Saturday, November 2, 2013

Bullying at BU

Bullies in Suits and Ties

A note about the gap in the blog postings: I suspended posting for the past five months, from the beginning of June through the end of October, in hopes that the Boston University administration would be willing to discuss the issues I have raised. Since that has not been the course the administration has chosen to take, I am resuming regular postings.

* * *

My email correspondence continues to be voluminous, especially now that I have moved most of it out of my university account at and writers know that their emails will not be read by my Dean and risk being passed around to various members of the Boston University administration. After my Dean began reading, showing to other administrators, and writing memos criticizing and attempting to control the messages I sent to students, former students, and individuals unconnected with Boston University from my university ( email address, and publicly asserted his right to continue the practice of monitoring faculty emails, I notified many of my correspondents that they should communicate with me via my account (for reference: my name there is raycarney1). Now I only have the NSA to contend with, but at least they won’t write me angry memos trying to stop me from writing my students or lower my evaluations and dock my pay for what I have written!

I have received thousands of emails from students, former students, and faculty members at other universities, in response to my Spring 2013 blog postings, almost all of them supporting my attempt to defend a faculty member’s right to communicate with others freely and confidentially without administrative monitoring, criticism, control, censorship, or intimidation. Almost all of the people who have written me—especially faculty members at other universities, who understand the issues at stake better than a student can—have expressed shock at the treatment I have received at the hands of Boston University administrators.

On this page and in future blog postings, I will be reprinting a small selection of the messages I have received (a selection of earlier messages appeared on the “Letters to Prof. Carney” page posted in Spring 2013), along with my responses. (As will be immediately obvious, the ones I’ve selected for this set of postings are those where I had the time to write the longest and most detailed responses to questions I was asked.) I’d note that in several cases, I have severely edited the message to me to eliminate material of merely personal interest, and in several cases, have expanded the text of my response in the blog posting to make it more intelligible to a reader who is not as familiar with the issues or the other blog postings as the individual I was communicating with was. To protect the privacy and confidentiality of my correspondents, I have also removed anything that would reveal their identities and preserve the privacy and confidentiality of their communications (privacy and confidentiality that I would note that my Dean and other BU administrators failed to respect when they circulated to each other copies of emails I have written and received with the names and email addresses of the correspondents attached).

For convenience of reference, I have given each letter and reply a title. The title was sometimes the subject line of the email I received or the subject line of my reply; but in several cases I have created it specially for this occasion to facilitate ready identification of the subject of the blog posting. —Ray Carney

Subject: Bullies in Suits and Ties

Prof. Carney,

You are so idealistic I don’t think you understand what has been going on. You are being bullied. Being screamed at in meetings. Being called names. Told you are mentally ill. Called a liar. Yelled at in front of your students by your Chairman and your Dean. Being told you should quit at a meeting in front of other people. Having your emails read and passed around. Having your pay cut for giving advice to students. Having classes scheduled at 8 in the morning and 9 at night. Having students told lies about you by people in your department. It’s not fair. It’s not right. You are being bullied. I don’t care if the people doing the bullying wear suits and ties. I don’t care if they have Ph.D.s. It’s no different than punks in high school. They are bullies and you are being bullied. Bullies can be any age. You don’t have to put up with it. Go to the Office of Diversity and Tolerance. Go to the Chaplain. Go to Hillel. You don’t have to be Jewish. They help students. They will help you. They will put a stop to it. No one, I don’t care if they are a student or a teacher, has to put up with being bullied. Bullies are afraid. They will stop harassing you if you report them. Just because they are adults doesn’t change anything.

