A review committee assigned to evaluate University of Montana law professor Robert Natelson's fitness to teach Constitutional Law has concluded that he is fully qualified for the job, reports The Missoulian.
As previously reported by Eugene, last year Professor Natelson charged his colleagues at the University of Montana law school with political discrimination. Among other things, Natelson alleged that he was denied the opportunity to teach constitutional law because of his conservative views. Natelson ran for governor and has been harshly critical of the Montana Supreme Court. When there was an opening in Constitutional Law, he sought to teach the course but was refused, despite being the most widely published member of the Montana law faculty on the subject. Instead, the Dean filled the slot on an ad hoc basis. After years of what he considered to be unfair treatment, Natelson filed a grievance with the University.
A hearing officer appointed by the University president sided for Natelson, finding the Dean wrongly denied him the opportunity to teach Constitutional Law, as Eugene noted here. The basis for the opinion was law school's arbitrary departure from its own traditional practice regarding class assignments. The hearing officer reached no conclusion as to whether Natelson's poor treatment was motivated by political or personal animus.
So Natelson got to teach Constitutional Law this year, but there was a catch. The hearing officer called for the appointment of an "evaluation committee" to review Natelson's teaching performance and recommend whether Natelson should be allowed to continue teaching Constitutional Law. As eventually constituted, the committee included two well-recognized constitutional law professors -- Robert Nagel of Colorado and James Weinstein of Arizona State -- and a Montana attorney with whom Natelson has tussled in the past.
According to the Missoulian, the evaluation committee voted 2-1 in favor of Natelson's keeping the Constitutional Law post. Siding with Natelson, the two professors on the committee wrote:
After due consideration of all the material presented to us, and with particular regard to Professor Natelson's performance in teaching Constitutional Law this semester, we conclude that Professor Natelson is both competent and fully qualified to continue to teach Constitutional Law. In light of of this finding, we recommend that he be assigned the Constitutional Law course.They further added:
We are able to make this judgment with confidence. It is based on an evaluation that in its scope and thoroughness might well be unprecedented for any decision about a teaching assignment in the history of the American legal academy.The private attorney recommended that the law school hold a national search to fill the position, and invite Professor Natelson to apply.
As for Natelson, he is happy with the decision, and glad this episode appears to be over. Reports the Missoulian:
Natelson said he is relieved and grateful the issue has been resolved.
"I will do everything I can to be worthy of the committee's high opinion of me by giving students the very best education in constitutional law that I can," Natelson said. "I am thankful at the outcome of this and I think it creates a healthy precedent - that people within the university system with dissenting views will be and have to be treated fairly."