Inside Higher Ed, Email Crime and Punishment:
Sheldon Pollack ..., professor of law and political science at the University of Delaware, has been formally reprimanded by Matthew Kinservik, vice provost for faculty affairs, for sending the wrong colleague a link to an Inside Higher Ed article with the word “penis” in it.
Pollack, a longtime Delaware professor and former president of the Faculty Senate, says he also narrowly escaped mandated counseling recommended by the university’s human resources office.
“This is an outrageous violation of academic freedom and free speech,” Pollack wrote in a draft appeal of the reprimand he prepared for the Faculty Senate’s Faculty Welfare & Privileges Committee and shared with Inside Higher Ed. “This administrative action is arbitrary and capricious. The ‘unprofessional’ action that Dr. Kinservik deems to be a violation of university policy and professional ethics is protected speech.”
Here’s what happened. In May, Inside Higher Ed published a news story about an Alan Sokal-style hoax article that somehow made its way through the peer-review process and was published by Cogent Social Sciences. The bogus paper, called the “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct,” argued that the “conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a social construct isomorphic to performative toxic masculinity.” You get the picture.
Chuckling, Pollack forwarded a link to the news story to a male colleague who is a good friend, as well as his own son, with the message “I always wondered why I felt emasculated on university campuses of late. This article explains why.” But instead of his friend, he says, his email program autofilled the contact for a female colleague with similar initials, with whom he had recently corresponded about a promotion and tenure issue.
The female colleague, whom Pollack did not name, responded by telling Pollack his email was inappropriate and asking what he meant. Pollack wrote back that he was sorry and explained he’d sent the note accidentally. “It is a story about an academic satire that someone published that I thought Jeff would appreciate,” he said, referring to his friend and intended recipient. “Guess you didn’t,” he added.
Six months later, Pollack says, the female colleague formally complained about the matter, along with another personnel-related issue (that Pollack did not disclose because he said it related to a confidential promotion decision about another colleague).
Earlier this month, after having reviewed the complaint, Kinservik sent Pollack a formal letter of reprimand, which he described as a corrective action and his duty under the university’s unlawful harassment policy. ...
Pollack is, of course, appealing the corrective action with the senate and has filed a grievance with his faculty union, which is affiliated with the American Association of University Professors. He told Inside Higher Ed that the incident is a reflection of several “unfortunate trends on university campuses,” including increasing administrative control of academic affairs and what he called “a serious decline in respect for academic freedom and free speech.”