Jennifer [last name withheld]

Ray Carney's reply follows:

Dear Jennifer,

Haha. I love your image of bullies wearing suits and ties! Much better than the tired old “bullying in the workplace.” And you’re right. I have been bullied—though (if you can accept a gentle correction) most of the bullies in the College of Communication and the Department of Film and Television don’t wear suits and ties. I’m the only one in my department who does, just as I’m one of a minority who holds the Ph.D. degree. Most of them only have Bachelor's or Master's degrees. But your basic point is true. Bullies can be grownups; they can be college-educated; and they can be teachers or administrators as likely as members of any other group. The only difference is that instead of having recourse to physical abuse, the academics and administrators at Boston University use verbal abuse and the removal of research support and lowered evaluations and pay cuts—and all the other things the blog pages mention—to harass people who speak up to them. At least that’s the way things are at Boston University.
It’s gone on for something like ten years. It’s the legacy of a former President of the university named John Silber; he spent thirty years creating the culture of bullying—and unfortunately, he cast a long shadow. The past is still very much alive at BU. As I document on the blog, only a few months ago, my Dean organized and presided over a meeting of College of Communication administrators where I was accused of being a liar, told I was mentally ill, and asked by my Chairman, in front of everyone else at the meeting, why I didn’t quit. Part of the meeting was also devoted to attacking me for emails I had written to someone unconnected with the university, which had been passed around by the Dean. In another meeting, again only a few months ago, in spring 2013, the Director of the Film Studies program spent much of the meeting berating and mocking me in front of junior, part-time, and adjunct faculty members. Administrators have done these things, year after year, month after month, publicly, in front of junior colleagues. It's part of the strategy to try to force me to quit. I call it "public shaming as an administrative technique" in one of the blog postings. And a motion of censure is still in effect to try to intimidate me and destroy my professional reputation with a negative public posting about me on the BU web site. And there's been a lot more. On and on it goes. Nice guys, these BU administrators, eh? I guess you can call it bullying with a purpose, bullying with brains, institutional bullying. But it's really no different than any other kind of bullying in high school designed to make someone's life as horrible as possible and destroy their relationships with others. In my case, it’s an attempt to get rid of me for being a whistle-blower about the professional misconduct I’ve reported.
I appreciate you suggestions on places to go, but—there’s always a but, isn’t there?—I’m sorry to break the news to you, but it is in the nature of institutional behavior that people whose careers are invested in an institution (the head of Hillel, if BU has a chapter, I’ll have to check; the Chaplain; the Diversity Office, again I’d have to check if there is such a place here), people whose paychecks are issued by the institution, are almost never willing to stick their necks out to support someone in my position. Supporting a student who is being bullied by another student is easy; anyone can do that; it’s safe since it only involves picking on a misbehaving student; but supporting a faculty member who is being harassed and bullied by faculty members and mid-level administrators is just too risky. Can you imagine the trouble the Chaplain or another university official would get into with senior administrators if they defended me? My one hope was the University Ombuds, but that was short-lived. I gave her hundreds of pages documenting more than ten years of harassment and retaliation against me, virtually all of it witnessed by dozens of other people (and of course my pay freezes and denial of research support are matters of university record); but after telling me that she had heard corroborating stories from other faculty members in my College, I think she also got scared, afraid reporting the misconduct of an administrator would get her into hot water. In any case, she simply stopped communicating with me. I don’t actually know what happened—except that it’s now been something like three years since I gave her all of the information and the situation continues uncorrected, unaddressed, and unchanged—and that speaks for itself.
The only thing I can do, the only action I am in control of at this point, is to avoid contact with these people as much as possible. If I stay away from them in meetings and other gatherings, at least they won’t be able to continue to bully me. That’s all I can do right now as long as they continue their bullying—though of course it doesn’t redress the hits on my pay, the research support cuts, or the other punishments. But I figure I am actually doing them a favor, since by avoiding them I am at least not giving them more opportunities to disgrace themselves.
But bear in mind that this situation is not ultimately about me. It’s about the students, who are being cheated when independent-minded faculty members are forced out, as many from my college have been, and about future students who will be denied the points of view of independent-minded faculty who will choose not to work at BU in the future.
But thanks, dear Jennifer, for your kind thoughts, words, advice, and moral support. I sincerely appreciate them.

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.