Last June, a few days after he allegedly got into a shoving match with a colleague, a tenured physics professor at the University of Maryland was abruptly suspended from teaching. Later, the professor was told that unless he could get a psychiatrist to certify that he wasn't a "threat to yourself or others" he could not return to the classroom.
Now, almost a year after the original alteration, the suspension of 44-year-old Edgar F. Beall has become the focus of a major controversy at the University's College Park campus. At stake in this dispute, say some faculty members, are such fundamental issues as academic freedom and the right of due process.
As matters stand now, Beall, a longtime [WORD ILLEGIBLE] leftist political circles and a vociferous [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] university administration, faces the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] permanent dismissal. Friends of Beall say[WORD ILLEGIBLE] is charging him with neglect of duty [WORD ILLEGIBLE] incompetence. Beall and university [WORD ILLEGIBLE] comment on the specific charges [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
The fate of Beall's career is [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of a five-member faculty board [WORD ILLEGIBLE] scheduled to make a final [WORD ILLEGIBLE] or against Beall's dismissal, to the university's governing body by June 1.
However, except for the initial letter demaning that Beall undergo a psychiatirc examination, the university administration has refused to publicly elaborate why it feels that Beall is incompetent. It is this refusal that, as much as anything, has helped escalate the Beall case into a major academic controversy.
Both the national and the local branches of the American Association of University Professors have lodged protests in the case, objecting in particular to what they describe as the lack of due process afforded Beall.
"It's a threat to the academic freedom of everyone on campus if people can be removed from their position without a set of established procedures," said Robert Corbone, a professor of higher education and president of the College Park chapter of AAUP.
That Beall could be suspended from teaching for a year without so much as a hearing or a publicly disclosed statement of the charges against him "is something that worries us," said Jonathan Knight, associate secretary of the national AAUP.
More than anything, some professors are bothered by the lack of established ground rules government their conduct, and by the idea that professional requirements can be added or eliminated at the whim of the university administration.
Beall himself regards the university administration's order that he be required to see a psychiatrist before being allowed to go back to teachings as just such as unreasonable and unexpected demand.
He immediately refused the order saying that "acquiesence on my part would open a Pandora's box.
"My passing the test would not guarantee my personal safety and my acquiesence could lay the groundwork for actions against others," Beall, an associate professor of physics, faculty senate.
Howard Brinkley, an associate professor of zoology who serves as chairman of the faculty board, said he expects the board to issue a recommendation by the end of the month.
In the meantime, faculty members have organized a petition drive on Beall's behalf and a legal defense fund has been set up to defray legal costs.
"On trial in the Beall case is not only Professor Beall himself, but the contractual rights of all faculty," four professors and associate professors said in a fundraising letter to colleagues.
"If the administration can put one professor in limbo for nine months without explanation, it can do so to another. If it is free to structure the dismissal proceedings in any way it wished, it may forge a weapon which can be directed at others of us.
"The students also have a stake in the outcome of this issue, for if the administration can silence an outspoken professor without due process, this will have a chilling effect on academic freedom on this campus."
Since the case began, university officials have declined to comment, a practice they continued yesterday. A spokesman for Robert Gluckstern, the chancellor and chief academic officer at the College Park campus, said Gluckstern would have no comment on the case.
Provost Joseph M. Marchello and Alex J. Dragt, chairman of the physics department also refused to comment, as did physics professor David S. Falk, the colleague with whom Beall is said to have had a violent altercation just before his suspension.
Beall himself would not discuss details of the alercation that precipitated his suspension, saying that his lawyers had advised him not to.
However, other faculty members said it was a shoving incident in the physics building on May 20 of last year involving Beall and Falk that led to Beall's suspension three days later by department chairman Dragt.
That incident, they said, followed several instances of vandalism to Beall's office door. Beall, according to some of his collegues who requested anonymity, had been angered over the failure of his departmental colleagues to stop the vandalism.
A political activitist since he arrived at Maryland in 1962, Beall was active in the antiwar protests of the late 1960s and dearly 1970s and more recently has spoken out against university investment with firms doing businesin South Africa. The door to his office was often decorated with slogans supporting the regime of the late Mao Tse-tung in China and colleagues of his said that the slogans had been defaced several times.
Beall, whom other professors have described as a Maoist, would not discuss his political views in detail. "I don't believe it's appropriate to go into my political views until we see to what extens these proceedings are political," he said. "I am a militant supporters of normalization of relations with China."
He was suspended from teaching on May 23 of last year and later served with a written notice from Dragt that "you acted with violence against a fellow faculty member."
On June 3, Dragt informed him that he was not to return to the classroom until a psychiatrist of his choice had certified him as being able "to meet your University responsibilities." Results of the psychiatirc exam were to be sent to university health officials.
After he refused to take the exam, Beall's status as being on leave with pay was continued and he was requested to remain off campus.
In January, he was formally notified that the administration was beginning dismissal proceedings against him. Beall said he was served with a specific set of charges, but he would not discuss them.
In the meantime, the faculty senate at College Park had appointed an adhoc committee to investigate the Beall case. That committee also met with Beall in January, but Dragt declined to meet with the committee, saying he had been advised agianst it by the attorney general's office. The committee disbanded without coming to a conclusion.
"The extended delay in Dr. Beall's case and the lack of information from the administration has had a marked negative effect on facultty morale," the committee said in a final report.