Friday, November 15, 2013

Evidence of a Healthy Institution

Evidence of a Healthy Institution (and of an Unhealthy One)
Denial is Not the Right Answer to the Question

 A significant number of the emails I have received have been from faculty members at other universities who have been appalled by the way Boston University treats its senior, tenured faculty—and reports of ethical violationsthough, as many of them have told me, though they are shocked, they are not surprised, given the thirty-year history of the institution under President John Silber. What follows is a highly abridged excerpt from a much longer email written to me by a faculty member, whose name and most of the references he made to events at his own and other institutions he was affiliated with have been removed to protect his identity. —R.C.


… Several of us have been wondering what has been the response from university administrators to your blog postings? Have they met with you to discuss the issues you raise? Did the meetings work out? Has everything been resolved to their and your satisfaction? It’s been a long time coming….
…. An afterthought: Does Boston U. have an Ombudsperson? Have you gone down that path? Ours [at this faculty member’s university] is empowered to do anything necessary to thoroughly investigate and report on problems, and I mean anything, even if the report involves criticizing the conduct of senior administrators. That’s what an Ombudsperson is for, even in corporate America. I’m sure you saw the report the NPR Ombudsperson filed a few weeks ago. It absolutely eviscerated the management and a lot of the staff for ethical failures. Far from lowering NPR in my mind, an event like that is actually evidence of a healthy institution. One that faces up to its problems, learns from its mistakes, and grows from them. BU must have someone like that who can help you. Denial and stone-walling and non-response are surely not the right response. The issues seem pretty clear, and a lot of people participated in or saw these events as they happened, which makes them undeniable.... 

[name and position withheld]

Ray Carney replies:

