No renewal for Schaler stirs debate

A group of students protested on April 24 against the University’s decision not to renew the contract of Assistant Professor Jeffrey Schaler.

Schaler taught in the Department of Justice, Law and Society starting in 1990, according to his university profile. During this time, he received a mix of praise and criticism from both students and faculty for his views. He taught “the myth of mental illness” in his courses and his published works include “Addiction is a Choice.”

“I saw that his name had been dropped from the class schedule,” said Skyler McKinley, a junior in the School of Public Affairs and School of Communication who tried to register for Schaler’s course, “Drugs and Society.”

Schaler is a term faculty member. Term professors are hired for one or multi-year contracts, usually three or five years at a time, according to the procedures and standards for reappointment in DJLS.

Senior faculty voted against Schaler’s reappointment in December 2012, according to an email obtained by The Eagle, between senior DJLS faculty and DJLS Chair Ed Maguire. The faculty’s evaluation noted that Schaler received high student ratings in the past. However in recent years, those evaluations dipped.

For multi-year reappointments, senior faculty members vote by secret ballot and the department chair provides a separate recommendation. The faculty evaluate the professor on both teaching and service.

“Schaler’s teaching evaluations while still good, have fallen below the department average in recent years and do not compare well with those of other term professors in the department,” the senior JLS faculty wrote to Maguire.

Schaler attributed his decreased performance to personal issues.

“My wife dropped dead a year and a half ago and I was attacked because my teaching evaluations had dipped slightly in that time,” Schaler said.

The email between senior JLS faculty and Maguire also said “personal difficulties may have interfered with [Schaler’s] teaching and service.”

Still, the senior faculty were satisfied with Schaler’s teaching and his service to student clubs on campus, according to their evaluation. Instead, exchanges on a listserv jeopardized his reappointment.

“While open disagreement is welcome in online discussions, Professor Schaler often makes comments that go beyond the boundary of the professional to create a climate hostile to academic engagement,” the email said. “[He makes] insulting comments regarding the intellectual merit of the research areas of individuals on our faculty, and other overreactions.”

The online disagreement resulted from discussions over the department’s potential title and focus change from “Justice, Law and Society” to “Criminology,” according to Schaler, who believed the shift would “dumb down the department.”

While Schaler attributes his rejection to the email exchanges, Paul Grobman, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs and a student organizing a rally for his contract’s renewal, claims that the issue is academic freedom.

“It’s just starting to raise serious questions about whether AU is allowing controversial viewpoints,” Grobman said.

Before he took a class with Schaler, Grobman was about to transfer from AU. He said he loved Schaler’s class so much that he decided to stay though and create his own major, “theories of societal control.”

“People talk about looking back on their college experience if there were one or two professors that changed their life and for me, Schaler is that professor,” Grobman said. “He is literally the reason I’m still here.”

Students rally to support Schaler

Eight students rallied on April 24 in front of Ward Circle Building to support Schaler, collected signed petitions and delivered them to Dean of Academic Affairs Phyllis Peres.

Anca Grindeanu, a senior in SPA, and a student of Schaler for two years, helped to organize the rally.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that a faculty member is being fired without students knowing,” Grindeanu said.

Some people see Schaler’s course material as highly controversial, which may have influenced his contract not being renewed, Grindeanu said.

“Need new ideas, will pay 50 grand, Bring Schaler Back!” read one sign at the protest.

Other students are loyal to Schaler but more skeptical about the academic freedom issue. Justin Song, a senior in SPA, received a recommendation from Schaler and now works at the Cato Institute. He supports his former teacher, but did not attend the rally.

“I would participate if Professor Schaler were being fired for his views,” Song said. “The reason is because of some other administrative issue.”

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