Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Frightening Advice—The Need for Ethical Speech

 The Need for Ethical Speech

I received so much mail (at the Gmail account I have had to move my correspondence into to avoid having my Dean monitor and attempt to control it, as has happened in the past and is discussed on other blog pages) about a section of a previous posting on the page titled: "How Can BU Call Itself a University?" and received so many questions, particularly from faculty members at other universities, about one particular event it describes that I decided to add some more details and information to clarify what I said on that page. (I have now also silently updated that page as well so that it now includes the additional information.) What follows is a somewhat longer and slightly more detailed account of a private conversation I had with my department Chairman (Paul Schneider) in his office in the past year in the course of which he told me one of the reasons why I was being punished and gave me implied advice about my past and present conduct as a faculty member. (My apologies to everyone who wrote me; I am sorry I don’t have time to reply to your inquiries individually. I hope the following expanded account answers most of your questions.)

As I note in the account below, I honestly believe that Chairman Schneider was speaking to me not as a bureaucrat or university functionary, but “man-to-man” in a completely sincere and candid attempt to explain to me why I continued to receive the financial, bureaucratic, and emotional punishments that have been (and are still being) doled out to me. But far from justifying the treatment I have received, the candor and sincerity of my Chairman’s personal remarks to me, to my mind, make his views of what is and is not allowed in faculty expression even more chilling and ominous. Boston University is in a bad way when this attitude toward faculty who make principled ethical statements is so generally accepted that it can be taken for granted, and offered as “advice” to faculty members by administrators. 

       To be complete: I should note that I had several fairly similar conversations with the Boston University Provost in earlier years where I was told that if I just "shut up and started minding my own business," all of my "problems would go away." To my astonishment, the university Provost was telling me that the things I was reporting weren't the problem; my reports of them were! I thought I was living Kafka's The Trial. The Dean of the College of Communication, Tom Fiedler, also gave me one or two similarly Kafkaesque lectures shortly after he took over the Deanship, in which as he inimitably put it, the problem in the College wasn't the "trouble" I was reporting; the problem was that I was "making trouble," and being a "troublemaker" by writing and sending him the reports! Translation: The "trouble" was not the events; the "trouble" was my reports. I was the problemnot the events I was reporting! He made clear to me in no uncertain terms that my reports were the things that had to be dealt withand decisively stopped once and for all; not the ethical violations. At one point, he even tried to get me to promise that I wouldn't make any more problems for him by continuing to tell him the things I had been telling him. (If anyone is interested, or looking for a little Saturday Night Live sketch-comedy, I describe a few of the conversations I had with the Boston University Provost and the College of Communication Dean on other pages of the blog.) It is extremely troubling when faculty can be urged by university administrators, in complete good faith and with all sincerity, to keep their mouths shut when they see something amiss. It is extremely troubling that they can be told, in all good conscience and candor, that the thing to do is simply to keep their noses clean and "mind their own business" when they see ethical problems.

This is terrible advice, and a terrible view of the function of a university faculty member, above all. It's downright frightening advice. We are way beyond questions about how to treat so-called "whistle-blowers;" what is in question is how to treat anyone, anywhere, who acts, talks, and thinks in ethical terms. Boston University has made its position clear in a thousand different ways. Ethical stands that threaten those in power are clearly not only frowned on, but punished and retaliated against. This can't be the right response to ethical statements and moral stances. Our corporations, our small businesses, our families, our grade schools, our military services, our government, our politicians, and our universities, our universities most of all because they are (or should be) the absolute bastions, the standard-bearers, of unconstrained and unintimidated free moral expression, need more ethical awareness and more ethical expression—not less; and they certainly should not have a taken-for-granted policy of bureaucratic and financial punishment and administrative retaliation against someone who points out ethical problems or criticizes the ethics of an administrator. Read Michael Davis; read Sisela Bok; read Claire Potter; read Clancy Martin; read Mahatma Gandhi; read Desmond Tutu; read Noam Chomsky; read Martin Luther King; read Henry David Thoreau; read Robert Coles; read Nelson Mandela; read John Stuart Mill—if that truth is not already obvious to you. (And if you are a student who doesn't know who all of these people are, write to me and I'll tell you what to read by them. They, and hundreds of others like them, known and unknown, are moral heroes.) Our universities and our entire culture need more truth-telling, more principled individuals, and more ethical speech, not less. Fear and followership have gotten us into the sad state we are in; only moral courage can save us. — Ray Carney

