the bottom one-third of Ohio's law schools and as 146th best in the nation (Stanford is #1, Penn #4). The program is a back-up choice for students unable to get into Ohio State, Case Western Reserve, or the University of Cincinnati. It has almost nothing to brag about.
But there is one important legal scholar on the ONU law faculty-Gerber-and he is also a fine teacher. His book First Principles: The Jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas is a highly praised assessment of an important Supreme Court justice. He has authored eight other books and has given presentations at such prestigious institutions as Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, and Columbia.
I talked to three law-school-professor friends of mine (all at schools ranked higher than ONU): All said that Professor Gerber is light-years ahead of anyone else at ONU Law in terms of scholarly reputation. He is also a rather popular professor whose classes are usually filled. As one student said, "He makes class fun by creating a comforting atmosphere that I haven't felt in most classes."
Gerber is conservative, which led another student to note, "It's refreshing to not have to listen to left views the whole time like almost every other class."
Nevertheless, ONU is desperately trying to fire Gerber, although it hasn't said why with any degree of clarity.
Gerber brought this matter to national attention in a May 9 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, "DEI Brings Kafka to My Law School."
As Gerber recounts, "Around 1 p.m on Friday, April 14, Ohio Northern University campus security officers entered my classroom with my students present and escorted me to the dean's office. Armed town police followed me down the hall. My students appeared shocked and frightened. I know I was."
Gerber was not given any concrete reasons after being told that he was being banned from campus, other than his lack of "collegiality."
He was directed to sign a separation agreement.
Gerber's ordeal led me to comment, also in the Wall Street Journal, that "if we fired every instructor for lack of perceived 'collegiality,' we would have a national crisis from academic villages depopulated of their faculty."
Furthermore, by disrupting classes during an academic term, ONU appears to have shown callous disregard for its own students.
The most likely real reason ONU wants Gerber gone is that he is not "woke."
He has publicly said the university's call for diversity does not mention intellectual or viewpoint diversity, and indeed Gerber has been told viewpoint diversity is not an objective at ONU.
Gerber believes students should hear alternative perspectives on issues of the day and then reach some conclusion-that ONU should be a marketplace of ideas rather than a monopolistic mouthpiece for a single perspective on issues, be they diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) obsessions or other, more substantive matters. It's also worth noting that Gerber is on the Ohio advisory council of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
ONU law school's dean told Gerber to get lost, without any hearing, any due process, any opportunity to appear before an impartial panel, etc. That's certainly in violation of ONU's established procedures for evaluating tenured faculty alleged to have engaged in misconduct, and probably also the law. In legal wrangling since then, the Hardin County Common Pleas Court has had to constrain ONU at least temporarily from carrying out its plans.
The story is long and sordid, but the latest major act came when a student (!) informed Gerber that his constitutional law course for this fall would not be taught by him. The administration didn't even have the decency to tell Gerber directly that he's been stripped of courses he's taught for years.
Dozens of noted legal scholars, such as Randall Kennedy, professor of law at Harvard, have protested this whole affair for its contempt for due process and the free expression of ideas, the heart of what universities are all about. Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, has been eloquent in his multiple cris de coeur on Gerber's behalf.
Michael Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, has likewise very articulately protested this outrage, as has the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has similarly been appalled and has appealed multiple times to ONU president Melissa Baumann.
The tale is not over. There are apparently at least intermittent legal conversations going on between attorneys for Gerber and ONU, and the local court is still involved in the matter.
But lots of questions nag me: Where is the ONU Board of Trustees? Why are they, the governing body, on the sidelines of an issue of this importance? Don't they (and the university's president) care that this crusade against a fine professor will cost both money and reputation? Why would the police from the town get involved (on the wrong side) in a private matter not involving a crime?
I used to think the biggest problem in American higher education was its grotesque inefficiency and the accompanying high costs to both students and taxpayers. Now I realize that something critical is more important: Universities increasingly suppress professors, students, and campus guests who dare question the woke ideology that has become so dominant on most American campuses.
In the wake of falling enrollments and declining public support, you would think that colleges would shape up. However, the "creative destruction"
that motivates American capitalist enterprises to be efficient and innovative, constantly reinventing themselves, is largely absent on college campuses, as they are protected financially by vast government subsidies. As enrollments decline and public support weakens, hopefully the sad era of Woke Supremacy on campus is beginning to wind down. I hope it will save Scott Gerber.
Richard K. Vedder is a distinguished professor emeritus at Ohio University and the author of Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America.