Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Part 2: Ten years of Administrative Retaliation for Speaking Up to Defend the Freedom of Academic Expression Inside and Outside the Classroom

An overview of the situation of a faculty member who dared to speak “truth to power” at Boston University. The university has a long and ignoble history of bureaucratic, financial, and personal retaliation against faculty members who write memos or speak up at meetings to express ideas the administration does not agree with. (Part 1 appears on the preceding page of this blog.)

My Dean’s and my Chairman’s actions (described in Part 1 of this posting) raise important questions about the university attitude toward (and treatment of) public intellectuals. Public intellectuals are lauded if they talk about (and locate) problems elsewhere in society, but are criticized and punished if they turn their attention to what goes on in universities. The modern corporate American university, like the rest of modern corporate America, puts a premium on unanimity of opinion and homogeneity of expression, and penalizes genuine diversity of points of view. There is of course much lip service given to something called “diversity”—i.e., racial, ethnic, and sexual diversity; however, intellectual diversity, the expression of genuinely new, different, or—God help us—unpopular or controversial ideas and opinions, the only kind of diversity that means anything intellectually—is frowned on. Like other corporations, the educational corporation aspires to speak with one voice—a sanitized, safe, uncontroversial, politically-correct voice—since the goal is never to offend or upset anyone—particularly anyone with money, anyone who wields the power of the purse, like students, grant officers, politicians, or alumni contributors. The goal is to “build a brand” (there has been much appallingly straight-faced discussion in this vein in my college) that will upset no one, change nothing, and threaten nothing that really matters—particularly cherished beliefs. But this is the opposite of the true function of a university and the death of true education—which is to allow everything, absolutely everything, to be looked at, questioned, examined, and re-thought where necessary. These “branding” discussions, pointedly, focus not on how to better educate students, how to get them to see the limitations of their current understandings and preferences, but about how to please them and teach to their desires—once more in the service of getting tuition dollars out of their pockets and burdening them with ever larger student loans.

There is too much to say on the subject of substituting marketing considerations for educational ones, so I’ll limit myself to mentioning one more event that recently took place. My Dean vehemently objected to my raising a few fundamental questions with my students (questions about the real purpose of their education, and the relation of an education to a career and of a career to a life) in an email I sent them. The Dean’s angry argument (he actually swore at me in the memo) was that raising questions about the ultimate meaning and value of the students’ educational experience could counteract the positive “branding and marketing campaign” he was conducting to increase enrollments and bring in tuition dollars, and that such questions were hence, in my Dean’s mind, forbidden topics for a professor to raise with his students. In a nasty, sarcastic critique of my actions, the Dean told me I should not have said what I did to my students. One of the things he went ballistic over was that, in the email I sent them, I included a link to an article questioning the ultimate value of a film degree that had appeared in The New York Times—that’s an article in The Times, not a link to something by Noam Chomsky or Karl Marx! My Dean made clear that articles like the one in The Times are not things I am supposed to be exposing my students to. They are apparently too controversial, too subversive, too dangerous to the marketing message for Boston University film students to grapple with. That should tell someone everything they need to know about his view of education and the role of the teacher in my College—not to mention his opinion of the intellectual ability of the students in the College. They should be picketing his office to protest his contempt for their intellect. They should be protesting that he has such a low opinion of the educational process that he actually goes on the record to flame a teacher who doesn’t think it is right when the marketing tail is allowed to wag the educational dog.

In what I wrote him in reply I tried to explain why these issues (i.e. about the value and purpose of an education) were important ones for a teacher to raise with his students—and specifically why sending my students links to articles in the New York Times and elsewhere was an important part of my duties as a teacher; but my Dean’s mocking, sarcastic, and completely dismissive response demonstrated one more time (if it weren’t already abundantly clear) that everything I said represented a vision of education that not only had never occurred to him before, but that was something he still couldn’t wrap his mind around even after I had spent several thousand words trying to explain it to him. (I include the full text of my reply to the Dean on a later page of this blog titled “How Marketing and Branding Considerations Limit What Teachers Can Tell Their Students—or Suggest That They Read.”)

