It doesn’t quite rise to the level of ‘man bites dog’ but when the president of your local chapter of the American Association of University Professors objects to the hiring of someone as any sort of Professor, it’s at least unusual. But here comes Scotney D. Evans, an associate professor in the School of Education and Human Development, with a statement (written with graduate student Thomas Kennedy) opposing the UM Business School’s hiring of former Trump Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar as a researcher and adjunct professor in UM’s Business School. They have some cogent points:
Hearing that the Miami Herbert Business School hired Alex Azar, former President Donald Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary, we both reacted with a mix of horror, disgust and sadness. With all the amazing, diverse and socially responsible policy experts out there that can really motivate and inspire students into “ethical citizenship and service to others” with “a respect for differences among people,” as stated in UM’s mission statement, they choose this guy? There are a lot of important reasons why Azar should be unemployable by any reputable organization that values common humanity and equal rights for all.
Trump’s family separation policy is one of the most shameful stains on the moral character of this country in recent years. Stephen Miller, a senior policy advisor and director of speechwriting for Trump, and other Trump cronies like Azar helped enforce a policy that resulted in children being ripped from crying mothers’ arms to be placed in facilities where sexual abuse and mistreatment were rampant. Unaccompanied minors who were coming to this country looking for a better life did not fare much better, as they were also placed in detention facilities in which they were routinely denied hygienic products and basic necessities. Our very own community became a flash point during the Trump years because of an infamous detention center for migrant children in Homestead, Fl.
I (Thomas) have worked on campaigns to close and prevent the reopening of that detention facility and heard firsthand the awful conditions that children were subjected to, including a military style regimen in which they were not allowed free movement, afforded very limited call time, given inadequate access to lawyers and were mistreated and abused by staff. The for-profit detention of immigrant children under horrid conditions outraged many of us, but unfortunately, those who were involved in implementing these horrible policies have not suffered repercussions. Azar was complicit in implementing these detention policies during the Trump era, and was responsible for the administration of immigration detention centers, including the one in Homestead.
This hire directly contradicts the university’s espoused commitment to racial justice. You can’t be against racism and hire Azar. In addition to being complicit in the racist Trump policies described above, he also botched the COVID-19 response that disproportionately harmed and killed Black people, and he tried to sabotage the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid which greatly benefit people of color. Being anti-racist as an institution means taking a strong stand against racist policies and those who have a hand in creating or upholding them. Alex Azar was directly involved in creating, implementing and rationalizing racist discourse and policies while employed by the Trump administration.
This hire reminds us of the saying – “don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.” University statements against systemic racial injustice are meaningless without decisive action against racist policies and the public figures who propagate them. Frankly, we’re dismayed that more faculty, staff and students have not strongly vocalized opposition to this hire. Are faculty in the business school on board and willing to ignore Azar’s role in toxic policies? Is the harm that Azar helped cause simply being waved away and whitewashed under the guise of welcoming a diverse “marketplace of ideas”? As University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Professor and activist David Shih has suggested, the marketplace of ideas fails when we cannot make objective choices about racism.
We believe in free discourse and think our campus benefits from a variety of beliefs and opinions to encourage a healthy and diverse learning environment. We also believe that people make mistakes and should be afforded opportunities to repent. But Azar was complicit in some of the most horrific policies enacted during the Trump era. His hire was a huge mistake.
The University of Miami has not, historically, been especially “woke”, so I found this announcement to be a (pleasant) surprise:
May 3, 2021
Dear Members of the University of Miami Community,
This evening, during a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, we considered a number of issues related to our campuses, including two pending petitions to rename facilities at the University of Miami. We have determined that this is a moment to honor the accomplishments, contributions, and legacies of Black role models in the naming of buildings for the first time in University history, reaffirming our commitment to belonging and justice by recognizing those who overcame racism to enrich our campus, our city, and our world.
Our actions today acknowledge the pain and the promise of our Black students, alumni, colleagues, and neighbors while intentionally choosing to learn from and build on our history. We engaged in serious deliberations about our past, our future, and our ongoing pursuit of racial justice.
During this time of racial reckoning in the United States, the decisions we make must be shaped by our aspiration to be an exemplary institution in the community and nation. That desire compelled us to reevaluate how we can do better to address head-on the hurtful aspects of our past and apply their lessons to our future.
