Monday, March 18, 2013

Censorship, Punishment, Abuse, Threats--Being Banned in Boston

The material that follows was among several interviews and essays that I was told by BU administrators I should not have published, and was told I would be punished for publishing …. Check that. Let me start again, “told” is definitely not the right verb to describe what happened. Here goes. A new beginning....

The material that follows was among several interviews and essays that my department Chairman organized four months of department meetings to project brief excerpts from on a screen and to hand out brief quotes from in Xeroxed hard-copies, as he encouraged department faculty members to scream at the top of their voices at me, to call me names, and viciously to attack my character, morals, and mental state, prior to demanding that I suppress the text so that no students would read it; that I remove it from my B.U. faculty web site; and—as a formal motion passed against me in the second meeting eventually demanded as punishment—that I remove the entire web site and everything on it from the Boston University server, with a blackmail threat to “bring in the lawyers” to financially bankrupt me, and (as if the preceding was not enough punishment) to destroy my professional reputation by attacking me in an internet posting to be made on the official Boston University web site if I didn’t comply with all of my Chairman's demands by a specific date. After inflicting two hours of verbal abuse on me in two different meetings (while I sat there and endured it more or less silently, except briefly to observe that suppressing my publications would set “a terrible precedent” for the university—a statement that clearly moved no one in the room), the motion against me and my writing was passed unanimously. I of course abstained from voting.

Needless to say, this was not the end. There were many other meetings and months and years of additional verbal abuse where I was yelled at, called names, told to "shut up" when I tried to reply to someone or defend my position, told I was mentally ill, asked why I didn't quit if I didn't like the way things were done, and did I only continue to work at BU "for the money?" (this last bit of personal nastiness, this salvo of sarcasm, directed against me by my department Chairman Paul Schneider in a meeting in front of other administrators, including my boss, Dean Tom Fiedler, none of whom raised an eyebrow objecting to the verbal abuse my Chairman was inflicting on me--even as he himself simultaneously insisted, in front of his boss the Dean, that I was mentally ill or lying when I said I had been subjected to years of verbal insults and disrespectful treatment at his hands and those of others), and had my character, morals, and personality viciously and publicly attacked by BU administrators in front of large groups of people (including groups of my own students and groups of junior faculty members). There were many more repetitions of the threats to destroy me financially by bringing in the university lawyers to tie me up in legal actions against me. There were many more threats to make internet postings on the university web site against me to destroy my professional reputation and standing. And many more administrative and financial punishments were administered to me (and continue to be administered to this day). 

In the end, with respect to my faculty web site, I was told that removing this and that passage or sentence, changing this section or another section, would not be sufficient. I was told I would not be allowed to have any faculty web site at all. None. I have no way of checking, but I may have the rare distinction of being the only faculty member in America who has been told (in writing, at that!) that he is not allowed to publish anything at all on the university server, that anything and everything he has published on it, down to the last sentence, must be removed. 

But as the infomercials say, "wait, there's more." The administrative censorship policy not only spanned many years, but ultimately migrated into many other areas of my job performance and academic life (and, for the record, continues not only unchanged but even enlarged right up to the present in virtually every area of my academic activity)--beyond having my faculty web site taken away. I can only provide the briefest overview of the variety of forms the censorship has taken in this introduction. You would have to read this entire blog to see all the ways a faculty member can be muzzled and silenced--and even then the entire story would not have been told. To control what I said in my classes, my Dean deputed selected students to act as "spies" for him and to report back to him about anything I said in the classroom that might be considered "controversial." (Of course this was done without my knowledge and only revealed to me after the fact, when I was called into a meeting and berated in front of others for not having adhered to his announced--and, on everyone else's part, accepted!--censorship policy on what ideas I was allowed to communicate to my students in class presentations.) To control what I wrote in my emails, my Dean (Tom Fiedler again, and again without my knowledge or permission) obtained copies of emails I wrote to both students and university outsiders, xeroxed them and passed them around to other university administrators for comment and criticism (there's no respect for privacy or confidentiality at BU!), and called me on the carpet (both in writing and in a meeting in front of others) for writing things he disagreed with. In terms of interviews with the media (future interviews, beyond the interviews that I had already been punished for publishing on my faculty web site), my department Chairman (Paul Schneider again) wrote me a memo telling me that I was not supposed to talk about my situation at BU with reporters. (Talk about piling censorship on top of censorship! This last, if you can get your head around it, was a memo in effect attempting to censor my mention of the university censorship I had experienced! The comical weirdness of a memo censoring the discussion of censorship--all the while, on Chairman Schneider's and Dean Fiedler's part, completely denying that there has been any censorship at all!--almost made me laugh out loud when I read it.) And on and on the administrative attempts to control what I say in class, what I publish, what I write in my emails, and what I tell interviewers goes. In sum, month after month and year after year, dozens of explicit and abundantly documented criticisms, orders, acts of censorship, threats, and punishments--not only in the shouts, name-calling, attacks on my character and morals, ceremonies of public humiliation, swearing at me and table-thumping, but in my zeroed out performance evaluations and withholding of pay raises--have been administered to me following those initial meetings and that motion. 