Given the course my College has been on for the past nine or ten years (an intellectual “race to the bottom,” as some of my colleagues call it), my Dean’s response did not really come as a surprise. Like many other BU administrators my Dean lacked significant academic experience in the academy prior to his appointment. (It’s all the rage for universities to hire professional fund-raisers in an era where the politicians are not the only ones devoting their careers to round-the-clock fund-raising.) The Dean spent his previous career in corporate America, and has clearly internalized its values, where you don’t ask fundamental questions or raise difficult issues. You “sell a product” to a “customer”—in this instance, a college degree to students. You don’t ask people to think deeply about purposes and values and the meaning of their lives; you just yammer a sales pitch, convincing the customer that the commodity he or she has purchased is worth the tens of thousands of dollars and multiple years of his or her life required to obtain it. If the past is prologue, I am bracing myself for one more hit on my annual evaluations and pay as a result of that exchange. The beat—and the beating—goes on. (A note: The preceding sentence was written shortly before I was informed that my pay in the upcoming year would indeed be negatively affected for, among other things, having sent those emails and internet links to my students.)

In short, the modern American corporate university, like its close cousin the modern American corporation, puts financial considerations ahead of educational ones, and analyzes educational projects (including faculty publications and a teacher’s exchanges with his students, in my case) not in terms of their educational benefit, but their potential effect on the bottom line. The educational experience takes a backseat to budgetary considerations, and the educational process is never allowed to pose questions that might jeopardize fund-raising, grant support, or alumni boosterism. As a professor friend of mine put it, the “cost” of education, in this state of affairs, is education itself—which gets dumbed-down or forgotten in the relentless competition universities (and professors!) wage with each other for students, grants, and alumni support. The budgetary—or enrollment—tail wags the educational dog. Meanwhile, as it didn’t take the Occupy Wall Street protestors to point out, the ballooning cost of college tuitions (required to pay the ridiculous salaries of the very administrators who are setting these mistaken priorities) staggers generations of students under the weight of loans they may never be able to work their way out from under—no matter how many false promises about the value of their degrees and the glorious careers that await them are self-promotingly proffered by the schools they are persuaded to attend.

Now none of the preceding observations is particularly new or original. Everything I am saying is really just common sense and conventional wisdom. And there is nothing terribly controversial about any of it, beyond the fact that it is being said by a university faculty member rather than an outsider, and the fact that it is being said out loud rather than merely whispered or muttered under the faculty member’s breath during or after a meeting. When someone who is actually a member of a university raises these kinds of issues in public, or, for that matter, raises them behind closed doors in a committee or staff meeting, he or she is ostracized or retaliated against as betraying the institution—or “pissing in your own soup” as my current Dean vulgarly put it in a recent memo excoriating me for having informed my students about the challenges of the job market in an email I sent to them that apparently veered too close to the truth. A faculty member who says such things must be penalized—or marginalized and made irrelevant. It’s worth noting that, on top of the other punishments that have been administered to me, I have also been removed from (or excluded from service on) university committees where these sorts of issues might come up and be discussed—e.g., committees in charge of admissions, curricular matters, and faculty reviews, promotions, and hiring. It is apparently too dangerous to give me a platform to express my views, even to other faculty members within Boston University. Who knows what might happen if I actually persuaded a few others to go along with my ideas? My Chairman actually cited this as his reason for removing me from a graduate admissions committee I had previously chaired, after I expressed my opposition to the Dean’s dictates about lowering admissions standards to bring in more tuition dollars. He told me that if he left me on the committee he was afraid I would persuade other faculty members to agree with me about the importance of maintaining academic standards and consequently might jeopardize the execution of the Dean’s goals. So much for the virtues of discussion and debate at Boston University. The only kind of faculty input that is wanted—or tolerated—on the admissions committee is unequivocal, unthinking, obedient academic hucksterism.

The censorship I’ve personally experienced is part of a larger system of surveillance and control of expression at Boston University. The college I teach in, the College of Communication (ironically named in the light of what follows) can stand as an example. The current Dean of the college is the same guy I have already mentioned a couple times (the guy who eviscerated me for raising philosophical issues about the meaning of education with my students), a fellow named Tom Fiedler. Unlike the Dean who preceded him, Fiedler is not a total disaster as a human being, but being a normal human being is not sufficient to qualify one to be a university Dean. It takes a lot of knowledge and insight into how a large, complex academic organization devoted to scholarship and pedagogy functions, and Fiedler is clearly not qualified in those areas, about which he knows more or less nothing, since he had no academic background prior to being appointed Dean. (So much for experience being necessary to get a job!) As I noted, his previous career involved working for a corporation, specifically as a journalist whose apparent claim to fame (it’s the lead item on his bio sheet and something he is obviously extremely proud of) is that he was one of a team of Miami Herald reporters who forced Democratic hopeful Gary Hart to drop out of the presidential race in 1987 by stalking his girlfriend Donna Rice and secretly staking-out Hart’s residence, to catch the two of them in a "compromising" relationship. Fiedler and his reporter buddies trailed, spied, stalked, and staked-out Hart and Rice in a private residential neighborhood night and day for days at time (with, at one point, Fiedler actually putting on a costume to continue the surreptitious snooping!). Then, like the pack of yelping jackals they were, on a weekend, they swooped in for the kill as a group, unexpectedly surrounding a stunned and off-guard Hart on the street when he hadn’t even known they were there, swarming, confronting, and barraging him with a series of privacy-invading questions about his sex life, then broadcasting the results of his stammering, stunned replies on the front page of the newspaper.

