What started as a dispute over the evangelical identity of Greenville College eventually led the Free Methodist school to wrongly dismiss a tenured professor, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) said this summer.

Gerald Eichhoefer, a computer science professor, Greenville alumnus, and Free Methodist lay preacher, accused the school's religion department of undermining students' Christian faith. Eichhoefer sent six mass e-mails to the faculty, staff, and students, some saying Greenville had drifted from its evangelical identity, the AAUP reports.

School officials at the Illinois liberal arts college told the AAUP they fired Eichhoefer in 2004 because of a budget loss and Eichhoefer's "failure to render satisfactory service."

Not so, the AAUP concluded after a two-month investigation. They reported that Greenville, a member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, did not afford Eichhoefer an appropriate hearing. The committee concluded that Eichhoefer was protected by academic freedom.

"It appears to this committee that Professor Eichhoefer's crusade to reform the college's theological identity, however obnoxious others might have found it, was in significant part an exercise of this freedom," the report stated.

K. Alexander Schmidt, general counsel for Greenville, rejected the AAUP conclusion that Greenville did not follow procedures for terminating faculty during budget cuts.

"Perhaps of even greater disappointment to the college was the AAUP's attempt to discuss matters of theology and religious doctrine," he said, noting Greenville remains committed to its Wesleyan heritage.

Eichhoefer declined to comment about a settlement he reached in March with Greenville.

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