Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Letter to the Boston University Provost—Years of Willful Blindness at the Highest Administrative Levels

The Penn State Syndrome
See No Evil, Hear No Evil—And If You Do,
Be Sure to Ask Only Those Who Did It Whether They Admit To Doing It

The preceding pages document the years of verbal abuse, financial penalties, and bureaucratic retaliation I experienced for speaking-up in a principled way in meetings and memos, and for filing reports of ethical violations and professional misconduct at Boston University.

Seven or eight years into the process, in discouragement that nothing was being done to address the problems I reported to my program Director, my Chairman, and my Dean, I began writing a series of memos that I sent to the highest levels of the Boston University administration. Though the university President and Provost had been on the distribution list for earlier reports I had filed, I realized that my earlier reports may simply have been filed away unread, and wanted to make absolutely sure that the most senior administrators had been informed. In 2006, I began sending reports of ethical violations and professional misconduct to University Provost David Campbell, in 2007 to President Robert Brown, and in 2011 to Provost Campbell’s successor Provost Jean Morrison (who had begun her duties nine months earlier).

The text of the first memo, dated October 11, 2011, I sent directly to Provost Morrison is printed below. Since I had by this date sent a number previous memos covering similar territory to her predecessor (Provost Campbell), and in February of 2011 had submitted a report on these same issues to my Chairman and Dean that was supposed to be forwarded to Provost Morrison’s office, my memo to her assumes extensive prior knowledge of the issues I mention and only summarizes many of the problems I already described in previous memos. Therefore, to assist the reader encountering this material for the first time, I’ll preface the memo by listing a few of the most important items I had covered in previous memos and assumed Provost Morrison was already familiar with at this point. (Many of these issues are also described in slightly more detail in a two-part contribution to the site titled “Ten Years of Administrative Retaliation.”)

The major issues can be sorted into six headings:

1. There were a host of procedural violations by administrators in my College connected with the faculty review and promotion process. The Dean and Chairman gamed the review system to favor candidates they favored in at least three different ways: 1. Votes and discussions at the department level had been deliberately scheduled to exclude the participation of faculty members who were expected to vote differently than the wishes of the Chair or Dean. 2. “Outside” reviewers, individuals supposed to have no prior relationship with the university or candidate had, in fact, secret, undivulged prior connections with the Chair or Dean and had been “lobbied” to vote one way or another by the Chair or Dean; 3. With respect to the input of “internal” departmental reviewers, the Dean had hopelessly prejudiced and compromised the review process by criticizing specific faculty who submitted opinions different from his own—telling them they were being “uncollegial,” they were not “team players,” or that their opinions, insofar as they differed from his own, were not appreciated or useful (and later penalizing their pay and perquisites for not going along with the majority opinion).

2. There were a large number of inappropriate or unethical activities connected with course offerings. Student evaluations, which heavily influence a faculty member’s annual review and future salary, had been rigged by specific faculty members to eliminate or minimize negative responses and create falsely high ratings for the faculty member. Faculty members were known to absent themselves from their own classes, or to delegate significant parts of their class to their T.A.s to run. Graduate students in academic areas were being taught by individuals lacking appropriate academic credentials, experience, or research records. Undergraduate courses were being deceptively re-numbered to suggest that they were being taught at the graduate-level and fulfilled graduate level curricular needs, even as they remained undergraduate course offerings in every other respect, including their enrollments and intellectual level. The students deserve better for their tuition dollars.

3. But it wasn't enough to ignore my reports. The way to stop them once and for all was to attack and undermine me, and to force me to quit by employing a variety of threatening, harassing, and intimidating tactics. My official Boston University faculty web site was censored by the university on a number of occasions and formally and finally banned in the spring of 2008 (making me arguably the only faculty member in America not allowed by his university to have a faculty web site). I was given formal notice of this decision in writing by my Chairman, and the Chairman’s censorship policy was reaffirmed in a meeting I held with the Boston University Provost (to whom I appealed to rescind it), and in several other meetings I held with the Dean of the College of Communication. In concert with the notice to force me to remove my publications from the university server, the university additionally formally threatened to make negative statements about me on the Boston University web site that would destroy my professional status and reputation, and to “bring in the lawyers” (in the oft-repeated words of my Chairman in many different faculty meetings) to tie me up with legal actions and bankrupt me financially, if I did not “voluntarily agree” (a new use of the concept, worthy of China or North Korea) to these acts of censorship against me.