So much for academic freedom of expression at Boston University. So much for collegial respect. So much for a commitment to the free-play of ideas. I hear it's this way in Egypt, North Korea, and Iran; but you can now add Boston to the list. Watch what you say (or publish) at Boston University. Saying something administrators disagree with can be very hazardous to your (economic and bureaucratic) health. 

If that summary is not sufficient, I'd refer the reader to almost any other page of this site for more detail, more events, more acts of retaliation against me for the expression of my ideas and opinions. Virtually every single page of this blog documents another more insidious, more diabolical, more despicable, more thuggish form of bullying, threatening, harassing, or punishing behavior doled out to me with the full knowledge and approval of the highest levels of the Boston University administration in the last ten years. The actions against me continue unchecked and uninvestigated by the university to the present day. What a place to work.
* * *

It may be worth adding that much of what I said in the interview was intended to be semi-comic (but only semi-comic) in nature, and was clearly understood to be so by the young man who conducted the interview. But I'd emphasize that that changes nothing whatsoever. Whether my words were intended to be comic or not, parodic or not, satiric or not, exaggerated or not, polemical or not, administrative censorship of what university faculty write or say in interviews is not the answer. Censorship is never the answer. The response to speech we disagree with is more speech, not the banning or suppression of speech. And, above all, not threatening and punishing the speaker--financially, administratively, emotionally--for having said what he or she has. If that is true in society in general, how much more true it should be in a university. 

Every other university I've ever been affiliated with, or heard of, without exception, understands that--understands that free expression is the absolute life-blood of academic life and that censorship is anathema to the function of a university. Only the Boston University administration, including Provost Jean Morrison, President Robert Brown (who was BU's President when these actions were taken against me, and continues to be BU's President at the present date), and the Boston University Board of Trustees (currently Robert A. Knox, John P. Howe III, J. Kenneth Menges, Jr., Richard D. Cohen, Jonathan R. Cole, Shamim A. Dahod, David F. D’Alessandro, Katheryn Pfisterer Darr, Sudarshana Devadhar, Kenneth J. Feld, Sidney J. Feltenstein, Ryan K. Roth Gallo, Ronald G. Garriques, Richard C. Godfrey, SungEun Han-Andersen, Bahaa R. Hariri, Robert J. Hildreth, Stephen R. Karp, Rajen A. Kilachand, Cleve L. Killingsworth, Jr., Elaine B. Kirshenbaum, Andrew R. Lack, Alan M. Leventhal, Peter J. Levine, Carla E. Meyer, Jorge Morán, Alicia C. Mullen, Peter T. Paul, C. A. Lance Piccolo, Stuart W. Pratt, Allen Questrom, Richard D. Reidy, Sharon G. Ryan, S.D. Shibulal, Richard C. Shipley, Hugo X. Shong, Bippy M. Siegal, Nina C. Tassler, Andrea L. Taylor, and Stephen M. Zide) seems not to have taken in the lesson. Perhaps, in the case of the Board of Trustees at least, that is because the BU Trustees are almost to a man, and I do mean to a man, from the worlds of law, finance, and corporate affairs--not exactly the ideal group of people to defend the centrality of, or even understand the meaning of, academic freedom of expression and the free play of ideas.