…. in a conversation several months ago Chairman Schneider also explicitly told me, in direct answer to a question I asked him in person in his office about why I still continued to be punished financially and bureaucratically, that the reason was because, among other things, I had criticized the tabloid journalistic values of the Dean of the College of Communication (Tom Fiedler) in these blog postings. He quoted something I had said about my Dean's ethical conduct (for the reader of this blog: it was an excerpt from "Part 2: Ten years of Administrative Retaliation for Speaking Up to Defend the Freedom of Academic Expression Inside and Outside the Classroom," available as the second entry in the side menu on this page), criticizing what I had written, and telling me that, given what I had said there and elsewhere, the university had every right to punish me and take other actions against me. Like many other BU administrators, he clearly had no problem with that. It all made perfect sense to him. Mind you, in this interaction, he was not speaking to me as a bureaucrat or functionary; he was speaking to me man-to-man, sincerely and caringly, telling me why, in his view, I had created all of my own problems with what he called my "offensive" and "objectionable" statements (his description of them). It was obvious to him that I had brought the financial and bureaucratic punishments I was receiving on myself! If you criticized a senior university administrator, you deserved having your pay cut. That was to be expected. That's the way business worked. (My Chairman, like my Dean, does not have an academic but a business background; and he still pulls in a major salary working as a businessman, on top of his job as Chair.) It was perfectly clear to him what I had done wrong, was being punished for, and fully deserved being punished for. You are not supposed to criticize your boss, his values, or his actions. That's the way business works; that's the way the Department and the College work. That's the way they will always work. And that's the way they should work. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Frankly, I was stunned by his statement (and by his candor). He was admitting what I would have charged against him and my Dean all along. Here I was, doing my job as a professor and ethical commentator, with principles and the highest ethical standards, doing my duty as a responsible, ethical human beingcourageously speaking out about ethical issues and violations as I saw them; but that was precisely what was unacceptable to Chairman Schneider and Dean Fiedler, and he was admitting it. That was why I was being punishedbecause I had made ethical statements criticizing my Dean's conduct (and of course raising ethical objections to a hundred other events and actions and policies). But my Chairman saw it the opposite way. Ethical statements, ethical stands were not to be tolerated. I had crossed some invisible line when I began making moral judgments. They were forbidden at BU. Given that fact, it was plain as day to my Chairman, perfectly obvious in fact, that I deserved the response I was getting. What other response could I possibly have expected? He was baffled that I couldn't see it his way, because it's the BU way. It pervades the institution from top to bottom. Faculty are not supposed to speak out; they are not supposed to take principled stands; they are not supposed to make ethical statements or observations. Faculty are supposed to keep their mouths shut when they see problems. In his mind (completely sincerely and earnestly, mind you) if you make an ethical statement, if you take an ethical stand, if you point out an ethical issue--you had better be prepared to have your evaluations lowered and your pay cut by your Dean. That's the way things work. Why couldn't I see that? It was all so obvious to him. 

And to make the institutional situation worse (if it can be made worse), the highest levels of the Boston University administration, Provost Jean Morrison and President Robert Brown, know that this is the attitude of middle management (since they condone it by allowing it with their silence) and they know these punishments are being administered (since I have pointed them out to both of them in numerous memos), but they play "hear no evil, see no evil," turning a blind eye to the whole punishment-for-speaking-up system. That should tell you all you need to know about their own levels of ethical awareness and concern.  

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To read a summary of the past decade of financial and bureaucratic punishments, pedagogical failures, violations of academic freedom, verbal harassment, threats to destroy Prof. Carney's reputation via web postings and to bankrupt him with legal actions, and a variety of other forms of administrative misconduct and academic misbehavior at Boston University, see: “A Summary—Ten Years at Boston University,” available under June 2014 in the side menu on any page.