4. In addition to the preceding actions and threats to destroy my reputation and professional stature outside the university, a number of other actions, on numerous occasions spanning a period of years, had been taken to attack and undermine my position inside the university--specifically to censor what I said in the classroom and to undermine my students’ respect for me as a mentor and teacher. I was formally told that I was not allowed to discuss “controversial” material in my classes (which, in my Dean’s definition of the term, chiefly meant discussions of current critical methods and practices and certain gender theory positions). To enforce his policy (and attempt to obtain grounds to get around my tenured status and build a case to dismiss me), the Dean deputed a group of my own students to spy on me in my classes—secretly and without giving notice to me that the spying was going on—and covertly to report back to him if I mentioned any of the “prohibited topics” or "controversial" issues in class. Needless to say, the Dean’s covert and unannounced spying activities represented a flagrant violation of university policy and basic professional respect--and the idea of prohibiting certain topics from being discussed is anathema to any concept of faculty freedom of expression; but none of that stopped him from pursuing his diabolical plan to get rid of me. I'll leave to your imagination the devastating effect such insinuations of misconduct and instructions from a senior administrator to students that they are supposed to "investigate" and report on the potential misconduct of their own teacher have on class morale and on students' respect for their teacher; undermining my position with my students was part of the Dean's plan (and something he even discussed with me at one point). His plan was to destroy me as a teacher, make my teaching impossible, and encourage students never to study with me.

Over the course of several years, three university administrators, one of whom was my Dean, another my Chairman, and the third the Director of Film Studies, and several faculty members (with the full knowledge, support, and encouragement of the administrators) secretly and surreptitiously met with a large number of current and former students of mine, individually and in groups, in a conscious and calculated campaign to undermine my status, reputation, and authority; to discredit me as a teacher and mentor; and to discourage students from taking courses with me. They told my students deliberate and knowing lies about my personality, character, and morals. They attacked my competence as a teacher. They told students not to study with me. These secret, slanderous, malicious meetings to destroy my credibility as a teacher, mentor, and scholar continued for a number of years with the knowledge and support of the College of Communication Dean, my department Chairman, the Director of Film Studies, and several faculty members--and for the record the slanderous attacks, the acts of character-assassination, the attacks on my competence as a teacher and researcher from the the Director of Film Studies in particular (Roy Grundmann) continue right up to the present day and have every appearance of continuing into the future. Students still stream into my office (even as this posting is being made in 2013) telling me they have been told not to study with me, not to take courses with me, or that they have had to sit through lectures attacking my teaching and research from the Director of Film Studies, and been told by him that they will be punished by him if they work with me on a graduate project. 

5. In a series of separate events on separate dates, many of these same administrators and teachers actively pressured students to write a series of “complaint” letters about me, where the idea for the complaints, the nature of the complaints, the points to be covered in the complaint, and the actual wording of the complaint itself was dictated by the administrator or faculty member to the students—and where, in some cases, the actual wording and composition of the “complaint” itself was decided on not by the student, but by the administrator or faculty member—with the student being pressured not only to sign the letter as crafted and created, but to conceal the involvement of the administrator in originating or writing the complaint so that it would look as if it had originated with the student and not been cooked-up by the administrator. (Many students, not surprisingly, were shocked by the high-handedness and unethical nature of these strong-arm tactics and refused to play along with the attempt to put words in their mouths and to frame their teacher with false allegations. But other students felt an almost irresistible pressure to cooperate with the teacher or administrator—particularly in cases where the group meetings were held during class-time by teachers who had discretionary power over the student’s grade, or by teachers or administrators from whom the student desperately needed a favorable letter of recommendation for a job or grad school placement. Beyond that, it should come as no surprise that there are always a few students who receive a low grade in a course who are delighted to have some way to retaliate against the person who gave it to them, particularly once a respected, senior administrator has told them that criticism of the teacher is not only acceptable but is welcome and encouraged.) The suborned and perjured letters were then sent to a senior-level university administrator (sometimes another Dean but more often the university Provost) without revealing their actual origin, without revealing that they had been cooked-up and written-to-order and not been the spontaneous and independent idea of the student whose name appeared on the letter. The goal on the administrators’ parts was a double one: not only to make the conditions of my job untenable by discouraging students from taking my courses (in order to force me to quit, tenure or no tenure), but, equally importantly, to neutralize and nullify the impact of my reports by marginalizing me administratively, by making me (completely falsely) appear to be incompetent and unreliable to senior administrators.

6. Finally, in separate efforts intended to further undermine my status and reputation, and to humiliate me in front of students, I was screamed at, called names, and had my character, morals, and mental competence attacked by my Chairman and Dean in public places where students were present. (These public dressings-down were only, as it were, the continuation of the name-calling and ridicule I endured behind closed doors in months of meetings organized by my Chairman, my program Director, and as recently as December 2012, by my Dean.)

To repeat: These are some of the chief issues (there are many others that I don't have space to list that are mentioned or alluded to on other pages of this blog) that are only summarized in my letter to Provost Morrison, since I had already reported these events and others on numerous previous occasions to her and to other Boston University administrators.

