University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings’ recent denunciation of the actions of retired professor Susan Feiner in offering a trip to lobby Sen. Susan Collins as a college course ought to be reassuring to those who understand, as Cummings himself put it, that “the use of institutional resources to advance a partisan agenda” is at odds with USM’s publicly funded “core mission of education, research and public service.”

For inasmuch as college professors might like to think that the academic enterprise has something – if not everything – to do with telling students what is right, just or moral, the fact of the matter is that college professors – like everyone else – are simply hired to do a job that is specific to a field, a profession, a service or a trade.

And, at a university, believe it or not, that job does not entail advancing a particular moral or political vision. (Can you imagine what liberal academics might say should a conservative colleague offer college credits to students for attending an anti-abortion rally, a pro-hate speech gathering or an assault-rifle giveaway?) All it entails is advancing the interests of an academic discipline.

Sadly, however, both liberal and conservative scholars all too frequently confuse their personal beliefs with their job descriptions. No wonder, as critic and legal scholar Stanley Fish once remarked, people think so little of college professors.

Ted Williams

adjunct professor of English, University of Southern Maine

Cape Elizabeth

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.