Dear XXXX,

.… Re: the university response. I wish the Boston University administration was as reasonable—and enlightened—as you describe yours as being. The short answer to all of your questions is that there has been no response from any BU administrator to my blog postings. A significant number of current BU faculty and a few former faculty members (some of whom were forced out or decided to resign when they experienced unprofessional or abusive treatment similar to what I experienced) have written me notes of support describing their own experiences; but neither the Provost, the President, nor anyone else in senior management has even requested that we meet to discuss the treatment I have received and documented, let alone made an offer to rectify the situation and restore my lost pay and research support, or to make amends for any of the other administrative punishments that have been inflicted on me.
I didn’t say anything about it online since I didn’t want to seem to be publicly browbeating the administration into dealing with me, but I suspended blog postings [as of the date this is being posted, for five months, from June to November 2013] to give university administrators a chance to read what I had posted, meet with each other, come up with a response and a proposal for financial restitution, and sit down with me to bring this whole shabby affair to an end.
But, as I say, that’s another university—a university where senior faculty are treated with respect; where their concerns are taken seriously; where reports of unethical behavior are investigated and not punished. An institution that “learns from its mistakes,” as you put it. That’s not the university I work for. I have not heard a peep from anyone in a position to resolve these issues. In fact, if I had received a thoughtful, respectful, collegial response from a senior BU administrator, I would have fallen off my chair because it would have been so out of character with the way I have been treated for years. Don’t forget that (with a few exceptions) the blog postings are only copies of memos I wrote and submitted (often to multiple administrative officers) already, and the university non-response, the stonewalling, the acts of denial, the willful blindness—not to mention the verbal abuse, disrespect, and administrative punishment and retaliation I received for submitting them—has gone on for more than a decade. These memos or comparable memos were already sent to the Provost (initially a guy named David Campbell and now a woman named Jean Morrison), the President (Robert Brown), the University Ombuds (Francine Montemurro), three Deans (Tobe Berkowitz, John Schulz, and Tom Fiedler), and two Chairmen (Charles Merzbacher and Paul Schneider). I give the names in case anyone there has experience with these folks. And look how they were received the first time I submitted them. Not one of the previous memos and reports of ethical violations and professional misconduct received a single thoughtful, reasoned response. It’s really astonishing isn’t it? Can you imagine administrators at your university simply not replying to such reports? Or, in a face-to-face meeting, imagine administrators at your university replying—if I can dignify it with such a term—by calling the professor who wrote the memo names, by telling him he is mentally ill, by accusing him of making everything up (despite the presence of dozens of faculty and student witnesses), by asking him why doesn’t he quit if he doesn’t like the way things are done, and, when he fails to quit, by dishing out a series of administrative punishments against him? So that’s why it would have knocked my hat off if my blog postings had received a thoughtful, reasoned administrative response. We’re talking about BU, not Stanford. 
       [For more information about my reports to the Boston University Ombuds, Francine Montemurro, and the complete lack of meaningful or substantive response to them, and the complete failure to redress or correct past problems I have reported, see the following blog entries: "Letter to the University Ombuds: Events that Almost Defy Belief," "Egregious Professional Misconduct: For Academics Only," "Lynch Mobs--Secret and Surreptitious Meetings to Foment Students Against a Teacher," and many other pages of this blog, available in the right-hand menu. For a quick read, "The Thought Police," the blog posting immediately following this one, available in the side menu under November 2013, contains what is probably the shortest and best summary of what was done by BU administrators to control and suppress my publications.]
If you want my “read” of the situation, for what it’s worth, it’s first that it is incredibly hard for senior administrators to admit (even to themselves) that an administrator directly under them, someone they know and work with, someone who is presumably a friend, is guilty of any kind of bad behavior. Look at the scandals connected with campus sports programs. The senior-level administrators who failed to investigate the problems were not (I have to assume) evil or malicious, they were just naïve and overly trusting of the people who worked under them. There is a powerful human impulse to “see no evil” when it comes to misconduct of people you know and like personally. Beyond that, standard procedure (when you are checking up on your administrative buddies) is almost always just to ask them “if any of this really happened,” and if you are assured it didn’t (and what administrator is going to bust himself or voluntarily admit to anything?)once you get that assurance, as you certainly will, it is almost impossible not to write off a professor you don’t know, a relative stranger (someone like me, who has never had a single conversation with the current President or Provost), as being the problem. He is clearly a “malcontent” or a “troublemaker”—as two of my Deans (my current Dean, Tom Fiedler, and the one who preceded him, John Schulz) actually called me to my face. (The fact that faculty can be talked to this way by an administrator is just more evidence of the lack of respect for faculty at BU.) All of the documentary evidence I have provided, all of the dozens of student and faculty witnesses to the events I have described are simply ignored. On top of all of that, I’m sure there’s the general institutional fear that launching a real “investigation” will open a can of worms. There are a lot of bodies buried at this place. So, in sum, it’s easier to look the other way, to circle the wagons, to deny, deny, deny the message and attack, attack, attack the messenger. So much for the value of reports of ethical violations!!
On top of everything else, there is the technocrat side of these particular individuals. I’m sure that’s different at [name of school omitted]. Your Deans probably have Ph.D.s and academic values. That’s not the case at BU. None of the people over me has a background in the humanities; and not one is an academic in any current, meaningful sense, devoted to the life of the mind; they are professional managers; my Dean is from the world of business; he spent his entire career prior to his Deanship working in a corporation; no surprise that his view of organizational behavior, and of the people who work for him, is corporate. Maybe I’m being too charitable by half, but I’m convinced that he and the administrators above him simply don’t understand how violations of privacy and confidentiality in faculty communications, censorship of faculty publications (which is what my web site was), attempts to control what I say in interviews (can you believe it even extends to this?)—and all the rest—how absolutely anathema to the academy these actions are. They don’t understand how absolutely central to the academic enterprise freedom of expression is. Based on my experience, for them, a university is just a corporation and faculty are just “employees” who need to be “managed” (and their expressions “controlled” and kept “on message”) like any other set of corporate employees. To them, “intellectual independence” and "academic freedom" are phrases spoken in a country they have never visited, in a language they don’t understand and don't care to learn at their ages. That's the culture here. It's corporate. It's focused on advertising and public relations and keeping up with "peer" institutions to keep "closing the sale" (that's actually how student admissions have been referred to by the administrators over me) to keep the tuition dollars coming in. I’ve sat through meeting after meeting where when someone like me raises questions about the student experience in a course or a program, BU administrators launch into canned speeches about “branding,” “marketing,” and “selling” a program—to increase its “popularity” and boost enrollments and tuition receipts. That’s their solution to everything; that’s all they can understand. I’ve sat through dozens of these discussions—in fact, I sat through another depressing one only a few months ago at a College of Communication faculty meeting—and have never once heard a presentation or discussion that focused on intellectual brilliance and pedagogical excellence, or that understood the crucial importance of swimming against the current of what is culturally “fashionable,” “popular,” and “trending,” or that questioned the importance of keeping up with what “the competition” is doing. There’s something profoundly wrong with this picture. If a university is only one more corporation organized around the same "bring in the money" and "appeal to the purchaser" values as other corporations, why bother to have a university?
Yikes. I apologize for the “Organizational Behavior 1” lecture! Maybe I should have a professor at the BU School of Management do a case study on “institutional inertia,” “willful blindness,” “culpable negligence,” and the administrative failure to do “due diligence” on reports of ethical violations. I’m joking of course. The BU B-school is the last place that would be interested in defending faculty rights and condemning an institution that flagrantly violated them. Academics at a school like BU only speak out about problems far enough away to be safe to talk about. They never dare speak up about things in their own backyard. Thirty years of administrative retaliation and dismissals for cause—the legal office is filled with “good soldiers” who have shown themselves to be extremely resourceful at coming up with reasons to remove even tenured faculty—has scared it out of most of them, especially the most important group: the senior faculty “opinion-shapers" who would be the most likely ones to have the authority to speak up to the administration about these issues.
Forgive the length of the preceding. Your questions touched a nerve, and your assumption that this had almost certainly been resolved reminded me once more of the difference between the Boston University administration and that of an institution like [the name of the university has been removed] genuinely committed to enforcing ethical standards of conduct and, equally importantly, committed to defending the faculty’s right to free and independent expression, free from de facto or de jure censorship.