I'd note parenthetically that that my accounts of these events and actions against me are not merely baseless, unfounded or vague he-said/she-said allegations on my part. Not only had all of the events I had reported to Boston University administrators been documented in copious detail in my reports (including in reports I filed with the University Ombuds--see other pages of this blog for information about them), but almost all of them included easily producable documents, witnesses, and other components. There had been official documents and paperwork connected with the acts of censorship and ultimate suppression of my web site. The threat that the university would make an internet posting destroying my professional reputation had been given to me by my Chairman in writing. The group events had included large numbers of others who had witnessed or participated in them. Many of the meetings where faculty and administrators had met with students to attack my character and morals had been held in classes or other large group situations. The public ceremonies of humiliation where I had been yelled at and called names by administrators in front of students had been held in public and had numerous student witnesses--that was their point! And the sessions of shouting and verbal abuse that took place in faculty meetings had had numerous faculty witnesses. These events were highly documented and easily provable. 

For the Provost’s response to the following memo (and to others I have written her subsequently), please see the note at the bottom of the page.

* * *

Department of Film and Television
College of Communication
Boston University
640 Commonwealth Ave.
Boston, MA 02215

Provost Jean Morrison
Boston University
Office of the Provost
One Silber Way
8th Floor
Boston, MA 02215

Dear Provost Morrison:

I am a senior, tenured professor in the College of Communication Department of Film and Television. I have given the better part of my career (23 years and counting) to Boston University, and at different points have served as both Director of Film Studies and department Chairman. I have an extensive publication record and a high public profile (dozens of interviews for major media and internet outlets). I am writing because I feel I am being forced, against my natural inclination, to take actions that will have a seriously adverse impact on the reputation of the university, the administration, and student recruitment. I’d ask your indulgence, as I explain what has brought me to this moment. I apologize for the length of what follows, but it is dictated by the fact that it is necessary for me to summarize a series of events that spanned many years.

President Brown has placed great emphasis on the importance of high standards of ethical conduct, including “dealing with others honestly and in good faith,” “being respectful of the rights of others,” and “not taking advantage of another person.” I quote from the “Boston University Code of Ethical Conduct” and the documents that accompany it. He has said that “deans, directors, department heads, and other supervisors are responsible for fostering respect for the values embodied in the Code and for promoting compliance with it….. [and that] university employees who have questions or concerns about … possible unethical behavior … should speak with their supervisors ….” The Code also mentions the possibility of serious penalties associated with a supervisor’s “failure to report a violation or … withholding information relating to a violation.”

These are fine words, but personal experience has shown me that the reality is quite different. Over the past eight or more years, and throughout the entire period of time President Brown has led the university, I have documented a number of acts of professional misconduct, unethical behavior, and procedural violation by a small number of individuals in the College of Communication, which I either directly experienced or witnessed. The violations were all over the map and took place at every level—the legacy of thirty-five years of administrative high-handedness and bureaucratic entitlement inculcated and rewarded by a previous Boston University President and the administration he put in place under him. (I’d note that the university culture of those decades is far from dead and that many of the same personnel still hold the same offices.)

The misbehavior ranged from a Chairman who extorted unearned “Producer” (or other) credits from present and former film students in order to falsify his resume and justify his merit pay raises; to a Dean who bureaucratically bullied and punished, in appallingly brutal and deliberately humiliating ways, faculty members who dared to express independent points of view about administrative or curricular issues; to department members who absented themselves from their own classes (having a TA perform their duties), or devoted much of their class time to having students sit in the dark watching a movie; to a program Director who rigged the course evaluation system to prevent negative student evaluations from being submitted prior to his review for promotion; to a Chairman who pressured supposedly independent outside evaluators to submit favorable reviews of preferred candidates for promotion even as he concealed his connection and communication with the evaluators from the committees who would later read their assessments; to serious violations of confidentiality during faculty promotion and tenure reviews; to a Chairman who used College of Communication staff, facilities, and budgets to run his personal, for-profit movie-producing business out of his office; to a Dean who falsified his résumé and lied about his background; to a Provost who, in a blatant (but undisclosed) conflict of interest, appointed himself the official head of the Inquiry Committee charged with investigating the former Dean of the College of Communication, even though the Provost was a close personal friend of the Dean. (Needless to say, a few months later, the Provost exonerated his pal from all of the charges leveled against him.) Nor is that the end of the list. I’ll cite a number of other acts of professional misconduct by administrators and department faculty below, which represent additional equally grave ethical violations as well as serious threats to academic freedom of expression and to the free-speech protections that academic tenure is supposed to represent. All of these events took place in the past eight years.

In line with the imperative that I should “speak with [my] supervisors” about these and other events, I repeatedly communicated my concerns in a series of memos, reports, emails, and face-to-face meetings with (depending on the particular event) my program Director, my current and previous Chairman, my current and previous Dean, and the previous Provost. To make absolutely sure the information reached senior administrative levels (since it became clear early in the process that it would not be passed along in the normal course of events), I also summarized some of the events and mentioned some of the reports I had submitted or meetings I had held with my supervisors in the “Additional Information” sections of my faculty annual reports—since, as you know, these reports pass through all of the major administrative levels at the university, from the office of the department Chairman, to the office of the college Dean, to the office of the university Provost. I have included information about academic misconduct in the “Additional Information” section of every annual report I have submitted in the past eight or nine years. But the obvious problem I faced was that in almost every case, I was reporting the violations to the same people who were the violators (or to the people who worked with or directly under them). Not a recipe for decisive bureaucratic action.

