Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Tale of Two Schools

Two Universities, Two Different Attitudes 
Toward Faculty Rights, Faculty Publications, 
   and Faculty Intellectual Independence

Boston University's “Big Brother” Policy of 
Monitoring and Controlling Faculty Publication and Speech
And Johns Hopkins’s Respect for Faculty and Their Ideas

I received the following note from a student who attended another university but audited my classes a few years ago. (For the past ten or fifteen years, I have always had several outside auditors—students, professors at other institutions, and professionals in other intellectual areas—in each of my classes. I love having them since they make valuable contributions to class discussion.) The former student was struck by the contrast between Boston University’s treatment of me in suspending my web site and voting to publicly censor me for having created it, and Johns Hopkins’s treatment of a junior faculty member who had actually gone much further in his internet postings than I ever had. 

The two schools clearly have completely different and opposed views of academic freedom and of the freedom of a professor to publish his ideas. While, because they disagreed with my ideas about the teaching of film, a BU Dean, University Provost, and Boston University President (Robert Brown) backed the censorship and suspension of my million-word faculty web site (and continue to back it), approved passage of a formal motion of censure against me to be posted on the official Boston University web site in an attempt to destroy my professional reputation and standing, and threatened personally to bankrupt me by taking legal action against me if I didn't immediately comply with the censorship motion, a Dean at Johns Hopkins University apologized for violating a faculty member’s academic rights by asking him to remove links to genuinely classified information that had been posted on the Johns Hopkins web site. The day after he issued the request that the material be removed, the Johns Hopkins Dean formally retracted the request and personally apologized to the Johns Hopkins faculty member for having overstepped his administrative rights in meddling and interfering with what the faculty member had published on the university web site.

It's worth emphasizing that the Boston University President, Provost, Dean of the College of Communication, and Chairman of the Department of Film and Television have actually gone much further than the Johns Hopkins Dean went. They have gone much further than censoring my entire faculty web site; further than demanding that all of my publications be removed from the university server; and further than passing a motion to publicly censure me in an attempt to destroy my professional reputation. For almost a decade at the point I am writing this blog posting, they have exercised their power to monitor and control virtually every aspect of my verbal and written expressions, inside and outside of class, and have exercised their control over me in a wide variety of ways.

As other blog pages document in detail, in cooperation with a previous Chairman, Charles Merzbacher, a previous Boston University Provost, David Campbell, gave me a list of items I was forbidden to publish my opinions about; a previous Dean of the College of Communication, John Schulz, asserted his right to control and limit what I said in classroom discussions and instructed me that I was not to discuss “controversial” scholarly issues with my grad students; my current department Chairman, Paul Schneider, asserted his right to limit what I am allowed to say to media interviewers; and my current Dean, Tom Fiedler, has asserted his right to monitor and oversee what I write in emails to my students—to exert de facto control over my email communications with my students by virtue of the power he has to lower my performance ratings and limit my salary when he disapproves of my conduct. (And he and my Chairman have, in fact, punished me both financially and professionally for many years in their efforts to limit my intellectual and professional independence.)

In short, it would be hard to find a sharper contrast than this tale of two universities. Johns Hopkins and Boston University: two different kinds of administrations; two entirely different administrative cultures—one academic in its respect for its professors' ideas, the other corporate in its assumption that it has the right to control what its employees say and publish; two different understandings of the importance of academic freedom and of a faculty member’s freedom to express his ideas on the internet, in his classroom, in interviews, in emails, and elsewhere; and two different ways of treating faculty members—one deferential and respectful and, when necessary, apologetic; the other nasty, abusive, and financially and professionally punitive—even when, as in the Johns Hopkins case, the faculty member is an assistant research professor, one of the lowest ranks of the professoriate, and in the Boston University case, the faculty member is a senior tenured Professor. 

There’s a lesson in the difference, in this tale of two schools, two academic cultures, two sets of administrative attitudes, and it doesn’t take a cryptologist to decode it. — Ray Carney

Subject: Professor Censorship

Hi RC, 

I hope you are well.
It looks like some universities will eat crow!  See the below link regarding the topical censoring of a professor's blog.

Kris [last name withheld to protect his confidentiality]

The link the former student sent me was to an article in The Guardian (London), one of the world’s most important and trustworthy newspapers. A few excerpts from The Guardian story follow:

"A Johns Hopkins University dean has apologised and insisted he is 'supportive of academic freedom' after ordering a cryptography professor to take down a blog post [that appeared as a faculty posting on the university server], which criticised the National Security Agency. Matthew Green, an assistant research professor in JHU's department of computer science, was asked to remove a blog post from the university's servers on Monday. The entry linked to classified government documents published by The Guardian, The New York Times and ProPublica, and summarised what Green called 'bombshell revelations' of how the NSA is able to unlock encryption used to protect emails and other data. JHU found itself criticised [by media critic Jay Rosen among others] for abusing academic freedom after Andrew Douglas, who has served as interim dean of the university's engineering school since July, asked Green to remove the post from the university's servers. [Dean Douglas retracted the request and formally apologized to Green the next day, writing:] 'I am sorry that my request to you yesterday may have, in some minds, undeservedly undercut your reputation as a scholar and scientist. I am also sorry if I have raised in anyone's mind a question as to my commitment to academic freedom.' " —Adam Gabbatt, The Guardian, Tuesday 10 September 2013. Copyright The Guardian, 2013. (To read the complete article, see the following link: )

Ray Carney's reply:

Subject: A Tale of Two Schools

 Dear Kris,

Wonderful to hear from you! Thanks for the link and the moral support. I appreciate it… The students are really the ones being cheated by the bullying, muzzling, intimidation, control, and monitoring of faculty expression at BU…. It's a real shame. They are the real losers—because they end up with faculty who lack both principles and courage, and are willing to knuckle under to the monitoring and control of what they say for the sake of getting promotions and pay raises. Sad but true.
On other fronts, deep diving…. I’ve been totally buried miles underground finishing up my Bresson book. Everything about his films I've read is hogwash. Still trying to make a difference….No time to click on the link today, but I'll let you know when I do.
Best wishes and thanks.
In haste,


Ray Carney
Prof. of Film and American Studies
Boston University

"Inside Boston University—A Faculty Member's Efforts to Defend
Academic Freedom of Expression" --
Ray Carney's observations about academic freedom of expression, the
censorship of faculty publications, and bureaucratic retaliation
against independent-minded faculty members at Boston University. Prof.
Carney reflects on the deleterious effect of corporate modes of
organization, business measures of value, and market pressures on the
life of the mind, academic research, and course offerings—and on the
distortions corporate values introduce into the faculty promotion,
pay, and support system.

Ray Carney is the 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); Autoportraits (Cahiers
du cinema), The Adventure of Insecurity; Necessary Experiences; Why
Art Matters
; and other books, essays, and editions, published in more
than ten languages.