On March 20, 2023, John K. Wilson of Academe Blog reported on the controversy surrounding a Bowling Green State University faculty member’s emails alleging misconduct in past hiring decisions. Associate Professor of Philosophy Christian Coons was suspended after sending emails to his colleagues about the possibility that money from the Charles Koch Foundation corrupted the department’s hiring process. A hearing could lead to his termination as a tenured professor. Charges against Coons include “sending emails to faculty who didn’t want to receive them, insubordination for violating an order not to send emails, and violating a provision in the union contract urging faculty to show ‘respect’ toward others.”
The controversy began in 2015 when Coons sent emails to colleagues regarding the hiring of a candidate for a position in the philosophy department. At the time, Coons believed the candidate did not meet the qualifications for the position. In 2019, having been hired, the person helped the department secure a $1.6 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation. In response, Wilson reported, Coons “expressed his view that the Koch money corrupted the hiring process in the department” and Coons has continued to “occasionally raise these concerns in emails to colleagues.” As Wilson noted, the Koch Foundation was known at the time to have “used its funding to influence academia.” Nevertheless, colleagues in the philosophy department did not side with Coons, and he was shunned by his department.
Wilson’s report noted flaws in the university’s charges against Coons. “First, there is no right not to receive email. People are perfectly free to ignore Coons, but not to silence him. What Coons wrote does not meet a harassment standard.” Wilson also detailed how both the First Amendment and standards of academic freedom undermine the school’s case for Coons’ termination.
According to Daily Nous, a hearing originally scheduled for March 20, 2023 to decide whether Coons would be dismissed has been postponed by the Bowling Green administration. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on the case in May 2021, but, as of March 29, 2023, there has been no major establishment press coverage of Bowling Green’s case against Coons.
John K. Wilson, “The Crime of Email at Bowling Green State University,” Academe Blog, March 20, 2023.
Justin Weinberg, “BGSU Threatens Whistleblower Philosopher’s Job,” Daily Nous, March 21, 2023.
Student Researchers: Amaka Agozino, Caroline Brown, Isaiah Holiness, Janey Mason, Kate Meaney, Riley Saccoach, and Alex Stacy (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)