Given the above, I guess I should not have been surprised that, throughout the entire period of time that I submitted these reports or asked for meetings with administrators to express my concerns in person, not a single investigation was launched and no action was taken in response to anything I reported to my program Director, my Chairman, my Dean, or the Provost; there was not even a pretense of contemplating launching an inquiry or investigation, or of speaking to an offender about his actions. Proof of that was that was not only that the misconduct continued, but that I was not once asked to provide additional information about any of the issues or concerns I had raised, nor asked by my past and current Chairman or Dean to meet in person to discuss the issues with them. (All of the subsequent meetings with administrators that did take place were at my own initiative and request, generally after months had gone by without any response whatsoever to what I had written or told an administrator.) In the event, the follow-up meetings that took place at my request were as much a waste of my time as the original written or spoken statements. Nothing came of any of them. In fact, most of the meetings consisted of little more than my sitting or standing in front of the administrator and being mocked, derided, criticized, or called names for having reported what I had—or having my report simply denied and dismissed out of hand with an insulting personal remark—with no real inquiry or discussion of what I had reported taking place at all. The previous Dean loudly shouted me down, made nasty, personal remarks, and flew into table-thumping fits of anger at me. (He was well-known for his out-of-control rages.) The current Dean (a much milder man) simply rejected my statements, with no discussion of them whatsoever, telling me that he had “been warned” that I was a known “troublemaker” and that he hoped I would stop making “trouble” in the future. (I’ll have more to say about this particular meeting below.)

But verbal abuse is one thing and bureaucratic retaliation something else. At these meetings, and in several written communications with me, various administrators made a number of veiled—or not-so-veiled—threats about the negative consequences my ethics reports would have on my career. I was told that my annual evaluations would be lowered, my merit pay withheld, and that other normal and customary academic perquisites, including support for necessary research and travel, would be denied if I didn’t shut up and “change my behavior”—on the grounds that by making such reports I was being “uncollegial” and not being “a team player” (two of my former Chairman’s favorite phrases) or was “alienating [my] colleagues” or being a “troublemaker” (my current Dean’s preferred phrases).

The long course of retaliatory actions, some of which I will list below, that were taken against me subsequent to these various reports and meetings, and that extended over many years, have convinced me that when it was discovered that I wouldn’t be silenced by threats and intimidation, the strategy was changed to attempting to force me to quit by making the performance of my duties as difficult as possible. So much for the value of tenure at Boston University. The possession of tenure by a faculty member is, in effect, rendered worthless—since if the faculty member can’t be fired by an administrator because of tenure, his or her job can still be made so intolerable and his treatment by administrators and colleagues can be made so painful that the faculty member can still be forced to quit—“voluntarily.”

The administrative punishments doled out over a period of years, and continuing up to the present day, have taken too many different forms to list them all, but suffice it to say that my annual evaluations (which had formerly been superlative—I had previously been cited as one of the most accomplished and productive members of the faculty and had been nominated by my Dean or my students for teaching awards on multiple occasions) have taken a nosedive; my pay has been negatively affected; previously promised (and previously granted) research funding and support for my publications has been completely withdrawn; my classes have been assigned to comically unsuitable classrooms and scheduled at inappropriate times; I have been loudly and abusively badgered, berated, and called names in meetings and in public places in front of students, strangers, and junior colleagues by a Dean, a Chairman, and other department members with the apparent goal not only of verbally harassing me, but of embarrassing me and undermining my status as a teacher and mentor in front of my students and others; I have been told to remove all of my writing from the university server because my opinions did not meet with the approval of the Boston University administration (my Chairman drew up a formal edict ordering me to do this, and informed me that the censorship policy had been personally approved by the former Provost, a fact I confirmed in a personal meeting with the Provost); I have been told that I am not allowed to say certain things in my classes, when I give interviews to the media, and in my written work; and, most scandalously in my view, my students have been told scandalously derogatory (and false) things about me and have been pressured by senior faculty members and administrators to submit made-to-order complaints against me (with several faculty members and administrators actually coaching the students about what to write or ghost-writing the supposed “student” complaints). These actions continued over a period of many years.

Beyond the direct effect of these punishments on the person being punished, the chilling and intimidating effect of these efforts to retaliate against, discourage, and mute academic freedom of expression on the entire university culture is incalculable. Word does not take long to get out that some things have not changed at Boston University with the installation of Robert Brown as President. This is the way, for more than thirty years, previous BU administrators retaliated against professors (Howard Zinn and others) who thought, spoke, or acted independently—who dared to question authority, or to think or say things the administration did not approve of or agree with; and past policies to monitor, control, and censor faculty expression clearly remain in place and continue to be implemented by the new administration. (For a further twist on the attempt to control faculty members’ expressions, I would refer you to a memo I wrote last spring about my Dean’s monitoring of what faculty write on their computers, and who they talk to and what they talk about on the telephone. It was given to the university Ombuds, but as far as I can tell, there has been absolutely no response to it, from her or anyone else in the administration.)