In other words, Fiedler and his pals were practitioners of the trashiest form of headline-grabbing tabloid journalism, based on covert surveillance, deceit, trickery, concealing your identity, and a final Perry-Mason-like “gotcha” confrontation with the individual you have snared in your trap and deliberately caught off-guard. It's the worst of entrapment and surprise, unethical, Whack-A-Mole, stalker journalism, the most disgusting and unethical of conscious, deliberate, calculated violation-of-privacy journalism. 
Welcome to BU's Department of Journalism, where the most senior member of the department and the head of the College of Communication, is a former tabloid journalist with shady professional ethics. What an example to give to students. What Fiedler did is what's wrong with journalism today, not what's right. It's what should be taught to journalism students as something to avoid and be embarrassed for their profession by. Everywhere other than in the Boston University Department of Journalism. Fiedler still brags about what he did and sees nothing wrong with it. Are those the values we want to be inculcating in the next generation of journalism students? Are those the values we want in the Dean of the College of Communication? What was Boston University President Robert Brown thinking when he made this appointment? Did anybody actually read what was on Fiedler's resume, or think about what it meant?

(Fall 2014 Addendum: See Matt Bai's recent book on Fiedler and the scandal, All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, for more information about the tabloidization of American journalism, as pioneered by this particular journalist in this particular event, and for a real shock read or view any of Fiedler's comments about Bai's book in September and October 2014 to see that, even today, he apologizes for none of the things he did nor sees anything wrong with having done them. (If it matters, and it really doesn't, Fiedler falls back on the Nuremburg defense of saying he was only doing what others told him to do so don't blame him for what he did. The old ethical pass-the-buck defense of blaming others for his actions.) Tabloid, gotcha journalism is clearly the kind of journalism he still believes in practicing. That's the BU way, and those are the values he wants passed on to students in his teaching and mentoring.) 

This is the sensationalism and trivialization of journalism that the Watergate scandal and television shows like 60 Minutes inspired, as practiced by reporters who would rather “investigate” who a politician slept with than what the effect of his policies will be—and a quintessential example of the transgression of every normal and customary standard of human decency and respectful treatment that American and British journalists (and executives like Rupert Murdoch) so proudly and self-justifyingly feel their profession entitles them to. Cheaters has become the standard of excellence for the new journalism. It’s not about ethics; it’s about getting a big headline you can cite on your bio sheet (as Fiedler cites his proud participation in the stalking of Gary Hart and his girlfriend, Donna Rice, on his to this day) and try to win an award for. (See the related discussion of journalistic ethics in the blog posting titled L'Affaire Rappaport: A case study in faculty treatment at Boston University.”)

Beyond that, what Fiedler did represented an egregious and extended violation of personal rights to privacy and confidentiality. We worry about the NSA reading our emails, or Google amassing big data about our buying behavior, but how do we feel about Tom Fiedler and his buddies staking out our house day and night, looking in our windows, watching who goes into or out of our doors? How do we feel about them wearing costumes and spying on us? How do we feel about them stalking a woman? This is a violation of privacy and confidentiality so extreme it makes the NSA and Google look like kindergarten playroom tattle-taling. That's the man Boston University appointed to run its College of Communication and gave a Professorship of Journalism to, a man who still says he sees nothing wrong with doing these kinds of things. A man who admits to spying, stalking, staking out a private residence and sees nothing wrong with what he did.

