May 4, 2023 - Education

Ousted Taylor professor raises academic freedom concerns

Photo illustration of Julie Moore next to a photo grid featuring Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Photo Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photo: Courtesy of Julie Moore, Zach Gibson/Stringer, Historical, Stephen F. Somerstein/Getty Images

A professor at Taylor University — a private Christian institution in northeast Indiana — says she's been let go for teaching about racial and social justice issues.

Driving the news: Julie Moore, a nontenure-track professor at Taylor since 2017, told Axios she'll be out of a job this summer after a new provost raised concerns about the content of her English composition course.

  • Moore said her last performance review was positive, but the provost, Jewerl Maxwell, was hired shortly after that.
  • In January, Maxwell told Moore her contract would not be renewed.

The other side: In an email to Axios, a spokesperson said it is university policy not to comment on specific personnel issues.

  • "We understand and empathize with a faculty member's disappointment when a contract renewal decision does not go as they had hoped," the statement said. "We are fully dedicated to embracing and celebrating diversity as an intentional community striving to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which transcends all ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, and national divisions."
  • In a letter to the Taylor community, sent after Moore shared her story publicly on author Jemar Tisby's substack, president D. Michael Lindsay said he disagreed with "what has been asserted" but would not elaborate further.

Context: Taylor University is a small, Christian, liberal arts school in Upland, Indiana — about 80 miles northeast of Indianapolis.

  • English composition is a core class that all students are required to take.
  • Six professors teach various sections of the course, Moore said, each of whom takes a slightly different approach.
  • In the past, she said, they've had the academic freedom to teach the class as they see fit as long as they meet the same course objectives.

Details: Moore said she assigned reading from multicultural authors as models for students to consider for writing assignments in which they'd tell their own experiences.

  • She used texts such as Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Frederick Douglass' "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" and Ta-Nehisi Coates' "Letter to My Son."
  • Throughout the course, students would write reflective journal entries, a film review and a persuasive research paper on the topic of their choosing.

Of note: Lindsay, who was previously with Gordon College, took over as president of Taylor in the spring of 2021.

  • Maxwell, hired in the fall of 2021, also came from Gordon.

The big picture: Right-wing politicians have decried "cancel culture" and "woke" colleges that take aim at conservative viewpoints.

  • Moore said the same is happening on some Christian college campuses now, as Christian values become conflated with conservative politics.
  • "There are good Christian colleges that give their professors academic freedom," she said. "Taylor used to be one of those places. Honestly, it's not that way anymore."

What they're saying: Students started a petition calling on the university to reverse the decision.

  • Moore said she doesn't see a future for her at Taylor anymore. "I'd always feel like I'm not safe," she said.

Yes, but: Moore said a couple of students complained over the years about the course's focus on racial justice, but that she graded classwork based on the quality of the writing — not whether she agreed with their position.

What's next: The university is holding two forums this week to take questions about the issue.

  • The administration said in its email that specific questions about the situation would not be answered due to legal constraints.

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