Western Michigan University Music professor Daniel Mattson prides himself on being a “world-class trombonist.” He says that he had a promising and successful academic career when he was a gay faculty member. However, he alleges that changed when he found religion and declared that he was no longer gay. In a new lawsuit, Mattson claims that the university’s president, its College of Fine Arts dean, its School of Music director and a former director became openly hostile to him and ultimately denied the renewal of his contract after a quarter of century.
According to the complaint, that did not go over well when, in the fall of 2021, “campus activists discovered Mr. Mattson’s writings on Catholicism and same-sex attraction.”
He specifically blames Professor Lauron Kehrer, who was appointed to the music faculty around 2021 and, in late September of 2021, “discovered Mr. Mattson’s writings on his experiences with homosexuality and his effort to reject the ‘gay lifestyle’ by returning to his Catholic faith.”
Kehrer’s bio states that “she has published articles on queer identity and women’s music, white rapper Macklemore, and Beyoncé in the journals American Music, the Journal of the Society for American Music, and Popular Music and Society, respectively. Her research focuses on the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality in American popular music, especially hip-hop.”
Mattson alleges that “Professor Kehrer started a campaign to restrict and cancel his planned events as a Guest Artist [and] engaged students, other faculty members, and administrators in this effort, notably the Dean of the College of Fine Arts (Defendant Guyette) and his Special Assistant for Diversity and Inclusion, Kenlana Ferguson.”
The complaint includes a tweet from Kehrer declaring that “I will not be going to any recitals by ex-gay activists, thanks.” Kehrer does not appear as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Mattson’s Catholic views were declared offensive by many, he was removed from a student-faculty ensemble, and ultimately denied contract renewal.
Mattson insists that he never raised these issues in classes or on campus. He is alleging violations of his freedom of speech, religion and equal protection.
I have previously written how the environment of intolerance on our campuses has a particularly pronounced chilling effect on “contingent” or contractual faculty.
Most professors are not protected by tenure, and universities can cite other reasons for not renewing their contracts.
The percentage of tenured professors has been declining for half a century. Roughly three of four faculty today are what are called “contingent faculty,” or faculty who work contract to contract.
The problem is that this contingency often seems to depend upon an adherence to a new orthodoxy on racial justice, police abuse, gender identification and other issues. When a professor voices a dissenting view, universities will often defend free speech principles but then simply fail to renew a contract on unstated grounds.
That’s what happened to Greg Manco, a professor at St. Joseph’s University, who was effectively terminated for criticizing calls for reparations, including three tweets from Manco’s anonymous Twitter account, “South Jersey Giants.” The school’s human-resources department informed Manco he was responsible for “biased or discriminatory” statements and placed on administrative leave pending an investigation’s outcome. After he was cleared, however, the university refused to renew his contract. He has filed a federal lawsuit.
Some of us have tenure and that makes it more challenging to fire us. The fact is that, for the many faculty in the same position, their continued teaching is both legally and practically “contingent” on satisfying the demands of the majority at universities.
Here is the complaint: Mattson v. Guyette