Actually, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. Appointing administrators with shady backgrounds, abundantly documented ethical lapses, and a lack of respect for personal privacy is an old story in the Boston University College of Communication (read the first part of this blog posting, "Part 1: Ten years of Administrative Retaliation for Speaking Up to Defend the Freedom of Academic Expression Inside and Outside the Classroom," to learn about earlier examples of characters with shady backgrounds and a lack of ethical values being appointed to the Dean's office). The problem is that the appointments to the Dean's Office have had (and continue to have) major consequences on what is taught and who is hired and promoted in the College. But still I have to admit that I am shocked and dismayed that a university would reward such well-documented, unapologetically unethical professional conduct by granting an administrative title and journalism professorship to such an individual.

Well, given that kind of “investigative” predilection, and that sense of what constitutes acceptable (and ethical) professional behavior, and that attitude toward violations of personal privacy and confidentiality, I guess no one should have been surprised that when Fiedler arrived at Boston University he chose to pursue a covert spying and surveillance policy against his own faculty members. (I have documented it on another page of this blog.) He revealed to surprised college faculty last year that his office had had a long-standing policy of remotely electronically monitoring what faculty members printed on their computers (it’s amazing what can be done nowadays in that way), and subsequently revealed that he had authorized staff members to call telephone numbers faculty had dialed from their offices to check up on them (allegedly to verify whether college equipment was being used “properly”). The spying policy was divulged to the faculty in the form of a memo that attacked specific individuals for printing material that Fiedler did not approve of. When questioned about the extent of his surveillance activities at a subsequent faculty meeting—I was the questioner of course—Fiedler asserted his additional right to read the emails faculty send and receive (though he noted that he didn’t “have the time to do it,” as if that made a difference). Shades of News Corps’ Rupert Murdoch and Hewlett-Packard’s Patricia Dunn, with the major difference being that at least Murdoch and Dunn initially denied that they had authorized what they had, since they knew it was wrong, while Fiedler defended his right to do everything he did—and he and the BU administration continue to defend his right to continue to do it. At BU, it’s not only OK to spy on your faculty, but you don’t apologize for it or abandon the practice when you are forced to divulge it. 

On top of that, in my particular case, Fiedler went beyond asserting a theoretical right--not only reading emails I wrote to third parties (unconnected with the performance of my duties, if that matters) but distributing copies of them to other faculty members and administrators to indict my character. That's where tabloid values lead. That's where a cavalier disregard for privacy leads. Why would my privacy matter, why would the right to confidentiality of a mere faculty member be respected, when a Presidential candidate's wasn't? (Respect for faculty speech has always been a little thin on the ground at BU Several years before my emails were read and circulated, my Dean and department Chairman had already threatened making negative internet postings about me that would have the effect of destroying my professional reputation if I didn't toe the line and continued to speak my mind freely and openly.)

It’s not hard to imagine the climate of fear and intimidation this policy has created among faculty members—or the chilling effect it has had on faculty expression. Some faculty members have stopped using their office computers to print sensitive documents, stopped using their university email accounts to write anything important or confidential, stopped using their office telephones, and stopped using the Xerox machine—oh, I forgot to mention that, as one of his other administrative innovations, Fiedler had the faculty copier pulled out and requires that everything faculty members want to Xerox be left for 48 hours with one of his staffers to read and check its contents before the job is performed by the staffer on a locked machine controlled by the Dean. So much for the confidentiality of communications between faculty members or between faculty and the senior administration. If you copy a letter before you send the original off to the President or a member of the Board of Trustees (or copy anything else you want to send to anyone else), the Dean’s office gets to know about it before you’ve even put it in the envelope. (And remember you can’t just print out a duplicate on your computer, since printing is already covered by the Dean’s other surveillance practices.) That, by the way, is why I am writing this piece at home and e-mailing from a non-BU account. If I didn’t, or if I printed this out on a university printer, my Dean could conceivably know what I was writing and where I was going to post it before it was even sent. That’s the BU I and other faculty members know—the so-called “new BU” under the leadership of President Robert Brown. (I include a copy of the memo I wrote to the Faculty Council objecting to the spying policy on a later page of this blog titled “The Monitoring and Control of Faculty Emails, Phone Calls, and Personal Expression in the Boston University College of Communication.”)