Hiring businessmen to "oversee" and "manage" the academics and "hold them to a budget" is an extremely common practice at Boston University, and frequently results in the same kinds of intolerance of intellectual values that I and many of my colleagues have personally experienced. The Dean of my own College and the Chairman of my Department are only two of scores of BU administrators who learned their values fighting their way up the ladder in corporate America and spent their entire previous careers as businessmen rather than as teachers, scholars, or intellectuals. No surprise that when they show up in academia, as their first non-corporate job, they bring their hard-earned corporate values with them. Academic success is about "branding," "marketing," "sales," and keeping the "customers" (i.e. the students!) happy. My Dean and department Chairman not only think this way; they actually talk this way. That is what my publications threaten, and they see no problem whatsoever with suppressing them when they don't support the corporate message. The thought of the corporation's "employees" (i.e. the professors!) being allowed to communicate difficult, challenging, inconvenient truths has never even occurred to this type of administrator. Truth-telling can threaten the corporate PR campaign (or student enrollments), and banning and suppressing information the corporation doesn't want to be disseminated becomes standard operating procedure. Faculty web sites need to be monitored and controlled; faculty communications with students need to be monitored and controlled; faculty telephone calls need to be monitored and controlled; faculty interviews with the media need to be monitored and controlled--and any faculty member who doesn't "get onboard with the program" should expect to be screamed at, called names, and threatened with law suits and internet postings designed to destroy him. What world do these faculty members live in anyway? Who do they think signs their checks? Welcome to Boston University. Move over Ford, Toyota, and General Motors! (To read more about the inevitable mismatch of values when businessmen are brought in as administrators to run academic units, see another page on the site: "The Two Cultures: The Conflict Between Business Values and the Life of the Mind," which is available in the side menu under March 2013. To read more about the monitoring and control of faculty communications, see “The Monitoring and Control of Faculty Emails, Phone Calls, and Personal Expression in the Boston University College of Communication," also available in the side menu under March 2013.)

To read how another major university (with a different kind of Board of Trustees and a very different kind of President and Provost at the head of it) responded to the ideas of a faculty member administrators profoundly disagreed with, I'd refer the reader to yet another page of the site listed under November 2013 and titled "A Tale of Two Schools" comparing Boston University with Johns Hopkins University. That is how a university is supposed to treat faculty speech and internet postings it disagrees with. Censorship, punishment, personal and verbal abuse, threats to destroy the faculty member's reputation via internet postings, and to bankrupt him by "bringing in the lawyers," are never acceptable responses. (In what civilized world are these kinds of thuggish, bullying threats and acts of personal and professional retribution acceptable? As one of my email correspondents asked me: "How can BU behave this way and call itself a university?") 

* * *
To read excerpts from another interview I gave that was objected to just as vehemently as the one below, and that I was told to remove from the university server so that students wouldn't be able to read it (and similarly told that I would be financially punished with legal action and destroyed professionally with postings against me if I didn't remove), see the site page titled: "Making a Living or Making a Life--The Purpose of an Education," available in the right-hand side menu under May 2013.

As I mentioned above, faculty publications are only a small part of the censorship effort at BU. I have been told what I can and cannot say in class (with students being deputed as "spies" to report back to the Dean if I deviated from his restrictions). I have been told, by my department Chairman in writing, what I can and cannot say when I give interviews to the press. I have been told by the Dean of the College of Communication what I can and cannot say when I send emails to my students. All of these events are described and documented on other site pages. 

For more about the restrictions on discussing material the administration deems to be "controversial" in class, see "How Can BU Call Itself a University?" under February 2014 in the side menu. For a description of the classroom "spying and reporting" policy, and other related administrative misconduct, see "Lynch Mobs--Secret and Surreptitious Meetings to Foment Students Against A Teacher" under April 2013. For an example of administrative monitoring and control of my communications with students outside of class, see the section of the site about the Dean of the College of Communication’s attempts to control the content and wording of the emails I send my students in “How Marketing and Branding Considerations Limit What Teachers Can Tell Their StudentsOr Suggest That They Read at Boston University," available under March 2013.

For a general consideration of this entire issuethe monitoring and attempt to limit and control faculty expression and communication at Boston Universitypresented from a slightly more philosophical and intellectual perspective, see "The Thought Police," available in the side menu under November 2013. And for an update reporting the current and continuing state of the censorship of faculty publications at Boston University as of the conclusion of the spring semester of 2014, see "Current EventsPart 6," available in the side menu under April 2014. — Ray Carney

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P.S. Please note that following the interview text, on the second half of this page and on other pages of this site, there are descriptions of other meetings that were held to censor and ban my faculty web site. I have been shouted at, called names, had my character and morals attacked, and even called mentally ill on numerous occasions by BU administrators. (That is the respect faculty are accorded at Boston University.) 

On the second half of this page, I have also included copies of several emails I sent to the department Chairman and a department faculty member, protesting the grossly unprofessional behavior I was subjected to (and continue to be subjected to). The emails describe more of the abuse and unprofessional conduct that took place during various meetings, and discuss the suppression of the meeting-minutes by the department Chairman, and his deliberate falsification of many other sets of meeting-minutes, in line with Boston University's attempt to cover-up and deny the egregious personal abuse and unprofessional conduct that took place at this series of meetings and that continues to take place at other meetings right up into the present.