It takes intentional and sustained effort and focus to reckon with and understand the effects of a national history that includes 12 generations of enslavement. We agree with the Historic Review Committee on Naming’s (HRCN) recommendation that we reaffirm and strengthen the University’s commitment to inclusion and recognize the dignity of all persons. Therefore, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees has made four important decisions:
First, we will name our brand-new Student Services Center building—which is central to our mission and our campus—for a distinguished Black alumnus/a of the University of Miami. In helping to transform the way we provide services to our students, this state-of-the-art building reflects our ambition to lead the educational revolution by providing an education for life that has belonging, equity, and justice at its core. This decision stems from our commitment to honoring ’Canes from all walks of life as the University continues to grow, evolve, and thrive. A small committee of trustees, faculty, and students will be selected to identify an appropriate namesake, which will be announced in the fall with a grand opening and dedication ceremony.
Second, the rehearsal hall at the Frost School of Music will be renamed to honor someone whose accomplishments reflect the values of our University and whose life epitomizes their personal commitment to the University. Henry Fillmore, after whom the hall is currently named, used patently offensive language and images to promote his music. His most prominent work—the success of which led to his renown and likely the naming—was full of racist caricatures that amounted to dehumanizing Black people. He died in 1956, nearly a decade after the federal government took action to end segregation in the United States armed forces. However, in considering whether Fillmore acknowledged the negative aspects of his work, the HRCN concluded he did not. The selection of a new namesake for the rehearsal hall will be undertaken by a committee to be appointed by the Board of Trustees, which will make its recommendation in the coming months. Input for a new name will be solicited from students, faculty, alumni, and other members of the University community.
Third, we will no longer refer to the structure on Merrick Drive by our founder’s name. As the founder of the University, we have much to be thankful for to George E. Merrick, yet we understand that for some members of our community, the name on this garage is a reminder of the harm caused by segregation. Therefore, we will adopt a neutral directional name for that structure on the Coral Gables Campus.
Finally, on each structure involved in these petitions, we will educate the campus community about our imperfect past and our vision for the future. We will establish prominent and widely accessible educational features to be displayed on campus to introduce the history of the current and prior honorees, provide context, and explain the decision to retain or remove a structure’s historic name. These markers will remind us that we can recognize the important contributions individuals have made to our University, while acknowledging that the actions in which they engaged during their lifetimes are not consistent with our views today.
This approach, which embraces our role as a teaching institution, will include the other building and street that were the subject of the second petition, bearing the family name of our founder and one of the most ardent advocates of the University, George Merrick. The Solomon G. Merrick Building is one of the oldest on the Coral Gables Campus. Its naming in honor of George Merrick’s father was consideration for the gift of 160 acres of land and $5 million in financial support that led to the very establishment of the University of Miami. Moreover, we do not believe that individuals should be judged by the shortcomings of their family members. The decision regarding the street named for George Merrick himself goes beyond the purview of the Board of Trustees.
While we recognize that George Merrick’s proposals as chair of the Dade County Planning Board perpetuated a wealth gap for Black residents and broad inequities in our community that persist to this day, his vision and donation made possible the institution that would later become the first university in Florida to desegregate. The fact of that progress underlines that, while George Merrick himself might not have imagined our University in all of its current rich diversity, in the years since his life and death, the institution he helped found has made and continues to make substantial headway towards racial justice and equity, and we are committed to enhancing that pursuit.
In addressing renaming petitions, we sought to bring into balance our University’s diverse community and our storied past. We took three key issues into consideration. First, we examined the context in which honorees exhibited behavior that is antithetical to our shared values and hurtful to members of our community. Next, we contemplated the opportunity honorees had to express regret or correct course during their lifetimes. Finally, we considered the balance between how the impact of an honoree’s actions ran counter to or advanced the mission of the University.
Please join us in acknowledging the considerable, thorough work of the HRCN; the guidance and perspective of the board’s Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity and Social Justice; and the impassioned students, faculty, staff, trustees, and community members who made their voices heard through a rigorous review process.