But there’s really too much to say. I’ll limit myself to one more form of corruption I’ve personally observed involving how promotion and tenure decisions are made in my college—and perhaps more generally in the university. The promotion system has almost entirely become a put-up job of promoting faculty members who go-along-and-get-along with the other (corrupt or mediocre) faculty members. The academic promotion system functions in a fundamentally different way from that in from a for-profit corporation. In the other situation, the one most non-academics are familiar with, the boss simply decides who he or she likes or who he or she doesn’t, and promotes or doesn’t promote on that basis. Academia is entirely different. The lion’s share of the process involves polling fellow faculty members in the candidate’s department, especially those senior to the individual under consideration for promotion, and soliciting their opinions about the value of the candidate’s work. They are the “inside evaluators.” While that is going on internally, administrators are charged with contacting senior faculty members at other universities who have no connection with the candidate or the university and asking them to evaluate the candidate’s publications and scholarly or professional reputation. They are the “outside evaluators,” whose opinions are presumed to be objective and unbiased. The whole thing (particularly the polling and reporting of the opinions of the outside evaluators) is pretty much on the honor system, which is of course where it invites abuse. A number of years back, I learned that my department Chairman was not only using individuals he had extensive prior personal connections with (i.e. friends and former colleagues) as “outside” evaluators, but was using his personal relationship to them to pressure them to turn in the kind of evaluation (positive or negative) that he “needed.” He’d pick a friend as the outside evaluator (no-no number one), not reveal his relationship to the evaluator (no-no number two) meaning that it wasn’t a truly neutral or objective assessment, and then call the guy up and say something like “we really like so-and-so and hope you can give us a strong letter to help the case” (no-no number three). He could pretty much fabricate whatever outcome he wanted. And when the letters came in from the (fraudulent) outside evaluators, he would have the paperwork in hand to make the case that the outcome was objective.

My last two Deans (the mentally ill one, and his successor, the guy with the non-academic background) worked a variation on this that involved pressuring faculty to produce the kind of “inside evaluations” that they wanted to be made. Both men put out word that they frowned on negative evaluations of candidates they were in favor of promoting, and College faculty, afraid to jeopardize their own appointments by going against the Deans’ wishes, willingly fell into line with the game plan. Favored candidates received favorable reviews by faculty members in their own departments, as well as from the College committee in charge of supervising the reviewing process. (It is hard to oppose the man who supervises your annual evaluations and pay raises, particularly if you are a faculty member who, like most of those in my College, does not have the protection of tenure.) In at least three particular cases where I myself, functioning as an “inside evaluator,” wrote strongly negative reviews of colleagues up for promotion and pointed out serious deficiencies in their records, Dean Fiedler made it clear to me that he was extremely unhappy with my negative reports and that since my opinion did not agree with his: 1) my input would not be taken seriously or treated as being “of any importance;” and 2) insofar as my dissent was in his view evidence of my unrepentant “uncollegiality” and continuing “failure to be a team player,” my evaluations and pay would be negatively affected for what I had written—for not-going-along-and-getting-along. (As indeed my pay and evaluations subsequently were.) So much for faculty input. So much for the intellectual integrity and independence of the faculty review process. In a Gandhian vein, I attempted to call attention to (and protest) the log-rolling, put-up-job aspect of the review process by refusing to participate and publicizing my reasons for not participating, thinking that, since I was the senior member of the department, this would force an investigation, but all I got for my principled stand and statement was further negative hits on my pay for (brace yourself, here it comes again) “uncollegiality.”

I had initially assumed that many of the things I am describing (and particularly the attempts to control and censor what I write and say) were taking place “under the radar” of the most senior university administrators, but I was disabused of that notion in 2007 when my Chairman told me that many of the punitive actions he was taking against me to censor my publications (or to punish me for having published them) had been personally authorized by the Provost, the second most senior administrator in the university—a fact which the Provost (David Campbell) subsequently confirmed when I met with him in person to object to what was being done. (For the record, Campbell didn’t yield a nanometer. He told me he saw nothing wrong with censoring my publications, and that I should obey my Chairman’s dictates.) In the three or four years since then, I have made sure that the previous university Provost (David Campbell), the current Provost (Jean Morrison), and the President (Robert Brown) have been made fully aware of the events I am describing, by sending them reports and memos (or by sending them carbons of memos and reports I have sent to others) describing everything I have described here—and more. So nothing I have mentioned in this email is news to the Provost or President. Since none of the misconduct I have told them about has been stopped, or even questioned, the only possible conclusion is that it is endorsed and approved by the Provost and President. Only at BU would that not be surprising.