To read descriptions of other meetings (there have been dozens of them and they continue into the present) where I have been yelled at, called names, had my character and personality viciously attacked, and been treated unprofessionally in almost every imaginable way, see: "How (Not) to Conduct a Meeting—Shouts, Name-Calling, Personal Attacks, Threats, Punishments," available in the menu on the right-hand site of page. To read descriptions of other acts of unprofessional conduct, by the Dean of the Boston University College of Communication and the Chairman of the Department of Film and Television, see "Public Shaming as an Administrative Technique," also available via the menu in the right hand margin. — R.C.

A Modest Proposal:
Let’s Replace Film Production Programs
with Majors in Auto Mechanics 
(at least majors would be able to get jobs after they graduate)

I gather you have some issues with the way filmmaking is taught in our universities.

An undergraduate degree is only eight semesters, and a master’s degree usually only four, so the basic question is whether studying film as an undergrad or grad student is the best possible use of that terribly short period of time before you are forced to enter the work force and cut your values to fit. I don’t think it is. The student years are a magic time in your life – the one time you can free yourself from the pressures of having to hold a job and make money and devote yourself purely and totally to developing your heart, mind, and soul. It’s a shame to spend most of it learning how to load a camera, run a tape recorder, and work an Avid. There are much better, much deeper, much more spiritually rewarding things to do with those semesters.

Why doesn’t majoring in filmmaking contribute to your development as much as anything else you might study?

There is virtually no intellectual content to the courses. It’s like learning to be an auto mechanic or a plumber or a carpenter. You’re not going to college, you’re going to trade school.

What do you learn? How to shoot and edit a movie. Is that worth tens of thousands in tuition dollars? Is that the best use of your time at that point in your life? Anyway, you can learn the technical stuff on your own. In a couple months in the summer as an apprentice to an indie filmmaker, you could learn everything you need to know to make a movie. It’s really not that hard. Film schools make it seem difficult to keep themselves in business. Particularly nowadays with the availability of cheap, portable film and video equipment, there’s less reason than ever for film school.

What do you mean when you say film school makes filmmaking seem difficult?

They mystify it by emphasizing the technical side: the use of expensive equipment, the absurd over–emphasis on lighting, focus, exposure, sound mixing, postproduction, special effects. Technical things are not that important. Look at Jay Rosenblatt’s work. Look at Andrew Bujalski’s. Look at Cassavetes’. The emphasis on technique has created a generation of filmmakers who know everything about making movies except what makes a movie any good. It’s why almost none of the most important American independent filmmakers of the past fifty years went to film school. They taught themselves everything they needed to know.

How can you compare being a filmmaker with being a carpenter or auto mechanic?

I’m not equating the end results. I’m equating the course content. If filmmaking were taught as part of a comprehensive, philosophical, arts and culture curriculum, it would have intellectual depth and substance. But it’s not taught that way. It’s taught like carpentry. You learn a lot of mechanical skills that are not that different from learning to be a plumber. The only difference I can see is that if you got a degree in plumbing you’d be able to get a job after you graduate! (Laughs) Sorry. I guess that’s not funny if you’re a film major. The overwhelming majority of film majors, at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, are no longer involved with film in any capacity five years after they graduate. Jobs, particularly creative ones, in the film world are next–to–impossible to get. These students spend two or four years learning a narrow set of skills they stop using within a short time after they graduate.

The next question would be why don’t we have majors in plumbing or carpentry? The answer is because it wouldn’t be intellectually defensible. That’s obvious, I think. We can all agree that that would turn going into college into a joke. What if the science curriculum dropped all the intellectual side of science, all the thinking courses, and simply trained people to be lab technicians? That’s the equivalent to what film majors actually learn at both the undergrad and graduate levels at many film schools. They don’t learn to think; they don’t learn to master complex systems of knowledge; they don’t learn the history of an art; they learn a skill – how to light and focus and edit a movie.

College should be about learning to think, not learning a trade. Half the problems in the world come from the fact that people are unable or afraid to think. New ideas scare them. New ways of thinking and feeling threaten them. That's why we have terrorists, stupid politicians in the White House, and bigots of every sort. Because they never learned to think, because anything different from themselves makes them mad. Turning college into vocational training only contributes to what's wrong with the world. Its one more way of not giving students a liberal education.

The problem is that people don’t see how narrow and trivial devoting your time to majoring in film production is because film is this “sexy,” “rock star” field with movie stars and press coverage and awards. But, if you subtract out the Hollywood glitz and money and press releases, you’d realize that what a student actually learns in a production program – how to load a camera, how to set the exposure, how edit the footage, etc. etc.– doesn’t have any more intellectual content – or value – than learning how to be a lab technician – or an auto mechanic.

