Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Violations of Privacy and Confidentiality--A Continuing BU Saga

As I discuss at much greater length and detail on two earlier site pages (see “How Marketing and Branding Considerations Limit What Teachers Can Tell Their Students—or Suggest That They Read at Boston University" and “The Monitoring and Control of Faculty Emails, Phone Calls, and Personal Expression in the Boston University College of Communication,” both available via the side menu), one of many deeply disturbing aspects of the treatment of faculty members at Boston University is the assumption on the part of university administrators that they have the right, covertly and surreptitiously, to monitor and control faculty communications with others inside and outside the university. I have been the victim, on repeated occasions, of acts of criticism (and subsequent punishment) administered by College of Communication administrators in retaliation for things I have written or said to students and former students, to other Boston University faculty members, to non-Boston University faculty members, and to individuals completely unconnected with the university. I have discovered on more than one occasion, to my dismay, that the College of Communication Dean Tom Fiedler and Film and Television Department Chairman Paul Schneider have not only read emails I have sent to others without my knowledge and permission, but have felt free to distribute copies of the emailed texts they have obtained to other administrators and staff members in my College and elsewhere in the university with the avowed purpose of mounting a concerted campaign to criticize, censure, ostracize, and marginalize me for what I have said or written, privately, in presumed confidence to others.

As I note on the previously mentioned site pages (see, in particular, the "P.S." that ends the heading to the page “How Marketing and Branding Considerations Limit What Teachers Can Tell Their Students—or Suggest That They Read at Boston University"), this policy of reading and distributing private, confidential faculty communications represents a flagrant violation of all normal and accepted standards of professional conduct--not to mention an outrage to personal respect and expectations of decency and fairness.

I have objected to these and other violations of confidentiality (as well as to many other acts of serious administrative misconduct) on numerous occasions, in memos and personal meetings with my College Dean, Department Chairman, and other university administrators. As an illustration of one of my more recent memos on the subject, the three paragraphs that follow are excerpted from a longer statement I submitted in February 2013 to the Dean of the College of Communication and the Chairman of the Department of Film and Television.

It is now more than three months later, as of the date of this posting, and I guess I should not have been surprised by the result. As has been the case with virtually every other memo or report I have written--memos and reports covering a range of serious professional misconduct and unethical behavior in my College--there has been no response (beyond mockery and sarcasm). Nothing at all in reply from my Dean or Chairman. No defense of their position; no justification for their violations of confidentiality; and no inquiry or investigation into the facts and events by more senior administrators (who received copies of my memo). I might as well have thrown my statement in the trash. Welcome to BU. Faculty rights and, in this instance, faculty expressions of concern about the confidentiality and privacy of faculty communications with others are clearly not taken seriously by--and clearly do not merit a reply from--Boston University administrators. 

The blog pages mentioned in the first sentence of the first paragraph show that this non-response is nothing new. It has been going on with reports I have submitted for almost ten years. Boston University has a long-standing policy of ignoring reports of professional misconduct by administrators--if the university doesn't offer the offender an outright promotion as a reward for his offenses. (For more about a case that illustrates that last point, a case involving grave and well-documented misconduct by the previous Dean of the College of Communication against more than a dozen College faculty members, see: "Lynch Mobs--Secret and Surreptitious Meetings to Foment Students Against a Teacher.") 

The section from the longer memo that deals with violations of confidentiality and privacy in faculty communications follows. -- Ray Carney

.... I want to mention another extremely troubling aspect of the December 12 [2012] meeting that merits separate consideration. Part of the meeting (as documented in a memo Dean Fiedler sent me in advance) involved the Dean’s having distributed to the individuals present in the meeting the texts of private, confidential emails I had written to a third-party (someone not associated with Boston University), and criticizing me for what was in the emails. For him to have distributed the texts of these emails to other individuals [without my knowledge or permission], and to have made what I wrote in them part of the December 12 meeting was a flagrant violation of every normal and accepted standard of professional conduct with regard to respecting the privacy and confidentiality of faculty communications with others. These emails had absolutely nothing to do with [the performance of my duties at Boston University]. Everything in them was of personal and private nature, written by me confidentially and sent to and intended to be read only by the designated recipient.

Professionals do not read others' private, personal mail, and, if they have the material thrust into their hands, do not distribute copies of the mail to others, and hold a group meeting to criticize someone for what he has written someone else in the privacy of a private, confidential communication. For Dean Fiedler and Associate Counsel Geetter to sanction the distribution and examination of a faculty members’ personal mail is to be guilty of a gross violation of faculty expectations of privacy and confidentiality.

And it is worth noting that this is not the first or only time Dean Fiedler has done something like this. As Dean Fiedler has made clear, he asserts his (and his delegated associates’) right to monitor and control (or to criticize, which coming from an administrator who is in charge of pay raises and administrative assignments is a powerful form of control) a wide-range of faculty communications—extending from monitoring what is printed on faculty printers, to what is duplicated on the faculty Xerox machine, to calling telephone numbers faculty have dialed to check up on whom they called, to monitoring and controlling faculty members’ routine email communications with students and former students. As I documented in last year’s annual report, I was called on the carpet (and my evaluations and pay were of course negatively affected) for writing an email to my students that Dean Fiedler did not agree with. Is there anything left of faculty rights, or email privacy and confidentiality at BU? ... 

The two site pages named in the heading to this page are the principal references for this issue. Both describe other instances involving the monitoring and control of faculty communications by Boston University administrators, but for the reader who would like to read still more on the subject, I would recommend two additional site pages to supplement the account, after the material on the first two pages has been read: "The Two Cultures—The Conflict Between Business Values and the Life of the Mind" and "Part 2: Ten years of Administrative Retaliation for Speaking Up to Defend the Freedom of Academic Expression Inside and Outside the Classroom"--both also available via the side menu. --R.C.