For five or six years now, I have done everything but get down on my knees in front of these administrators, both those in my college and those above them, either in person or via memo, to plead with them, to beg them for fair treatment and redress, but the obvious problem is that, at the level of my college, I am appealing to the very people who have been guilty of the mistreatment and unprofessional behavior I am asking to be remedied. I have written memo after memo and held meeting after meeting with my program Director (Grundmann), Chairman (Schneider), and Dean (Fiedler), but the only reply (if I can dignify it with that word) I have received from any of them has been more name-calling, more sarcasm, more verbal abuse (shouts and attacks on my morals, character, and performance of my duties), more threats that I am not to talk or write about certain things, more anger, and more negative evaluations, hits on my pay, and withdrawals of research and other support, etc..

In a vicious circle, my appeals have actually been used against me on the grounds that, by appealing for fair treatment, I am being “difficult” and “uncollegial.” BU administrators have told me this over and over again when I have met with them in person. If I just stop making these reports and stop pointing out that administrators have failed to act on them (or, to all appearances, even to read them), I might stand a chance in the future of getting a better evaluation or a raise in my pay to make up, even slightly, for the past. (Do you get it? Is it clear why they would say this? Do you understand the bribe I am being offered to withdraw my reports of their misbehavior?)

Dean Fiedler’s first conversation with me on the subject can sum up the Catch-22, upside-down, inside-outness of the situation. When, a few months after he took over the Deanship, I sent him a memo detailing some of the unethical behavior I had witnessed in the College of Communication, and (after receiving no response for a number of months) asked to meet with him in person to discuss what I had sent him, he told me that my memo only confirmed what he had been told when he took over the Deanship, namely that I was a “troublemaker”—someone, he said, he had been “warned” to “watch out for.” In the light of that, he told me that what I had written about professional misconduct was of “no importance.” He didn’t take anything I wrote or told him seriously then—or since. He concluded the meeting by saying he hoped I would agree not to “make trouble” (i.e., not submit such reports) 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—and the good graces of other administrators. He called it “wiping the slate clean.” And that was the end of his response, the end of our meeting, and the end of the ethics inquiry. The ethical problem was me!—for writing what I had. And the only action to be taken was to be taken by me!—I was to stop making reports.

But I guess you can call me a hardened criminal, since I compounded my initial felony since that first meeting by continuing to write or visit Fiedler’s office (but only a few times, of course, since he’s made it more than clear on numerous occasions that he simply doesn’t want to hear about such things) to continue to express concerns about ethical issues, administrative misbehavior, transparency of decision-making, violations of procedure, treatment of faculty members who think differently from others, faculty review procedures, and related issues. Predictably enough, Fiedler’s subsequent responses have been even more rude, sarcastic, or nasty than they were at that first meeting—increasingly rude, sarcastic, and nasty—and of course my evaluations and pay (which he determines) have continued being negatively affected. My problem, my failure, the reason for the scornful, mocking words and the punishments? I continued to express ethical and procedural concerns.

The humor of it is that the Dean’s logic is actually unassailable since, once he’s defined submitting reports of ethical violations and professional misconduct as “making trouble,” I have to plead guilty to indeed having been a bona fide “trouble-maker”—in that definition of it. And, in that definition of it, I continue to “make trouble” right up into the present, every time I submit another report about a problem. With each statement I make, the Dean is clearly more exasperated with me than he was the last time. By this point, three or four years into the process, his responses have ceased being either thoughtful or logical (not that they were so eminently thoughtful or logical even in our first meeting): they have descended to sheer mockery, sarcasm, name-calling, and the “pissing in your soup” vulgar insult I already quoted. Fiedler clearly doesn’t want reports of ethical and behavioral “trouble” to cross his desk—just like the administrators at Penn State didn’t want them to cross theirs. He wants positive stories and good news. He wants “team spirit” (and, if you can believe it, actually showed a sports video to the faculty to make the point!). He wants “salesmanship” and “brand identification.” He wants flattering press releases. In his (corporate/sports-nut) view, that’s what a professor is paid for. My reports and meetings with him about ethical issues obviously don’t fit into those categories or perform those services. They “make trouble” for him, which is reason enough, once he has committed himself to this view of the function of a Dean/Coach and the function of a professor/team member, to punish and retaliate against me. Quod erat demonstrandum. What part of “stop telling me about ethical issues” don’t I understand?