I’m speaking from experience. I hear this all the time from students in my own program at Boston University. And it’s always the best students, the more thoughtful ones. They tell me they feel like they are in a vocational training program – the kind they avoided in high school. They are hungry for ideas, for intellectual discussions, for debates about moral issues, but all they get in their production classes is “that scene is badly lighted” or “the ending needs to be speeded up.” If we were talking about carburetors, instead of cans of film, we’d see what a waste of someone’s time and spirit – not to mention tuition dollars – that is.

What do you say to them?

I tell the unhappiest ones to change their majors to music, art, literature, history, philosophy, biology, chemistry, or something else with more intellectual substance, something where they will be learning the history and philosophy of a field of inquiry. They will have an opportunity to discuss philosophical and moral issues. And, as an added benefit, in terms of transferring to another arts program, they will then be exposed to the supreme expressions of the human spirit – not sitting in the dark viewing junky Hollywood movies.

At least a production program gives you access to equipment and facilities you wouldn’t normally have.

And the day you graduate, and actually want to use it to make a real movie – a feature–length documentary or narrative – you cease to have access to any of it! They lock you out. They change the password.

This equipment fetish is part of the problem with production programs. Every single applicant I talk with wants to get his hands on a camera in the first week he is in school. They don't want to have to read anything. Write anything. Think about anything. Study anything. All they want to do is hit the streets and start filming. These are people who, almost without exception, haven't even seen the important films of the past. They don't know the work of Tarkovsky or Bresson or Kiarostami. They don’t even know who these guys are. They are cinema illiterates. But they are all in a big rush to make the great American masterpiece. How dumb is that? How arrogant is that?

But that’s just the students. You can’t expect them to know any better. The real problem starts because most film programs in America give in to their demands. "We give you hands on from the start" is the mantra the professors stand up and repeat at every student recruitment event all year long. I've got news for both the students and the professors. Making art takes more than hands. It takes more than expensive equipment. It takes more than fancy digital editing suites. It takes more than hot-shot software. Those are not what matter. In fact, they're a way of avoiding the important things. Art takes knowledge of what has been done by others. It takes study. It takes work on your writing. It takes knowledge of life. It takes thinking. The equipment is the least important part of the process. The equipment is a distraction from what really matters. It's an avoidance of what really matters. All those tours of the production facilities, all that bragging about fancy equipment, all that pestering the Dean for more money for the latest this or that--it all just shows that the values of the production faculty are as screwed up as the values of the entering Freshmen or grad. students.

Why don’t film production courses deal with intellectual and aesthetic issues? Why don’t students grapple with aesthetic and moral questions in their production courses?

The problem is that the teachers in most American production programs are people who: a) went through the same kind of brain–dead production program themselves ten or twenty years before and don’t know any better; or b) established themselves by working in the industry and don’t have a deep moral or aesthetic understanding of the art. All they know is the technical stuff. So that’s what they teach. It’s safe. It makes grading easy. Teaching art – and teaching someone to be an artist – is much harder.

I hear stories all the time from my students, but I had first–hand experience of the obsession with technicalities a few years ago. I invited a major American independent filmmaker to Boston University for a job interview to teach in the production program. He spent a day or two on campus talking to students and teaching test classes. Everything went great until the final event. He screened some of his work. I was standing in the back and could see the production faculty start squirming about a half hour into it. You should have heard the hiring committee discussion after he left campus. They eviscerated him. The focus was soft in some of his shots, the lighting wasn’t ideal in others, and there were small editorial mismatches at a couple other points. They crossed him off the list. They said he’d be a terrible example for the students to learn filmmaking from. I was shocked. But it taught me a lot. This guy is a brilliant filmmaker. But no one in the production faculty could tell that they were looking at great work. That wasn’t a concept they understood. All they could see was whether it was sharply focused or not, whether there was three–point lighting, how gripping the story was. It gave me a pretty clear idea of what goes on in their classrooms – and of how they treat students who aren’t willing to emasculate themselves with technical concerns.

You can’t deny that it is an advantage for the students to have access to expert advice – people who have already done well in the industry and can show you how to do it 'right.’

Or how to do it wrong. Students are taught to imitate the stupid ways things have been done in the past.

You’re right though. The faculty at schools like UCLA and USC is full of people who have worked in the industry. Former producers, screenwriters, and cameramen. But these are precisely the wrong people for the students to be learning from. You don’t look for new ideas from people who have spent their lives fitting into corporate niches and keeping their mouths shut at staff meetings.

