Faculty firing questioned 26 years later

Publication Date: Wednesday Jun 17, 1998

STANFORD: Faculty firing questioned 26 years later

Thesis claims outspoken anti-war professor was set up

A senior honors thesis by a Stanford student that exhumed the hoary and controversial firing of English Professor H. Bruce Franklin in 1972 claims the firing was set up by a university administration tired of Franklin's political activism.

The thesis by Steven Choi contains one potentially explosive allegation--that one or more prominent, liberal faculty members went to the administration and quietly said they wouldn't make a fuss and get in the way if the administration tried to oust Franklin.

Franklin was a Melville scholar and a member of an off-campus group, Venceremos, that opposed the war in Vietnam.

Official charges were brought against him for making three campus speeches that led or contributed to anti-war demonstrations on campus, including one night of fighting and near-riots.

The Franklin hearing was conducted for six hours a day, six days a week, for six weeks in late 1971, producing 110 witnesses. The charges were heard by the seven-member faculty Advisory Board, which ultimately voted 5-2 to fire Franklin.

The Advisory Board was chaired by Donald Kennedy, then chairman of the biology department and later university president. Kennedy voted against firing Franklin, although he thought Franklin deserved substantial punishment for creating disruptions on campus.

"You can argue that the administration didn't make its case on the charges," Kennedy said. He said there were different versions of some of the facts. "But I thought he should receive a severe (punishment)," Kennedy added.

"The bottom line is that the charges brought against me, for which I was fired, were ridiculous," Franklin said last week from his New Jersey home. He has been an English professor at Rutgers University since 1975.

In Steven Choi's thesis, Barton Bernstein, a history professor, makes the allegation that one or more prominent liberal faculty quietly approached the university and said they wouldn't stand in the way of any attempted firing of Franklin.

"I never heard that story," Franklin said. "I heard that (Stanford President Richard) Lyman had gone to the Advisory Board . . . and said he wanted to get rid of this guy, and that led to their looking for charges to bring against me."

Bernstein said that a few years after the Franklin firing he was mistakenly congratulated by the friend of a distinguished faculty member for being one of those who quietly went to the university administration to say they wouldn't object to an attempt to dismiss Franklin.

Bernstein declined to identify the faculty member in question, who has long since retired, but is convinced the professor, possibly with others, gave a quiet message to the administration.

"I have no doubt about it," Bernstein said. "It was an assertion of common fact (from the friend of the faculty member)."

"It didn't happen, to my knowledge," Lyman said of Bernstein's contention that a group of faculty told the university they wouldn't oppose Franklin's ouster.

"By the time that case came up, it was evident that the tide of opinion on the faculty had swung (against Franklin)," Lyman said. "But the thought of a delegation coming to tip us off is pretty silly. We're weren't on a different planet."

After he was fired, Franklin filed a lawsuit against the university to regain his job, but he lost in court.

--Don Kazak 

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