Following the Evidence
Further reflections on the case of Julie Moore especially concerning the seeming lack of due process
“How Not to be Sued.”
That was the name of a workshop I created during my life as an associate dean. The title worked—I usually had full attendance (thanks Monty Python for inspiration from the “How Not to Be Seen” skit). My goal for the workshop was simple: to encourage graduate program directors to be proactive in (1) developing procedures for handling student/faculty conflict, (2) creating a clear pathway for students who want to leave the program and/or are dismissed from the program, and (3) impressing on faculty the need to follow established procedures.
Due process must be followed, I would emphasize, for the good of the student and the good of the faculty.
Which is one of the reasons I remain surprised by the case of Julie Moore and the non-renewal of her contract by Taylor University. From the evidence available, it seems to be a case-in-point for failure in due process.
Just look at the available evidence (it is at the bottom of this article).
I) Julie Moore received a unanimous vote from her department to have her contract renewed and to be continued on faculty as “a highly-valued colleague.” She was commended for her empathy, responsiveness, and the consistently high scores on her student evaluations in “preparation and organization, and in useful and timely feedback on assignments.” As the departmental letter concluded, “Julie belongs here in the English Department at Taylor” and “she adds great value to the service and ministry we offer our students.”
*please note there is no indication in the letter from her department of problems suggesting she might be in danger of losing her job
2) It was raised to her that some student concerns had been raised that Moore expected students to reflect her views on assignments instead of their own. Moore stated that this was not the case and “modified methods and assignments” to help students better understand her goals. The faculty member who mentioned this student concern commended Moore for her answer.
*please note that while the concern was raised, Moore indicated she would adjust her teaching to make sure students understood her goals and she was commended for her response
Moore was commended in the letter from her dean to the provost that she “has been extremely productive over the last few years,” and had plans to develop the Writing Center into a Writing and Research Center. The letter from her dean concluded, “Because of the strength of Professor Moore’s portfolio and the level of scholarship and creative writing she has produced during her time at Taylor and because of her dedication to high quality writing instruction in ENG 100, the department sought to affirm Professor Moore’s role as an instructor of writing and Director of the Writing Center. I would support this affirmation since Professor Moore has proved to be a valuable member of the English and Modern Languages department.”
*please note there is no indication in the letter from her dean of problems suggesting she should be removed or might be in danger of losing her job. She was affirmed as a valuable member of the department.
The Annual Review letter she received from the provost’s office reiterated the letters she received from her chair and dean. The letter acknowledged that Moore was a “professor who cares deeply about students and is committed to engaging them in conversations and reflection on ideas that are at the core of who we are as 21st century disciples of Jesus Christ.” The letter suggested, as Moore had already stated, to modify her course assignments to clearly suggest to students her goals. As the letter stated, “I suggested beginning with less controversial topics and moving incrementally to more difficult and complex topics.” The letter concludes thanking Moore for her commitment to the students of Taylor, stating, “you are an important part of the Taylor family.”
*please note there is no indication in the letter from her provost of problems suggesting she should be removed or might be in danger of losing her job. She was commended as an “important part of the Taylor family.”
A little more than a year after receiving affirmation of her continued employment at Taylor, Moore was called into a January 27, 2023 meeting with the new Provost Jewerll Maxwell. This conversation told Moore she would not have her contract renewed for the next year because of “continued concern, especially from students.” Despite that Moore had taken the previous Provost’s suggestions to alter her course and received no indication that there was a serious problem with her work (the opposite, rather), she did not receive a contract renewal. The Provost stated that the problem with Moore (primary problem it seems) was she did not have a “balanced perspective” in the classroom, especially because she included “Jemar Tisby.”
*I read the transcript and listened to the recording. I could not see any other concern raised about Moore. She clearly seemed caught off guard by the whole conversation. It was heartbreaking to listen to.
From what I can tell from the annual review letters, her review followed a procedure. Moore was reviewed by her department who then carried out a vote on whether she should be continued on faculty. The recommendation of the department proceeded to the dean who assessed the situation and sent a recommendation to the provost. The provost then sent a letter extending Moore the decision for her to continue at Taylor. According to Moore, this review was supposed to include the director of the Academic Enrichment Center who would observe Moore and provide the initial review. This review was also not supposed to involve the provost. If all went well, Moore stated she would “not be required to undergo another review for 7 years”. This process was partially followed (excerpting the absent review of the AEC and the involvement of the provost) in 2021. The process was successful, which is why Moore did not contest the two abnormalities. However, in January 2023, the conversation with the new provost suggests that this review process was ignored and overturned by the administration. Moore’s contract, which she expected to continue for several more years, seems to have been abruptly ended. She seems to have been denied any appeal to her department, dean, and/or AEC director. Indeed, her department chair was allegedly not invited to the initial meeting dismissing Moore.