During that process, students have also advocated for a gathering space that facilitates community building and fosters a greater sense of inclusion and belonging. We are delighted to share that the administration has begun planning for an estimated $3 million renovation of nearly 13,000 square feet on the second floor of the University Center to create an expanded multi-cultural space, allowing for informal gatherings and programming for cultural organizations. This flexible space would fulfill desires expressed thus far and could be expanded to meet the needs of a number of student groups on campus. Our newly elected leaders of student organizations and the 2021-22 Student Center Complex Advisory Council will work with the administration to solicit input into the design this summer in the hopes of opening the new multi-faceted cultural space in 18 months’ time.
We are proud of the decisions the Executive Committee made tonight, and we are excited to celebrate the rich and diverse talent and commitment that continue to move the University of Miami forward. We remain hopeful that this inflection point in our ongoing conversation and actions on racial justice will add to the necessary, honest, and productive engagement that ultimately draws us together as Miami Hurricanes.
Hilarie Bass, Esq.
Chair, University of Miami Board of Trustees
President, University of Miami
I wonder if the usual contingent will howl, or if this will be accepted quietly? Meanwhile, calling the former Merrick Garage “the structure on Merrick Drive” would have the ring of “the artist formerly known as Prince” … but for the fact that the “structure on Merrick Drive” incorporates the very name they are removing, making it a bit circular, at least until they find a suitable “neutral directional name” for it. Central Garage? Or maybe, “the Southern Garage” would be slyly and geographically appropriate?
The statement explains the partial renaming by saying, “The decision regarding the street named for George Merrick himself goes beyond the purview of the Board of Trustees.” Which makes me wonder — who gets to decide the names of streets on the campus? Is this something the Coral Gables Commission regulates? If so, that may be unfriendly territory for any renaming application — although with three new members inaugurated last week, maybe things have changed.
Daniel Ravicher started and runs a successful entrepreneurship clinic (the “Startup Practicum”) at the University of Miami School of Law. His office happens to be in the same pod as mine, so back in the days when people saw people I would see him from time to time. Like an increasing number of the people who teach students in law these days, Ravicher is not a tenured member of the faculty, and indeed was not hired for his scholarship. Instead he was hired for his skills, and has a term renewable contract.
He’s recently taken to social media – and even Fox TV – to claim he’s been fired for his pro-Trump tweets and other speech, or is about to be, or may not have his contract renewed when it expires. As far as I have been able to ascertain, at least the first two of these claims are simply false. The fate of the third lies well in the future.
While Ravicher has behaved badly – lying about your employer counts as behaving badly in my book – the University has, with one exception (discussed rather far below) [Update: as described in more detail below, according to the Dean, even this wasn’t anywhere as bad as the story that had been going around], behaved quite well, and held, so far at least, to its fundamental commitments to academic freedom.
But first, some lengthy background.
1. The Applicable Rules
The University of Miami, which has substantial powers to dictate rules regarding the terms of faculty employment to the law school, has an extensive Faculty Manual, which describes various rights and duty of the faculty. As regards freedom of speech and academic freedom, the Manual makes no distinction between tenured and non-tenured faculty, although its provisions do not in many cases apply to “staff” who are hired in a different manner and in some cases have fewer rights against dismissal for various reasons.
“Faculty members shall have full freedom of expression as teachers, researchers, scholars, and/or artists; this includes freedom to present their work, to advocate solutions to human problems, and to criticize existing institutions. This freedom does not abrogate faculty members’ responsibility to perform their academic duties or obligations they may have assumed in accepting support for research. Research activities are also subject to University policies such as those on patents, copyrights, and inventions as set forth in the Faculty Manual.
“Faculty members shall have freedom in the classroom in discussing the subject but should avoid persistently introducing material that has no relation to that subject.
“When speaking or writing as members of society, faculty members retain all the rights shared with other members of society and shall be free from University censorship or discipline. It should be remembered that the public may judge a profession and the University by public utterances by faculty members. Faculty members thus should make every effort to indicate whether they are acting as spokespersons for the University or are speaking in a private capacity.”
That is a nice statement, and a pretty absolute rule. But wait, there’s more. Continue reading →
I never wanted to be a Dean–too many meetings. Being a Dean during a pandemic must be truly horrible, so I’m very grateful that we have one who seems to be doing such a great job under such trying circumstances.