Right Flight

Back in 2005, Phil Mitchell, an untenured history professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, made news in right-leaning media circles for contending that his teaching contract hadn't been renewed after more than twenty years at the institution because of his conservative-Christian views. As noted in this Message column from April of that year, a 2002 survey of department personnel showed that 28 of 29 instructors listed liberal party affiliation. Mitchell was the sole exception.

This story ran out of steam for a very simple reason: Despite feeling that his ouster was impending, Mitchell wound up teaching at CU for the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 school years. Now, however, Mitchell is circulating a letter declaring that he's been officially informed that his contract won't be renewed at CU, and he feels his personal beliefs are the reason.

The complete note (complete with one error in grammar) is below:

May 1, 2007

Dear Friends,

A few weeks ago the new director of my program at CU—The Sewall Residential Academic Program—confirmed that she would not be renewing my contract at CU. So I have been fired. The process that was begun two years ago is now complete. At that time I alleged my firing was motivated by hostility toward me as a political and religious conservative. I am certain this is still the motive.

In the past year the History Department at CU sent two professors into my classroom who gave me negative teaching reviews. Then the new director of the Sewall program did the same. It was as though they working [sic] off the same template. These negative evaluations were sent to the Dean of Arts and Sciences as justification for my firing, in spite of the following:

My student evaluations are among the highest in the history of the university and are the highest in my department.

I have won almost every teaching award one can win at CU, some of them many times.

I have won more teaching awards than all the other professors in my program combined.

I have won more teaching awards than all my critics combined.

The last senior member of the History Department to evaluate my class—last February—opened his summary with, “It was a treat to be there and watch a master teacher at work.”

My peer evaluations have ranged from very good to outstanding for twenty-three years.

One history professor recommended I be retained to teach the other professors how to teach.

My firing is blatant act of political and religious discrimination. It shows nothing but contempt for the students of the University of Colorado. Apparently student feelings mean nothing.

If you would like to write emails or letters on my behalf I recommend the following addresses:

[email protected]; Chancellor of CU, Boulder [email protected]; Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences [email protected]; Executive Vice Chancellor, CU, Boulder

It would be fine with me if you sent me copies of your correspondence. Thank you for your support and prayers.

Phil Mitchell

It will be interesting to see if media organizations latch on to this development. Last time around, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, who are both perceived to be conservatives (though O'Reilly denies it -- weakly), gave Mitchell a national platform -- yet most progressive or centrist press outfits here and elsewhere shrugged it off or ignored it completely.

If Mitchell's really on the way out this time, the reasons why seem worth exploring regardless of ideology -- but that's not the way far too many news organizations look at the world these days... -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts