Saturday, February 21, 2015

Negotiating with Boston University, Part 4

The effectiveness of reason as a response to irrationality, anger, and fear

This is part four of a four-part account of my attempts to reason with Boston University administrators in the period immediately preceding my decision to go public with these blog postings. Parts 1, 2, and 3 appear on previous blog pages, and the heading to Part 1 gives the background to the text that follows. —Ray Carney

I’ll conclude with Example #3.

What follows is the text of an emailed memo I wrote my Dean (Tom Fiedler), and sent carbons of to the University Ombuds (Francine Montemurro), the University Provost (Jean Morrison), and the Associate University Provost (Julie Sandell) in June 2012. It focuses on the fourth point listed at the end of the long report I mentioned [in Part 3 of this posting], a report no Boston University administrator would reply to. Here’s the complete and unedited text of the email to my Dean:

* * *
From: Ray Carney
Date: June 1, 2012 12:20:03 PM EDT
To: Dean Thomas Fiedler,
Bcc: Ombuds Francine Montemurro, Associate Provost Julie H Sandell, Provost Jean Morrison,,
 Subject: a personal appeal

Dean Tom Fiedler
College of Communication
Boston University

Dear Tom,

I hope the summer is giving you a bit of down time, both bureaucratically and psychologically. I'm keeping myself busy trying to revise three book manuscripts at the same time. (Not something I would recommend to anyone who values his sanity.)

I assume you've had a chance, by now, to read my Spring 2012 annual report, and particularly the "Additional Information" section and the supporting document I included with it, where I outline some of the punitive and retaliatory experiences I've been subjected to in the past eight or nine years in the college and the department. They range from receiving low evaluations (and taking hits on my pay) for reporting ethical issues (as well as for raising questions about serious problems with specific courses and teachers); to having my publications and media interviews censored by the university (and a formal motion to censure me passed by my department) because my views on education are different from my colleagues; to having my academic freedom of expression threatened and curtailed, both inside and outside the classroom; to being forced to sit through months of meetings organized by my chairman where my character and morals were publicly criticized, and where my colleagues were encouraged to shout at me and call me names; to being verbally abused by administrators (more than once in public settings in front of students); to having suborned and perjured documents inserted into my personnel file; to ... well, to being the victim of too many other instances of shockingly unprofessional and unethical conduct to list them all in an email.

Since I've described these and similar events to you and other college administrators on previous occasions (in formal written appeals of previous annual evaluations—appeals which, in violation of Faculty Handbook procedures, were never responded to; in every previous annual report I have filed in the past eight or nine years; and in a large number of memos and personal conversations with you and other college and university administrators over a period of many years), I assume that none of the material in the Spring 2012 annual report comes as news to you. You are, in fact, probably weary of hearing the situation summarized one more time, even as synoptically as I have done in this email. I know I am weary of summarizing it!

That gets me to the reason I am now writing. In a document I gave Francine Montemurro, the university Ombuds, I listed several specific, narrowly defined remedies to deal with the current situation. Pre-eminent among them is reassigning me to teach in another academic unit at Boston University. (Since you don't come from an academic background, let me reassure you that such a reassignment is not at all unprecedented in academia when there is a good reason for it. I know of many instances of faculty reassignments in similar situations at BU and other universities with which I've been affiliated.)

My graduate course work in literature, drama, painting, and other arts—my Ph.D. is actually in English literature and not in film, as you may or may not know—as well as my extensive publication record in literature, art, and other non-film areas, and my previous course offerings in other arts at BU and other universities—as a point of fact, I almost exclusively taught literature, drama, and art in my previous academic positions at Stanford, Texas, and Middlebury—make me well-qualified to teach both film and non-film courses in the College of Fine Arts, the Department of English, the Editorial Institute, the American Studies program, or other programs and departments outside the College of Communication—or to teach courses in a combination of several different programs and departments. (Since my current academic appointment involves occasionally teaching literature, drama, and painting courses in the American Studies program, one solution might be simply to expand my American Studies teaching.)

Might I ask that you seriously consider this option? It seems to me the best, and perhaps only, way to get beyond the current impasse. I am sincerely convinced that, given the unsatisfactoriness of the present state of affairs, it could be a win-win situation for everyone, offering the best possible outcome for you, for my colleagues, and for me. Would you be willing to broach the request with Provost Morrison? If so, I would be deeply in your debt. (And, for the record, Francine Montemurro has told me that she is available to assist in resolving the situation in any way she can.)

All best wishes,

Ray Carney
Prof. of Film and American Studies
Boston University

Author or editor of: Henry Adams, Mount Saint Michel and Chartres (Viking Penguin), Henry James, What Maisie Knew and The Spoils of Poynton (New American Library/Signet), Rudyard Kipling, Kim (New American Library), 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.

Official BU faculty web site: (the content censored and the site officially banned by Boston University in 2008)

* * *

Again, if you’re read this far, I assume you can predict the response. Keep in mind that I sent this offer or request to a total of four different senior members of the administration. I heard nothing back from any of them for more than seven weeks, not even an off-the-record, confidential, informal, personal response. No one called or wrote to wish me luck, to ask me a question, or to offer to meet with me to discuss what I had requested. (BU is very efficient at keeping its administrative ducks in a row and presenting a united front against faculty members.) Finally, in the eighth week, near the end of July, I received a brief email from my Dean. He was the only one who ever responded and his eight-sentence email was the only response I ever received. In it, he informed me that not only would he or the Provost absolutely not agree to initiate or facilitate a reassignment, but that if I myself attempted to make it happen on my own, he wanted me to know that he would do everything in his power to prevent it from taking place by saying bad things about me to any administrator whom I might independently approach and propose the idea to. Never one to pass up a chance to add insult to injury—an opportunity BU administrators I have interacted with never miss—he also added a gratuitous (and factually false) personal insult I won’t dignify by repeating.

In short, my attempt to bring an end to the punitive and retaliatory experiences I've been subjected to in the past nine or ten years in the college and the department—which is what my proposal for reassignment was—was only treated by my Dean as a pretext to continue and extend the policy of vilification, abuse, and punishment.

That’s what it’s like to try to “negotiate” with Boston University administrators, many of whom, like my Dean in this instance, spent their entire previous lives and careers in corporate America. (BU is big on hiring administrators with no academic expertise or training to run the university.) It’s corporate American hardball all the way—in this case as in many others, with a personal insult or two added for good measure. (I’m getting used to the profanity of the administrators over me.)

There you go. Three pretty typical illustrations, all from the period immediately preceding my first blog posting, of how BU administrators responded to my attempts to avoid having to make the postings. I hope I have answered your question and clarified your assumptions about how my university works. It’s not like other universities you and I are familiar with.

All sincere best wishes and thanks,

Ray Carney