The course of systematic, orchestrated administrative retaliation I have described is impossible to dispute. The events associated with it are part of the public record; the charges that I was being uncollegial (made on no other grounds than that I had expressed my independent opinions and views about things going on in the college and department), and the accompanying lowering of my evaluations as a result were made in writing; the pressuring and coaching of students to complain was done in public, group meetings; the ceremonies of humiliation administered by my Dean and Chairman were staged in public places in front of others; my Chairman read the edict about removing all of my writing from the university server to me at a formal department meeting in front of the entire faculty; the instructions about what I am not allowed to say were said to me in front of others on some occasions or put in writing on others; the suborned letters that students were pressured to write were personally solicited, gathered together, and sent in in batches by specific administrators and faculty members in public events (not to mention that many of the formal “complaints” about me came from students who had never even met me or had a conversation with me); etc.; etc.. If an additional confirmation of the pay side of the punishment is needed, in a meeting with the university Ombuds within the past year, my current Dean confirmed that my pay is and, for a number of years, has been at least “30 to 40 thousand dollars behind” that of my colleagues, none of whom I would note is as senior as I, has been at the university as long as I have, or has the publication record, public visibility, or even the teaching skills (and glowing evaluations to prove it) that I do.

When it became apparent that I would never get anywhere with College of Communication administrators, and in fact was being punished for appealing to them for fair treatment, I made an appointment to see the previous Provost (David Campbell) to tell him about the departmental misconduct I had observed and been subject to. (I also gave him copies of several of my earlier written reports.) But that meeting was as unsuccessful as any of the meetings at lower administrative levels. The Provost told me he did not take anything I reported seriously, nor would he be taking action based on it, since, as he (to my complete surprise, since it had nothing to do with our meeting) reminded me, two years earlier I had been one of the leaders of the movement to remove a Dean of the College of Communication (the individual with anger-management issues I already described) whom he characterized as his “good friend,” and whom, he told me, I (and others) had “misunderstood” and been “wrong about.” In short, having taken that principled stand (but on the wrong side, against the Provost’s “good friend”), I had been put on his bad list and would not be allowed to cause any more administrative “problems.” The lesson is obvious. I would be punished for having helped to remove one of the most dangerously destructive administrators in Boston University history (not counting John Silber of course), because he had been Campbell’s pal.

I assume it doesn’t need to be pointed out that this failure to report a violation or … withholding information relating to a violation” (quoting the “Code of Ethical Conduct” again) by the administrators to whom I relayed my concerns (a program Director, a Chairman, a Dean, a Provost), and, even more egregiously, the punitive administrative responses I received for submitting these reports and holding these meetings adds a second, equally or even more serious layer of ethical violation and professional misconduct to the story. Those who didn’t act on the reports I tendered—or who punished me for submitting them—were, in effect, as ethically derelict as the individuals I was reporting about. I incorporated accounts of this additional layer of misconduct in my subsequent reports and statements. (I leave aside, as another category of failure, the failure of Boston University administrators to act on my formal, written appeals of my negative annual evaluations and the ensuing negative consequences on my pay, in explicit violation of the provisions of the BU Faculty Handbook.)

Though because of the multi-year nature of the reporting, some of the information I provided was given to university administrators who have now moved on to other positions (e.g. a previous Chairman, a previous Dean, and a previous Provost), I want to emphasize that I continued to relay information about ethical violations and the professional misconduct and bureaucratic punishments to which I continued to be subjected to their replacements or their deputies, and continued to update my initial reports with the addition of new, more recently occurring facts and events. However, I am sorry to report that the response (or non-response) I received from the new occupants of these offices, or their deputies, to my reports was not substantively different from the response (or non-response) of the previous occupants of these offices. My new Chairman and my new Dean took more or less the same tack as the individuals they replaced.

In the case of the Dean of the College of Communication who was appointed approximately three years ago, I submitted several fresh reports to him beginning in the fall of 2008, which summarized some of the past and continuing professional misbehavior in my department. In addition, the information I put in the “Additional Information” sections of my annual reports, from the calendar year 2007 reporting period and later, also passed through his hands. When several months went by without a response, I requested a personal meeting with him to discuss the issues I had raised. I wish I could say that he treated my input more professionally than his predecessor, but, as I noted above, this was the meeting where he told me that he did not need to check any of the facts I had written him about, would not be taking any action based on my account, and felt he did not need to take my report seriously, because—to quote his exact words—I was a known “troublemaker” he had been “warned” to “watch out for.” (His logic was actually unassailable, since the “trouble” I had made and was continuing to make, as he made clear to me, was that I had written these reports and submitted similar ones in previous years.) He issued a warning to me and told me that he hoped I would agree not to “make trouble” (i.e. not submit such reports or say such things about department administrators or colleagues) in the future. He laid it down as a condition he expected me to live up to if I wanted to restore myself to his good graces. (He called it “wiping the slate clean.”) The logic is quite amazing. My reporting of administrative misconduct was, in the Dean’s mind, clearly the only misconduct that needed to be dealt with. My reports of problems were, in his view, the problem. In that scenario, he made it clear that I was the problem that needed to be addressed, and I was not to misbehave in that way again. To say the obvious, it was not the administrative response to reports of professional misconduct and personal mistreatment that I had expected—nor the response that the “Code of Ethical Conduct” dictates.