Learning how to make films from people who have had careers in the biz is a little like asking a group of journalists what they think of how journalists covered some event. Or maybe I should compare it to inviting Donald Rumsfeld to talk to you about how to fight a war in the Middle East. All you’re ever going to hear is the spin version of how great things are, how wonderful things went and are still going.

Established, Hollywood–based film professionals or New York TV executives are the last people on earth to be able to see the limitations of the way things are done, of the junkiness of Hollywood movies or American TV. They made their careers by doing things the accepted way, by not thinking outside the box. They created the junk of the past fifty years. Why would we listen to what they have to say?

A top–flight film program would make it a rule that anybody who had had a career working for a Hollywood studio or in a television production company would never be allowed to teach a course or be invited into a classroom, because they would have proven that they have no backbone, no character, no vision. They would have proven that they are willing to sell their souls to the highest bidder.

Are you saying important actors, producers, and directors shouldn’t be invited to talk to the students?

I guess it depends on how you define “important.” I don’t call people like Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, and Mel Gibson important; I call them “successful,” “famous,” and “rich.” And being those things in our culture is almost always the opposite of being a great artist. Why in the world would I want to hear what Steven Spielberg thinks about filmmaking? He’s proven through his work that he has nothing of value to say. What message is a university sending its students when it equates being rich and famous with being important?

My definition of important is filmmakers like Tom Noonan, Jay Rosenblatt, Andrew Bujalski, Rob Nilsson, Todd Haynes, Mark Rappaport, Abbas Kiarostami, Mike Leigh, Lars VonTrier, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Rodrigo Garcia. They’re not interested in doing the same old thing. They are visionaries. But they’re not the ones invited to teach production courses or to give lectures to the students. Everyone’s fighting to get Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee and Ken Burns and Steven Spielberg. Who wants them? Who needs them? I wouldn’t cross the street to go to an event with them.

Have you been pulling my leg?

Oh, I've just been kidding. Or have I? You decide….

Ray Carney was interviewed for an article in the UCLA Daily Bruin about the value of majoring in film production in college. A revised, corrected, and expanded version of the original text (with additions restoring sentences cut from the published copy and updating a few references) appears above.

* * *

In the introduction to this page, I describe the four months of meetings organized by my Chairman to publicly criticize, berate, and scream at me for having given (and published) the preceding interview and a number of other interviews and essays, excerpts from which were either projected on a screen or distributed in Xeroxed hard copy, initially to demand that I suppress the material so that students would never see it, and subsequently to demand that my entire official Boston University faculty web site be censored and removed from the Boston University server, and that I be formally censured for having published what I had. 

For the record, there were many other "scream at Carney/tell Carney to shut up/you're sick/no one is interested in what you have to say/why don't you quit?/why do you work here?" meetings. These kinds of accusations and screaming sessions were not confined to any particular meeting or subject. For descriptions of a few of the other sessions of verbal abuse that have been inflicted on me, see: "How (Not) to Conduct a Meeting—Shouts, Name-Calling, Personal Attacks, Threats, Punishments," available in the menu on the right-hand site of page." 

But in terms of the present events, here is the email I wrote my Chairman about this particular meeting, the following morning--describing the department meeting I had sat through from 4 to 5:30 PM the previous evening, and attempting to discover how far his plans to censor my publications extended. My questions would be answered in subsequent meetings. His censorship plans went very far, very far indeed. When I wrote this email, I of course had no idea that there would be months more of other similar shouting-at-Carney sessions following this one particular meeting. The verbal harassment would continue from November through March of an academic year in the same vein that I describe in the first paragraph below.   --R.C.

To: Chairman Charles Merzbacher
From: Ray Carney
Subject: clarification


Well, I must say that yesterday's meeting was an eye-opener. In many different ways. Not least of all in how a meeting can be run. If you set out to create the most irrational atmosphere possible, the most emotional-fueled and heated but factually uninformed discussion on the basis of partial and incomplete information, you succeeded admirably. The surprise handouts from the web site (I call them a "surprise" since a discussion of my web site and publications was not mentioned in the agenda and neither I nor anyone else was given any notice that this material would be the entire focus of the forty-minute "discussion"  that followed my apology and plea that we put aside our differences and fears and work together for a common good), which, since they were given out in the middle of the meeting with no preparation for them, people then had to skim and leaf through "on the fly" while other people were talking, and which provided only brief excerpts, paragraphs taken out of context, never a complete page or full presentation of an entire essay or section of the site, was a theatrical masterstroke. You caught me and I dare say the entire department faculty (except for those who may have been tipped off in advance) completely off-guard and the result was, predictably enough, demagoguery at its finest, most furious, and most destructive. Extreme emotion with little or no time for thought and reflection. Faculty members who clearly had never visited my web site or read a word posted on it in the past were reduced to shouting insults, vituperation, and name-calling.  (The fact that the insults, yells, and name-calling were directed at me is, in my view, actually unimportant. No matter who they had been directed at, or what subject they had been nominally attached to, they were not, even remotely, a form of dispassionate, intellectual discussion and debate, but an embarrassing expression of emotions of the most uninformed, ignorant, and insulting sort.)