       Postscript by Ray Carney: I was unaware of the Ombudsman report my correspondent referred to, but found it described on a number of web sites. The following link is a good place to start, and will suggest the enormous chasm that separates what Boston University counts as Ombuds activity from the much more vigorous, much more searching work done by Edward Schumacher-Matos, the Ombudsman at National Public Radio. 
       In more than four years of receiving numerous highly documented reports of academic misconduct, the Boston University Ombuds (Francine Montemurro, who works directly under and for President Robert Brown--interesting fact, that, and no doubt at least in part responsible for the non-response my reports have been accorded) has conducted no investigations and issued no reports at all--nothing, not a sentence of a meaningful, significant response to me or to anyone else--let alone corrected the situations I have reported to ensure that they will not continue (and will not presumably happen again to other Boston University faculty members in the future). The complete non-investigation of, and non-response to, my reports says everything necessary about the ethical culture of the institution I work for. Welcome to Boston University. An institution where even the Ombuds does not respond to faculty issues.
       For what it is worth, I recommend reading the entire NPR report, if only as a point of contrast. It's extremely smart, very probing, and minces no words. In short, it stands as the strongest possible contrast to BU's complete non-response and years of administrative denials that anything at all happened.

May 18, 2014 Update: As of the end of the 2014 spring semester at Boston University, and in the face of all of the preceding and following blog postings, and several additional reports I have filed with the BU Ombuds, Francine Montemurro, the situation continues as I describe it in this note and elsewhere on this blog. Every one of the problems I pointed out to her remain, even at this late date, years into my reporting of them, in the face of hundreds of pages of iron-clad documentation and scores of witnesses, completely unaddressed and uncorrected by the BU Ombuds. Nothing has changed; nothing has been corrected; nothing has been addressed; nothing at all has been done. That's the Provost Jean Morrison, President Robert Brown, Boston University way.