Michael Herzfeld, professor of anthropology and curator for European ethnology at the Peabody Museum, brushes aside the suggestion that he is a social activist, much less a crusader for faculty rights.
"First and foremost, I consider myself an anthropologist," says Herzfeld, who teaches "Anthropology 134: Cultures of Southern Europe."
But the six-year Harvard veteran, who previously held posts at Vassar and the University of Indiana, has trouble shaking the reputation he has earned in academic circles as a non-conformist and a firebrand.
Herzfeld's involvement in a recent controversy at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania has taken him from the relative tranquility of his scholarly work into the center of a legal struggle which he says "represents a threat to the institution of tenure."
Protesting a Dismissal
Last October, Allegheny told Robert Ulin, chair of sociology and anthropology and a friend of Herzfeld's, that his department was being phased out by the college as of June 30, 1998.
Herzfeld and others close to the case were particularly troubled by the circumstances under which Ulin, a tenured faculty member, was dismissed.
Instead of relocating him to another department, the college's board of trustees terminated Ulin's employment along with that of another professor.
"It is quite a comment on the direction of the institution when one of their most renowned experts on Southern Europe could not be assigned [to another department]," Herzfeld says.
Herzfeld questions Allegheny's motives and says the college was not under financial strain at the time.
In a memo to Allegheny's faculty in February, Dean of the Faculty Bruce J. Smith wrote that the college was setting aside $500,000 to develop "academic programs." The document was provided to The Crimson by Herzfeld, and Smith was not available for comment.
Herzfeld also wonders whether "there is any connection between [Ulin's past support of the American Association of United Professors] and present events."
In a demonstration of solidarity with Ulin, Herzfeld and other leaders in the field of European anthropology have organized a campaign to protest Allegheny's decision.
A petition written by Herzfeld and co-signed by 14 of his colleagues urges the Allegheny board of trustees to "reject this ill-advised decision at the expense of one of your most accomplished and internationally renowned professors."
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