But this is by way of preface to saying that, given the sputtering, raging inarticulateness of the so-called discussion, I am at a loss to know what you or the others want me to do in response. You ended the meeting with a threat or an ultimatum (call it what you will): You said that you would be looking for a response to the meeting from me on my web site and that my response was of crucial importance. Well, what do you have in mind? Please help me, and believe that I ask with all sincerity. I just don't know. You or no one else ever offered a practical proposal, since the entire preceding time had been spent more or less entirely in yelling at me and indulging in other forms of name-calling about me or my writing. There was so little "content" to the discussion (and so much raw negative emotion that concealed whatever content there might otherwise have been) that I walked out of the room with no idea of what you were asking me to do. Here are some possibilities, but of course, tell me if you have another in mind that I have left out:

1. Remove from the site all criticisms of and suggestions for the improvement of American film and television programs: including comments about media teaching methods, course curricula, subjects of study, intellectual priorities, the effect of corporate interests in skewing their value systems, etc.. (Many of these statements would implicitly include the Boston University program, of course, since it is so similar to other programs at other schools in many respects.)

2. Remove only those criticisms and suggestions for improvement that explicitly cite an example of something I have seen or experienced at Boston University.

3. Retain the suggestions for improvement, but remove the critical parts of either of the above.

4. In any of the above, remove the entire page, article, essay, etc. or remove only the "offending" sentence or paragraph.

5. Limit myself to the highlighted sections of the particular pages you distributed at the meeting. (The downside of this is that surely, as you yourself said, your examples were not complete and comprehensive but merely the product of a short time spent surfing around the site. There would surely be other "objectionable" and "offensive" statements that could and subsequently would be found on other pages and in other paragraphs that were not included in your handout.)

Please help me, Charles. I am really at loss about which of these options you were asking me to execute with your final instructions to me at the end of the meeting, or whether you had something entirely different in mind.

Finally, I wanted to ask that you please make sure that Mary Jane [Doherty] retains the raw, unedited copy of her minutes (taken from the point you called me a "slanderer" and I requested that minutes be taken and transcribed) and gives me a copy at the earliest possible date. (A Xerox of her notes as taken last night would be fine.) So many charges, accusations, names, and aspersive epithets were being shouted at me (often quite inarticulately in broken phrases and incomplete sentences and in nasty abusive tones of voice) by so many different people, often at the same time, that it was impossible for me to hear all of them or remember who said what. The minutes (in their rawest, unedited form) will be invaluable in attempting to come to grips with what was, beyond all doubt or dispute, in my twenty-five years of serving as a faculty member at four different institutions, the most abusive, insulting, and unprofessionally chaired meeting I've ever been present at. 


For the record, the meeting minutes taken by Prof. Mary Jane Doherty, which I request a copy of in the final paragraph of this email (and subsequently made multiple requests directly to Prof. Doherty to send me) were impounded and suppressed by Chairman Merzbacher. He refused to send them to me (or to allow her to send them to me) or to publish them in any form. It was typical BU practice (and typical Charles Merzbacher practice). If something happened that he wanted to deny, he impounded and suppressed the record of it having taken place. If he didn't completely suppress meeting minutes, Chairman Merzbacher would "edit" the minutes to remove nasty, abusive comments directed at me during department meetings--or anything else he wanted to deny happened. The minutes of this particular meeting were clearly too incriminating for him to allow them to become part of the official record.

One of the many emails I sent to Prof. Mary Jane Doherty, requesting a copy of the minutes of the first meeting Chairman Merzbacher organized to try to force me to take down my web site--one of many meetings organized by him devoted to having junior faculty members yell at me, call me names, and attack my morals and character--is reprinted below. Professor Doherty had been the designated taker of minutes at the meeting and I had sat directly across from her at a narrow table and watched her write down a detailed record of the entire hour-long screaming session devoted to abusing me on a pad of paper. Immediately following the conclusion of the meeting, I wrote her the first of several emails asking her to give me a copy of her handwritten notes. She responded to my first request with a non-committal reply. I wrote her again a week or two later, and she made another non-committal reply. The meeting (the first of many where I was abused and yelled at) had been in late November, so it was early December by that point and Christmas vacation interrupted our correspondence for a few weeks. When January came, I wrote her a third email, the one reprinted below, a few days before the beginning of the Spring term in mid-January:

