Taylor University Fires Professor Over Free Speech Issue
Christian writers have a particular interest in free speech issues. We see our unique voice suppressed in public forums. We always want to advocate free speech for all, even when we disagree with the speaker. Free speech includes Digital Free Speech.
We feel the truth will be triumphant when people can compare and contrast all competing ideas. This notion is the basis of the American ideals of free speech and a free press in an open society.
It is bad enough when corporations like Facebook or Twitter think their Terms of Service outranks the U.S. Constitution. They suppress ideas that do not conform to their social and political bias. They say if people don’t like their brand of corporate totalitarianism they can leave or get canceled. But it is far worse when a Christian educational institution allegedly adopts the values of our secular culture to bring harm to the Christian community. Taylor University is located in Upland, Indiana, and claims to be “biblically anchored.”
Taylor University Fires Tenured Professor
Jim Spiegel, professor of philosophy, was fired by university Provost Michael Hammond for refusing to remove a video from YouTube, according to Justin Lee, writing in the New York Post.
Lee reported that Hammond contacted Spiegel and asked him to remove one of five videos Spiegel posted on his YouTube channel. The videos feature Spiegel singing his own folky compositions about theology and ethics.
According to Lee, Spiegel declined to remove the video. A few days later, after meeting with the Dean of his department, he was called to a meeting with Hammond and other administrators and was fired. He was told he’d get just one week’s severance pay, and his family’s health insurance would be promptly canceled.
It all happened that quickly, according to the report.
Were Professor Spiegel’s Rights Abused?
Paige Comstock Cunningham is the interim president of Taylor University. She is a 1977 Taylor University graduate, so we can assume she had some spiritual formation there. She also holds both Ph.D. (Educational Studies) and J.D. (Law) degrees, and has a master’s degree in Bioethics. Could she have sanctioned this kind of action against Professor Spiegel considering her background in ethics and law?
On the face of it, it appears that Provost Hammond and his colleagues behaved in a reckless, non-Christian way. It will be up to the courts, I suppose, to decide if they broke employment laws.
What should concern Christian writers is the suppression of free speech. If Provost Hammond can fire Professor Spiegel, he can smother free expression for all faculty, staff, or students. His action is a threat to Taylor University and the broader Christian community.
According to Justin Lee, Professor Spiegel had every right to sing his song on YouTube.
- Spiegel sang the song to wide approval at a 2010 Taylor University chapel with 1,200 students in attendance.
- The song has a theological message, which is certainly within the ethos of any Christian institution like Taylor University.
- The Taylor University Faculty Handbook explicitly says when faculty “speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.” There is no mention of Taylor University on Professor Spiegel’s YouTube page.
Did the song trigger Provost Hammond and his colleagues to such harsh action against Professor Spiegel? There is speculation that Taylor University officials had a longstanding vendetta against Professor Spiegel, but the facts are yet to be revealed.
The Video That Provoked the Professional Guillotining
You would think the Spiegel song video was filled with hate and foul language considering the reaction it got from Provost Hammond and other top Taylor University administrators.
But it wasn’t that at all. It is a 2:20 ditty that Professor Spiegel sings in his basement. He sings under the pseudonym “Philonous.” He doesn’t mention he is connected to Taylor University. No one would know except that incensed alumni are starting to light up his comments section in anger over his apparent unjust treatment by Taylor University.
What is the title of the Spiegel song? It is “Little Hitler.” It is a creative tune to communicate the Christian concept of Original Sin. It reveals the stark reality of human nature. It is a definite conversation starter about the redemption that is available only through Jesus Christ. See it here:
Troubling Questions About Taylor University
The way the blade was dropped on Professor Spiegel raises serious and troubling questions about Taylor University’s Board and Administrators.
Personally, my university and graduate work was completed at Christian educational institutions, and I later taught at such schools both in the U.S. and overseas. I know their interworking. Therefore, I would ask these questions:
- What kind of University Board and President would hire a Provost who would command a private video be removed? Is the Taylor University Board providing proper oversight, or are they just figureheads?
- What prompted the Provost to demand the innocent video to be deleted? The theological intent of the song is obvious. Was he responding to the secular mob that seeks conformity to their worldly values? If so, that is an unworthy response of people who are citizens of the Kingdom of God. Christ is for all, but he is above all. We are instructed not to “not be conformed to the values of this world.”
- Did the Provost and other administrators even realize Professor Spiegel’s song was theological in nature? Are they so far removed from Bible truth that they didn’t get it? Most of us got it, why not them? Sin is not a popular topic, but it is why Jesus Christ came to save us. Spiegel did an excellent job of revealing the sin nature in his song.
There needs to be a thorough independent investigation of this sad occurrence at Taylor University. Did the Provost have the authority to suppress faculty speech? Did the Provost and Dean and other administrators involved act legally and lovingly? The Christian testimony of Taylor University is in tatters, but it is not due to Professor Spiegel’s song.
Taylor University, 1846-2020?
Would I send a child or grandchild to Taylor University? Would I financially support Taylor University? No.
From the Lee report, it appears Taylor University is suffocating free speech, and I would not want any Christian young person exposed to that. No Christian, and especially no Christian writer, should respect the Taylor University action. If we do not use free speech to help turn the mob to righteousness in Christ, then we acquiesce to mob demands and become part of it.
Does a spiritual community exist at Taylor University? I question that.
- An authentic spiritual community does not suppress free speech.
- A spiritual community does not capitulate to contemporary social or political pressure.
- A spiritual community does not purportedly bear false witness (insubordination, and a harassment complaint) against a member of their community.
- A spiritual community does not cut off a respected, tenured professor with one week’s pay.
- A spiritual community does not deny family health insurance benefits.
At this point, Taylor University is apparently not walking the walk. As Christians, we cannot kneel in obeisance before contemporary cultural or political values. We cannot hire those who require us to violate our Christian conscience to appease popular culture. As Christians, we need to embrace a higher standard.
Something awful has happened at Taylor University. It appears to be so egregious that it will probably end up in civil court. However, as a Christian educator and journalist, I would encourage the Taylor University Board to restore Professor Spiegel to his position immediately before they further stain their reputation.
Also, I suggest the Board simultaneously institute a “Professor James Spiegel Integrity Award.” It should go to a graduating senior each year, in perpetuity, who does not cower in the face of adversity and steadfastly exercises their right of free speech.