I have already listed some of the punitive administrative measures that my current Dean (in collaboration with a previous department Chairman and his successor) has taken in response to my memos. Notwithstanding his gentler demeanor, there was no real change from the treatment I had received under the previous Dean. The new Dean’s “shoot the messenger” (or “punish the troublemaker”) response continued the response of the Dean who preceded him, and has been maintained throughout the three years he has been in the Dean’s office. The only action he has taken in response to my submission of these reports has been to vilify, criticize, or mock me for submitting them and to endorse the low evaluations, penalties to my pay and perquisites, cancelling of research funds, unsuitable classrooms and schedules, and host of other administrative punishments that have been and continue to be doled out to me.

To bring the account up to the present, and give a concrete illustration of the personal nature of the response I have received from my current Dean, I’d reference an email exchange I had with him only two weeks ago. In reply to a note he wrote attacking my character and professional conduct as a teacher, I sat down and wrote him a detailed, 8000-word reply summarizing many of the ethical issues I had already reported to him, and bringing the account up to the present moment. I honestly wanted to give him one more opportunity to take my words more seriously than he had in the past. However, true to the form of his past responses, his entire response to what I wrote him consisted of a two-sentence email—in which, in the first sentence, he mocked the length of the memo I had sent him; and, in the second sentence, described my character with an obscene metaphor. Since he sent his satiric reply less than 24 hours after I sent my memo to him, he clearly spent no time making inquiries about the actions and events I described (nor clearly even very much time thinking about them). So much for my hopes that one final appeal to his sense of personal fairness and ethical conduct would be taken more seriously than my earlier appeals had been. (A note to the reader: I reprint the memo I wrote to my Dean objecting to his attempts to control what I say to my students in a site posting titled “How Marketing and Branding Considerations Limit What Teachers Can Tell Their Students—or Suggest That They Read,” and reprint the texts of two other memos I wrote about the surreptitious surveillance of faculty communications at Boston University on two other pages under the titles: “The Monitoring and Control of Faculty Emails, Phone Calls, and Personal Expression in the Boston University College of Communication" and "Violations of Privacy and Confidentiality--A Continuing BU Saga.")

To indicate the persistence of my reporting in terms of keeping the Provost’s Office informed, since it has also changed some of its staffing in the past few years, I’d note that I re-submitted much of the information I had already provided the previous Provost (both in its original form and in augmented and updated versions that brought the account up into the present) to Associate Provost Julie Sandell shortly after she was appointed to her position in 2009. I requested a personal meeting with her in her office in November of that year, and gave her approximately 100 pages documenting the punishments that had been meted out by administrators in response to my reports of ethical issues. In the past two years, I have continued sending related material to her on a regular basis.

It’s only fair to add that the reception I received from Associate Provost Sandell was by far the most supportive, encouraging, and highly professional I received from a Boston University administrator during the entire period of time covered by this narrative. My meetings with her were, in fact, the first time in eight years that my concerns about professional misconduct in the College of Communication were actually listened to and taken seriously. Associate Provost Sandell told me that she was extremely sympathetic with my situation, in part because she had heard about experiences of other faculty members in the College of Communication that were similar to mine. However, after she familiarized herself with the documents I gave her, she followed up in a second personal meeting by telling me that she simply could not help me. She said the events were beyond her power or ability to address, and asked me to allow her to forward the material to Francine Montemurro, who had been appointed university Ombuds a few weeks earlier.

That then leads to the final chapter in the saga. In late 2009, I met with the university Ombuds in her office and, at her request, subsequently gave her copies of additional written material beyond what I had given Associate Provost Sandell (more than 300 pages of documentation in all, complete with names, dates, and detailed descriptions of events involving the professional misconduct of a small number of individuals and the ensuing administrative mistreatment I had experienced). I told her that, as much as I was giving her (several inches of memos and reports), I could provide even more documentary material if she had the stamina (or file cabinet space!) to deal with it. The documents I gave Ms. Montemurro covered the entire history of ethical violations and professional misconduct that had taken place (and continued to take place) in the College of Communication from 2003 on, along with detailed accounts of the failure of college and university administrators to act on the reports I had made to them, and lengthy descriptions and documentation connected with the administrative retaliation I had experienced (and continued to experience) for submitting the reports and making the statements I had to administrators. (I’d also note that in the close to two-year period of time that has now elapsed since I provided the original material to Ms. Montemurro, I have continued to update and augment the original packet of material with new documentation covering events that have taken place since then.) Though the misconduct I documented extended beyond my own personal treatment, and negatively affected many other faculty and staff members’ careers in the college (a number of whom resigned their positions or were forced out of the college in the past eight years), I listed four specific remedies I was requesting to, however partially and belatedly, rectify the unfair personal treatment and administrative punishments I had personally received.