Subject: request for the minutes

Mary Jane,

Not to re-visit excruciatingly painful memories (for both of us and for the entire department I am sure), but I wanted to follow up on my requests, six weeks ago, for a copy of the minutes of the impassioned departmental stoning, oops sorry, I meant to write meeting, that took place at the end of November about objections to what is posted on my web site.... Anything will do, in whatever state it is. Even if you only have a rough transcript or unrevised draft of your notes, I'd greatly appreciate having a copy of it. (If you have typed anything up from your notes, however rough or tentative, you could email the doc. to me, or else you could just drop a Xerox of anything you wrote by hand in my mailbox.) Thanks.

All sincere best wishes on the start of the term, and for a prosperous and successful new year, Mary Jane! This difficult period too will pass, I am sure.



I wrote several more emails to Prof. Doherty, but, to make a long story short, the minutes of the meeting in question were never produced. They had, like a citizen of Chile or Argentina, "been disappeared." But it was interesting to me throughout the entire process that, in all of my communications with her, Prof. Doherty never once disagreed with my characterization of the meeting I was requesting a record of as a "stoning" in the email above, or objected to my use of any of the other unequivocally pejorative terms I employed to describe the meeting in the other emails I wrote to her. She knew the awfulness, the immorality, the unprofessionalism of the event that my Chairman had orchestrated and that she had participated in and transcribed the record of. And that was precisely why she (undoubtedly acting on instructions from Department Chairman Merzbacher) refused to provide the minutes of the meeting to me. They were too compromising to reveal. They were suppressed. They were never published. 

It was typical of the way Film and Television Department Chairman Merzbacher ran meetings--and administered the whole department he chaired. If he wanted the record to demonstrate something (i.e., if he had succeeded in ramming through a vote in favor of someone or something he was in favor of), he preserved the record of the event and widely disseminated it; if something happened that he wanted to deny or pretend never happened, the record was suppressed and the event was denied; it never happened; anyone who reminded him of it had misremembered the discussion, the wording of the motion, or the outcome of vote. This particular meeting (like many other ones devoted to abusing and attacking me) was one of the things he wanted to take place (after all, he organized it and presided over it), but was also one of the things he wanted to be able to deny had ever taken place. 
Procedures like taking and publishing minutes are followed in my department only when they serve the interests of the Chair and the administration. They are freely violated if they would reveal professional misconduct or unethical behavior by administrators.  Nothing new in that observation. The academic misconduct I document on page after page of this site (and much other misconduct by Dean Fiedler, Dean Schulz, Chairman Merzbacher, Chairman Schneider, and Program Director Grundmann that I have witnessed and experienced beyond what I have space to document here) unhesitatingly resorts to lies, deceit, and violations of procedure to deny that it ever happened--and to suppressions of the record to cover its tracks after it has. (See "Lynch Mobs--Secret and Surreptitious Meetings to Foment Students Against a Teacher," available in the right-hand menu for April, for an entire series of meetings, involving many different BU administrators and extending over a period of years that, according to the administrators who held them, "never happened." They never took place. All records of them were erased. All official memory of them is denied--except the memories of the students who were present at them, listening in shock and dismay to one of their teachers being attacked and slandered by various BU administrators.) 

To say the obvious, unethical behavior seldom occurs in isolation. Chairman Merzbacher didn't act alone in this instance or in any of the others that I document on the site. It took Professor Mary Jane Doherty's explicit assent--just as it took the implied agreement of the rest of the faculty in the department--to allow the Chairman's suppression of the meeting minutes to take place. It takes a village, it takes a corrupt culture, to pull off an act of censorship. Any faculty member in my department could have refused to go along with the motion to censor my web site (or with the motion to censure me for having said what I did). Even one highly principled faculty member could almost certainly have prevented the motion from being passed. And any faculty member could have objected to the suppression of the minutes of the meeting. But the faculty in the Department of Film and Television were all afraid; they were all willing to sell their principles to the highest bidder, since they knew that the department Chairman holds both the power of the purse over them and the power to promote (or not promote) them based on his recommendation. They let the system corrupt them.

Welcome to what President Brown euphemistically refers to as "the new B.U." Not much different from the old BU, as far as I have experienced. John Silber might as well still be in charge. But no surprise there since many of the same people remain in the same administrative positions. See other pages of the site for more on that subject--and for many other accounts of professional misconduct and unethical behavior at Boston University. --R.C.