*in other words, due process for Moore at Taylor University does not seem to have been followed. She seems to have been dismissed from her contract at the will of the provost acting apart from the established review process. I find the absence of a written reason for the termination of Moore strange—Moore claims that the “provost refuses to put in writing why my contract was not-renewed.” I also find the subsequent email from the provost stating that Moore’s firing was supposed to be kept confidential in order to ensure “a positive transition.” I confess that language sounds eerily similar to the abrupt firing of my husband and other pastors like him at churches run by authoritarian leadership structures.
From the evidence available, I agree with Julie Moore that what happened to her seems like an assault on academic freedom. The provost does seem to have circumvented the established procedure for review, “overturned” the positive outcome of her review, and situated himself as an expert about what she should teach in her classroom.
Finally, what happened with Moore fits well into a pattern of “backlash against racial justice” in the “white evangelical spaces” of Christian colleges and universities. Unfortunately, as Kristin Du Mez notes, “it is no surprise that Christian colleges would become a battlefield in this new war” over anti-racism efforts. What is happening at colleges like Grove City and Palm Beach Atlantic parallel what is happening in white evangelical spaces more broadly. “In just a few short years, we have seen conservative evangelicals, conservative pundits, and members of the Republican Party engage in a deliberate campaign to demonize anti-racism efforts,” writes Du Mez.
I do understand that universities and colleges have the right to terminate jobs. I do understand that, as Taylor University responded to this situation, folk who have lost their jobs are often unhappy. I do understand that I have not seen the faculty handbook nor review process (I couldn’t find the faculty handbook publicly posted) so I am having to take Julie Moore’s assessment of the review process as well as the evidence I can see of the process from the letters she posted. I do understand there could be pieces of the story that I do not have.
At the same time, the existing evidence seems damning.
It shows a contract abruptly not renewed for a professor who had recently completed a successful review.
It shows the concerns about this professor revolve around the use of texts and writing assignments about racism.
It shows a provost specifically stating that the author of most concern on the syllabus was Jemar Tisby.
It shows an attempt to silence the professor who was fired.
The circumstances fit with a pattern growing in Christian higher education of retaliating against anti-racism efforts. This pattern reflects what is happening in white evangelical spaces more broadly.
Indeed, based on the evidence available, I agree with Kristin Du Mez: it is time for “Christian colleges to confront this propaganda machine” of “smear campaigns and pressure tactics” that have “replaced careful scholarship and biblical reasoning.” Like Du Mez, I too work at a Christian university that stands in stark contrast to what seems to be happening at Taylor University, Palm Beach Atlantic, and Grove City. Y’all, it doesn’t have to be this way. It really doesn’t…..
Could I be wrong about what is happening at Taylor University?
Part of me hopes I am. Indeed, I actually wrote this post to see if I was wrong. I went back over all of the evidence available; wrote it out; and then slept on it. This morning I picked it back up and went through it all again. I still hope I am wrong.
But the evidence suggests I am probably not.
I appreciate your even-handed, clear take. I have taught English and Writing for years, though not at a Christian college. Still, this kind of action, and its inconsistency with Moore's overall glowing reviews, is chilling.
Funny (not funny) how some on the right bemoan "cancel culture" only to heartlessly and irresponsibly apply those very tactics.
(I acknowledge that "cancel culture" is sometimes real, though often only perceived; and sometimes just, and other times unjust. My point is simply that I've heard *so* much hand-wringing about it from the right, and yet this seems to be the worst kind of cancel culture: not whole swaths of a "culture" refusing to platform (or ignoring the platform of) a single person, often someone in a position of wealth and/or power, but rather of an individual (or small group of individuals) taking away the well-earned post and livelihood of a professional who has been doing objectively good work. Just, yikes.)
Of course, the irony of the allegation of Moore’s lack of balance and focus on Tisby is that she didn’t assign Tisby’s book — she just put a quote from Tisby as an epigraph to a syllabus.