After familiarizing herself with this material, Ms. Montemurro, like Associate Provost Sandell, assured me that she had great sympathy with my situation, and, again like Associate Provost Sandell, told me that she too had heard similar, corroborating stories from other individuals in the College of Communication. That was more than eighteen months ago; as far as I can tell, despite Ms. Montemurro’s supportive response to the material I gave her, no significant administrative action has yet been taken to remedy the situation I described. My understanding is that Ms. Montemurro has had several conversations with some of the individuals I named in my reports, including the conversation with my Dean that I already cited where he verified that my pay has indeed, for a number of years, been set to be significant lower than that of my junior colleagues. But based on my own personal experience, I can say that nothing of a substantive nature has changed in the administrative treatment of me (my Dean’s recent sarcastic email to me criticizing the message I sent to my students, and his subsequent mocking reply to the response I sent him can stand as a summary of how I continue to be treated as recently as two weeks ago), no correction of my pay or evaluations has taken place, and none of the four actions I requested of Ms. Montemurro to remedy my specific situation has been taken.

I have had several conversations over the course of the past year with Ms. Montemurro about my frustration with the failure of the administration to take action to remedy my situation, and have also written her several memos that deal with this subject. I explained to her that at the point I gave the material to the Ombuds Office, I had sincerely believed President Brown’s words that the “new BU,” and his administration would deal with past and present unfair and discriminatory treatment in a principled and decisive way, but that I was increasingly losing faith in the reporting system and in the willingness of the BU administration to correct past and current abuses—or even to acknowledge their existence.

To bring the narrative up into the recent past, early in the spring semester of the current year (on February 9, 2011), out of frustration with the continuing administrative failure to respond to my concerns and with the absence of substantive action on the part of the university Ombuds, I wrote directly to President Robert Brown and described, in summary form, some of the professional misconduct I had both witnessed and experienced at the hands of College of Communication administrators. It was shortly after the first anniversary of the death of Howard Zinn (which I pointed out), and my hope was that direct communication with the President about the unfair, harassing, and abusive treatment I had experienced would at least get the investigative ball rolling. Unfortunately, however (and to my surprise), my memo to President Brown met with more or less the same result as my previous communications with Boston University administrators under him (with the exception of Associate Provost Sandell). President Brown never replied to my memo, never asked to hear more, never asked to meet with me, and, as far as I have been able to ascertain, never made any independent inquiries or took any action in response to what I had written him. I certainly saw or was informed of no results. (To complete the record, I would note that this was not the first time I expressed concerns about the pedagogical and intellectual integrity of policies and procedures in the College of Communication directly to President Brown. I wrote him similar memos several other times in previous years, and those memos had met with the same non-response that this most recent one did.)

So that’s how things currently stand. Not only has nothing been done—by my Chairman, my Dean, the Office of the Provost, or the President—in response to the reports I made over a period of eight years, to the material I provided the university Ombuds in the fall of 2009 and spring of 2010, or to any of the additional follow-up information and reports I sent to Ms. Montemurro, Associate Provost Sandell, President Brown, and other university administrators—but I have not even been accorded the courtesy of receiving a meaningful response from a single member of the administration—beyond the general expressions of “sympathy” from Associate Provost Sandell and Ms. Montemurro. To repeat what I wrote earlier: The only administrative “reply,” if it can be dignified with that term, has been the anger, sarcasm, derision, and eight-plus years of verbal abuse and punitive, retaliatory actions I have described earlier in this letter: the punitive evaluations, the hits to my pay, the withdrawal of financial support, the execrable teaching schedule, etc.. 

There is no other way for me to interpret the state of non-response that continues into the present except as being one more illustration of BU’s actual treatment of faculty members who raise issues about ethical violations or who call attention to acts of serious professional misconduct—a state of administrative non-response that, on top of everything else and in addition to all of the previous events, counts as one more set of violations of the “Boston University Code of Ethical Conduct.” The administrative non-response of the past two years is additional evidence (if additional evidence were needed!) that reports about professional misconduct and mistreatment submitted to senior administrators are not discussed, not investigated, not corrected, and, in fact, not even replied to. (To say the obvious, I don’t count being yelled at, called names, mocked, or dressed-down in public in front of students, colleagues, and others as a valid reply.) Despite protestations and PR to the contrary, the BU of the past clearly lives on in the Brown administration.

