Revisiting L'Affaire Gerber

The mysterious cancellation of a tenured law professor

Kali Jerrard

CounterCurrent: Week of 6/12/23

Last month, I wrote to you all about a few tenured professors facing academic censure or dismissal after cancel culture came knocking. I’m sad to report that another professor is in the same boat. His dismissal has yet to be explained by the university after more than two months of requests for information from lawyers and academic freedom associations. 

Scott Gerber, a professor of law at Ohio Northern University (ONU), has been coerced (to put it lightly) to resign for unclear reasons by Charles H. Rose III, the ONU law school dean. Here’s what happened:

Dean Rose sent ONU campus security officers and armed town police to a classroom in which Professor Gerber was teaching on April 14 to escort him to the dean’s office, where Gerber was told he had to resign or be fired. The only reason provided for this action, despite multiple requests for specifics from Gerber, was Gerber’s alleged insufficient “collegiality,” which isn’t even listed in the ONU Faculty Handbook as adequate cause for terminating a tenured professor. Gerber has tenure.

In May, National Association of Scholars (NAS) President Peter Wood wrote an open letter to ONU President Melissa J. Baumann concerning the Gerber situation. So far, crickets from ONU. Other organizations such as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and the Academic Freedom Alliance have also intervened on behalf of Gerber—and more crickets for them.

Though the actual reasons behind Gerber’s dismissal haven’t been confirmed by ONU or its administrators, one can look at Gerber’s actions and draw some possible conclusions. The ONU student newspaper, Northern Review, ran an article titled “A Timeline of Events Regarding Scott Gerber,” which sheds some light on possible “inflammatory” actions by Gerber (at least according to ONU’s standards) prior to April 14. In March, Gerber published the essay “Ohio’s move to de-woke-ify higher education is a mixed bag,” in which he discussed anti-discrimination law on college and university campuses. This was after ONU authorities had hired Taft Law back in January to “investigate” Gerber in light of “complaints and concerns.”

Prior to the March article, Gerber’s positions on critical race theory (CRT) and racial favoritism in academic hiring were well known and “were in sharp opposition to positions taken by ONU.” But this alone is insufficient to terminate Gerber’s tenure, as it is perfectly within his rights to hold these views. So, the question is, did they find anything legitimate for which to dismiss Gerber? Wood answers this in his open letter,

We don’t know, but if they did, it was apparently not enough to make a public case. If they were reduced to some instances of faculty members who disagreed with some of Gerber’s published opinions, they were bereft of any real case. Disagreement is the lifeblood of law schools and universities.

What we do know is that though ONU sought to meet with Gerber, it refused Gerber’s requests to give the content of the allegations. Even Gerber’s attorney has been rebuffed.  

Are coercion and intimidation the only tools the academic left has remaining? Are arguments against the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and CRT political projects so threatening that individuals must be escorted by armed guards from the academy? Are cases like Scott Gerber’s going to become the standard for academic dissidents? Perhaps they already have.

Academic freedom should be enough to protect the rights of professors, administrators, and students whose views deviate from those of the academic left. But that doesn’t appear to be the case for Scott Gerber, Amy Wax, Matthew Garrett, and others who do not toe the orthodox line. Pro-CRT and -DEI administrators are finding creative ways to punish or dismiss any dissidents, while masking their actions—namely, claiming ludicrous reasons or no reasons at all for dismissal, and expecting professors to go away silently.

Like Scott Gerber, there’s been no word on Amy Wax’s case, nor on Matthew Garrett’s dismissal. But we at the NAS haven’t given up hope for academic freedom to prevail. American colleges and universities are facing many complex dilemmas that threaten the existing model. Above all is their commitment to a political ideology that is losing appeal and students. Perhaps this reality, mixed with a combination of public action in statehouses, will remind administrators why students attend college in the first place: a quality education.

Until next week.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by the NAS Staff. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Photo by Adobe Stock

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