The chief difference from the Penn State situation that I can see is that the Penn State events apparently consisted of an administrator simply not responding to a “troubling” report, while Fiedler has taken a much more active stance and decided to “shoot the messenger”—to punish me financially, bureaucratically, and personally (with verbal abuse)—for bringing him the message. That’s my crime: I have told and, like a complete fool, continue to tell my Dean things he doesn’t want to hear and refuses to listen to. That’s the man President Brown chose as the successor to the previous Dean, to restore ethical conduct and respectful faculty treatment to the College of Communication. Welcome to BU. Welcome to my world. Ah, the joys of the academy and the life of the mind, and the deep satisfaction of devoting your life to an institution committed, as President Brown frequently boasts, to the highest standards of ethical conduct.

As I say, I have sent long, detailed memos (or copies of reports submitted to others) to the current Provost (Morrison) and President (Brown) describing the behavior of the individuals in my college and the unprofessional treatment and unethical behavior I have witnessed and been subject to, appealing for fair treatment and redress. And what has been the result? I have yet to receive a single sentence in the way of a reply, an invitation to meet with them to discuss the issues I have raised, or seen any change whatsoever in the treatment I am receiving. (I have waited months for a response from either one, and have even written follow-up memos reminding them about the original memos, which they also never responded to.) If a university administrator can’t even be bothered to respond to a memo about serious ethical violations from a long-serving, senior, tenured professor—let alone take action based on it—he or she is clearly not interested in addressing serious ethical issues.

Call it one more manifestation of the Penn State see-and-hear-no-evil syndrome. Middle-level administrators (my program Director, my Chairman, and my Dean) ignore my appeals for fair treatment since they would be admitting their own present and past misbehavior and culpability. And senior-level administrators (the university Provost and President) are unable to sympathetically enter into the situation of someone who is so far below them (Jerry Sandusky’s victims, or me in this instance—not that I am equating myself with them). BU is very top-heavy administratively (and very top-down in its management style) and faculty do their jobs many layers down, near the bottom of the totem pole. I can only conclude either that the bad behavior is taking place so many levels below the President and Provost that it is effectively “invisible” (notwithstanding my detailed reports) from the skyscraper heights they inhabit, or that it is too dangerous for them to deal with, since dealing with it would involve rattling the cages of the administrators below them who perpetrated the situation—or who, at least, repeatedly turned a blind eye toward my reports of it. Since the individuals guilty of the misbehavior undoubtedly deny that anything untoward has taken place, it becomes easy for the President and Provost to pretend that nothing happened. As at Penn State, when in doubt, put your head in the sand. To quote the lyric to the old song: Out of sight; out of mind. It’s easier to look the other way and deny ethical problems exist than to go to all the trouble of dealing with them. “Denial”—in every sense of the concept—is a major BU administrative coping strategy, at all levels.

I am tenured; I cannot easily be fired (baring a trumped-up morals charge against me, which might sound like a sick joke, but given the Nixonian dirty tricks I have already been subject to—like the secret meetings administrators held with my students to say nasty things about me—nothing is beyond the realm of possibility). Tenure is supposed to grant me the right to speak my mind and teach my courses without fear or retaliation; but the treatment I have received obviously raises questions about what is tenure worth at Boston University? Not very much apparently. If you say something university administrators don’t like, they can make your relation to your colleagues so unbearable, the performance of your duties so difficult, and your mentoring of students so untenable—in short, make your life so hellish—that they will succeed in making you quit in disgust and discouragement, tenure or no tenure. That’s clearly what they have been trying to do to me. At BU, tenure is, in effect, worthless.

The preceding account leaves out a lot. There are many other instances of administrative misconduct and ethical violation at BU that I don’t have space to touch on. (It’s a basic principle that if someone is capable of the kinds of unprofessional and unethical behavior I have described, they are capable of others.) But that’s an overview of the situation as I have personally experienced it (and documented it in detail to senior administrators) for something like ten years at Boston University. As I say, not one thing has been done to address this state of affairs or remedy the retaliatory treatment that has been doled out to me for reporting it.  

Just call me dumb, but I haven’t abandoned hope that things may change in the future. As a greater man than I said: “Truth and love will always ultimately triumph over lies and hate.” Given my experience at BU, I sometimes have my doubts, but I have to keep believing it is true. It’s the only way to live our lives.

Ray Carney
Prof. of Film and American Studies (tenured)
Boston University
December 2011 

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To read a much briefer and slightly more up-to-date (it covers the three years since the above account was written) 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.