Naropa is a Buddhist institution and the professor has apparently taken a vow of silence. That doesn’t work too well for someone who’s being paid to teach.

Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Ed reports.

Vow of Silence

It’s not uncommon for students at Naropa University, a Buddhist institution, to take vows of silence, even during class. So is it grounds for suspension for a professor to do so? A religious studies professor says that administrators are using his in-class silence as one reason to punish him for speaking out against an alleged lack of commitment to diversity on that campus.

But administrators say Donald Matthews has been the subject of many student complaints about inappropriate behavior and his vow of silence two weeks before the end of the semester was a kind of last straw.

Matthews, a full-time professor (Naropa doesn’t have a tenure system) in his third year at Naropa, received an email this month letting him know he was being put on paid leave for his “actions” on campus. He says he was given no other information, but eventually learned that administrators were responding to student complaints that he led two course periods the day prior in silence, to protest what he sees as a lack of commitment to diversity.

The professor says his students sometimes pass him a note at the beginning of class to let him know they’re taking a vow of silence, so he believed it was acceptable for him to do so. Matthews notified his students in a written message what he was doing and why, gave them an assignment to work on, and did talk for the last 10-15 minutes of class to answer questions, he said. When a student asked him how many days his vow would last, he said he didn’t know.

“I summed it up and answered questions, so it wasn’t a completely silent protest,” he said. “I wasn’t going to deprive students of an educational experience. …[Administrators] were targeting me because I was the only one going to stand up to them about issues of diversity.”