My most recent memo to Ombuds Montemurro expressing dismay about the lack of administrative response to the information I have provided was sent to her via email on June 18, 2011. I include the text of that memo following this letter. (I’d note that in order to keep the Provost’s Office as fully informed as possible about the ethical issues I have raised and my continuing need to receive redress for the unethical, unprofessional ways I have been treated, I carboned Associate Provost Sandell when I sent this memo, just as I have carboned Associate Provost Sandell on, or sent her hard copies of, most of my previous communications with Ms. Montemurro.) In that memo, I explained that although I had scrupulously kept my reports “in house” and attempted to “work within the system” up to that point, the only remaining course of action I saw available to me, due to the non-response at all levels, was to “go public” with what I had observed and documented—both in terms of the behavior of colleagues and administrators and in terms of the administrative retaliation I have personally experienced (and continue to experience) for reporting the events I have. I said that, as reluctant as I was to take action outside the university system, and as destructive to the college and university as such action would inevitably be, it seemed that this course of action was being forced on me.

I would have thought that that memo at least would have received a response, but, par for the course and true to form, it too was accorded no response whatsoever—either from the Provost’s Office, another BU administrator, or the university Ombuds. It has now been more than three months and it has still not even been acknowledged, let alone replied to by anyone (including the university Ombuds). The university is nothing if not consistent. The BU administration and now the Ombuds Office are maintaining a perfect record of not dealing with faculty reports of professional misconduct.

I am writing today to give the university one final opportunity to address these issues in a timely way to keep them in-house. For something like eight years by this point, I have scrupulously kept all of my communications and appeals for redress inside the system. I have declined numerous requests from the media and others to air my grievances publicly. I have been an absolute and complete team-player in this respect, even as I have endured numerous insults, indignities, and outright punishments for filing the internal reports that I have. I find it hard to believe that it is really the desire of the administration to force me to go public about these issues—to post them on a blog or to speak to reporters about them.

Surely verbal abuse, denial, dismissiveness, name-calling, sarcastic come-backs, and punitive actions (my program Director’s, Chairman’s, and Dean’s responses) or see-no-evil silence and head-in-the-sand denial (the response I have received from higher levels of the university administration) are not the only reactions BU administrators are capable of when they receive reports of professional misconduct from a senior faculty member. Surely this is not the way reports about professional misconduct from senior faculty are supposed to be treated according to President Brown’s “Code of Ethical Conduct.”

Even at this late date, eight or more years into the administrative mistreatment and personal abuse I have been accorded in response to my reports, and almost two years after I met with and communicated these issues to the university Ombuds, I am hoping that there is a desire, however overdue, to redress the treatment I have received and continue to receive. The culture of the university and the educational life of its students are the real losers. The students deserve better.


Ray Carney
Professor of Film and American Studies

Author of: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism and the Movies (Cambridge University Press); The Films of Mike Leigh: Embracing the World (Cambridge University Press); Speaking the Language of Desire: The Films of Carl Dreyer (Cambridge University Press); American Vision: The Films of Frank Capra (Cambridge University Press); American Dreaming (University of California Press at Berkeley); Shadows (British Film Institute/Macmillan); Cassavetes on Cassavetes (Faber and Faber/Farrar, Straus); The Adventure of Insecurity; Necessary Experiences; Why Art Matters; and other books, essays, and editions, translated into more than ten languages.

Web site: (ordered to be removed from the university server and suspended at the demand of my Chairman, Dean, and Provost)

cc: President Robert Brown
     Associate Provost Julie Sandell
     Francine Montemurro, University Ombuds

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The reader may, naturally enough, be interested in the Provost’s response to the preceding memo—or her response to any of the subsequent memos and emails I have sent her. It won’t take long to describe. As has been the case with all of my other reports of ethical violations in my College, and my descriptions of the financial, bureaucratic, and personal retaliation I have experienced for making such reports, Provost Morrison did not offer a single word of reply. Not a token “thank you for expressing your concerns” note. Not a “we’ll look into it” note. Not a “let’s meet to discuss this” note. Nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. Silence.

In the eighteen months since I wrote the memo I reprint above, I have followed it up with additional reports to the Provost and other administrators on related topics, with numerous requests for action, and with multiple requests to meet and discuss the issues I have raised--to brainstorm how best to deal with them and resolve them. Those memos have also gone unresponded to. The Provost has not written me a single word in reply. Nor has any other BU administrator. 

Let it stand as a lesson for faculty members considering a job at Boston University. I am not describing the Silber era; this is the way the current university administration treats serious, important memos from senior faculty members. This is the way the “new BU” deals with reports of professional misconduct. It doesn’t respond to them; it doesn’t take them seriously; it doesn’t even offer them the token courtesy of a reply. Its only response is to dock the pay and lower the evaluation of the faculty member making the report. And to reschedule his classes without his permission, move him into unsuitable classrooms and times, assign him course overloads, and take away his research support. That should tell you a lot about the institution. A faculty or staff member considering an offer to work at BU might give it some thought. — R.C.

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To read a summary of the past decade of financial and bureaucratic punishments, pedagogical failures, violations of academic freedom, verbal harassment, threats to destroy Prof. Carney's reputation via web postings and to bankrupt him with legal actions, and a variety of other forms of administrative misconduct and academic misbehavior at Boston University, see: “A Summary—Ten Years at Boston University,” available under June 2014 in the side menu on any page.