A University of Louisiana professor is suing his university for violation of his first amendment rights by both criticizing his methods as well as preventing him from teaching
Professor John Oller Jr., who worked in the Communicative Disorders Department, claims the Dean of Arts became hostile to his theories and systematically excluded him from teaching students. There have been reductions of his class size, a banning of his self-authored textbook, a lack of lecture opportunities and, according to Oller, a general ostracization by his fellow professors. Communicative Disorders Department deals with topics like Autism, Dyslexia and learning disabilities that affect communications. Oller specializes in sign language but more recently has focused on Autism. In 2010 he published a book – Autism: The Diagnosis, Treatment, & Etiology of the Undeniable Epidemic. The forward is written by Andrew Wakefield.
In the book, he promotes the false link between vaccination and the supposed ‘autism’ epidemic. Remember, his expertise is in linguistics not immunology or even biology. There is more; he is also a believer in Intelligent Design and Creationism. He has spoken many times to the Louisiana legislature as an expert to promote the teaching of ID in Louisiana high school biology curriculum.
Oller, when presenting himself to the legislature, is seen as a doctor, as a member of the faculty of the University of Louisiana…using this position of respectability and authority, he gave testimony on a subject matter (biology/evolution) that he has no expertise. As a public representative of the university, this has a direct impact on the image and credibility of the university in general and the faculty of Communicative Disorders directly.
Oller is also a tenured professor…that is, unless he kills a student, he cannot be fired. Usually tenure protects professors from inappropriate persecution, however occasionally the discrimination is warranted, as in this case. Oller has used his academic and teaching platform to espouse his outlandish theories about both the causes of autism and the belief it’s an epidemic…theories in fields that are not his area of expertise. It is because of this that the department attempted to limit the damage he could do in his attempt to pollute students minds. If he had limited his teaching time…his lectures to discussing aspects of overcoming communication deficiencies of those affected by autism…maintained his comments to disorders that affect communication; the position of the dean would be weak.
The Dean and several faculty members (there does not seem to be any faculty that support Oller) mention that on several occasions they have had to deal with issues arising from Oller’s teaching and that they had been told by many his presence hurts the department’s credibility. Again, Oller is welcome to his own personal opinions that he may express and promote on his personal time; however if he uses his academic position to forward his cause…misusing his credential by implying knowledge in topics he does not have credentials…this transforms his personal activities to activities that have implications for the university…a transformation that gives the university a say (veto?) in how he presents himself in those occasions.
He is, in part, being defended by the ADF – Alliance Defence Fund, a servant organization that provides the resources that will keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel through the legal defense of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, marriage and the family. Sorry for the ad hominem…
Okay, I think we have three issues here – is he competent to teach his subject, does his professional activities outside teaching (and outside the university) provide the university justification for workplace actions and lastly does his private activities provide the university justification for workplace actions?
Now, on the first case, Oller was hired to teach about methods of communications and issues arising from that. He was NOT hired to comment, speculate or imply in his capacity as an instructor on the root causes of Autism. Now, instructors are often give some leeway to provide ‘editorial’ comment in class (take any class in political science or economics and you will hear at least one tangential theory from your professor); that said it is unclear specifically how far Oller expounded on his ‘theories’ in class but considering his self-authored textbook, it does appear to be more than a passing comment…to the point where is appears to be a central tenet of his instruction. So, on this ground the university was with its rights to ‘silence’ him.
On the second grounds, his promotion of both anti-vaccination and creationism would involve the university if he gave such lectures through the university lecture circuit or in off-campus activities where he identified himself as both an expert on subject he did not actual have accreditation AND affiliated himself with the university. In doing this, and again it has been claimed by the faculty that he did this not irregularly, he not only risks his own professional reputation but also that of the faculty and university he is associated with. Again, it seems the university has a right to censor his activities as best they can.
On the last point, where he promotes his ‘wacky’ ideas on his own time as ‘just a regular citizen’; although I find his views offensive and dangerous; I do not think the university has the right to interfere with these aspects of his life. IT may, as collateral damage, tarnish the image is a report Googles his name and discovers he is a faculty member but that is not the offence of Oller. However, it seem Oller was not content to limit is activities to ‘private citizen’ acts but used the weight (and thus the prestige) of both his position and his association with a credible institution to make his outlandish remarks.
It’s a shame he will be used in future as an argument against the tenure system. It has it faults but it does provide academics the freedom to be a counterbalance to the establishment; however when one wishes to be counter-establishment there is a greater weight upon them to ensure their views can be backed up with evidence and that they are not a throwback to a disproved and discredited point of view.