Monday, February 16, 2015

Negotiating with Boston University, Part 1

The effectiveness of reason as a response to irrationality, anger, and fear

What follows is a continuation of my previously announced project (see the heading to “A Summary—Ten Years at Boston University,” available in the side menu under June 2014) of publishing a representative sample of the most frequent questions I have been asked along with expanded or consolidated versions of the replies I have made, in hopes that doing so will save other correspondents the time and effort of writing to ask the same questions and save me the time and effort of writing similar replies. (The volume of my email correspondence is almost overwhelming and I am in favor of anything I can do to bring it back to a manageable size.) In this instance, I am including a lightly re-written excerpt from an email I received from a senior professor at a major university in another part of the country, and a greatly expanded version of my response. I have suppressed any references that would divulge my correspondent’s identity or the identity of her university. —Ray Carney

Dear Prof. Carney,

…. I have kept up with the Boston U. situation via social media, but recently went to your blog to learn a little more about the background and course of events. To say I was shocked by what I read would be an understatement. [Omitted material where the writer tells a funny story about her university and the lengths administrators go to keep faculty members content.] The major unanswered question in my mind, one I don’t believe you go into, is the response of university administrators to your blog postings. Since what you have revealed about Boston U.’s punishment of faculty who report ethical violations has undoubtedly had an impact on faculty recruitment, my question is how have senior administrators responded to your postings? What negotiations have there been between you and them? What incentives have they offered you to take them down or discontinue future postings? What discussions of the issues you document have taken place? [More material is omitted at this point because it would reveal the writer’s academic affiliation.] I hope you do not mind me telling you frankly that there has been some discussion on the internet as well as among faculty here about the fact that they [Boston University administrators] simply must have made you an offer of some sort, and since your postings continue unabated, you must have rejected their attempts to work out a rapprochement. It’s simply not credible that a university administration would let a situation like this go on for more than ten years in private and three years in public, not credible that administrators whose job is to protect the integrity of the institutional brand and reputation, whether it is justified or not in your view, would fail to go into damage-control mode. They can’t have lost their minds. They are rational men and women and must realize the damage that is being done by your postings, which must be having an extraordinarily negative effect on recruiting. Note that I am not criticizing you for not accepting a compromise of some sort. I understand that you may have your reasons or that their offers may have not been generous enough. But surely there has been an offer to negotiate. Are you at liberty to tell me, even confidentially, what the sticking point has been? [More omitted material about the writer’s professional background and special scholarly interest in this subject. The writer then described how her own university administration accommodated a faculty member who merely threatened to make a brief internet posting about an administrative issue.] Please do not take this as an implied criticism of your position. Your integrity and courage are not in question. I fully understand that you have faced significant pressures to compromise your ethics and by your own account have taken significant cuts in your salary and your performance reports. I am interested in how you and the administration have tried to work out your differences.… [Additional omitted material follows.]

[Name withheld to protect the writer’s identity]

Ray Carney replies (a greatly enlarged and combined version of the reply I wrote in response to the preceding question and several similar inquiries):

Dear Prof. XXX:

Thanks for the moral support and the hilarious anecdote. You’re right about the impact my postings have had on student and faculty recruitment at BU, long-term and short-term. I know this for a fact, since a certain amount of my e-mail correspondence consists of questions I receive from faculty who are either contemplating responding to a Boston University job posting or who have actually applied, interviewed, or in a few cases received offers to work at the university. They have had many questions about the ethical and intellectual climate in the light of what I have written. And I have no doubt that university administrators are aware of the effect of my postings, since a fair number of my correspondents have told me that what I have told them has resulted in a decision either not to apply for a job at BU in the first place or to withdraw their names from consideration at some subsequent point. It's a documented fact that I get thousands of unique page views a month (in fact I've gotten more than 5000 views in a couple-day period after a particularly "hot" posting has gone up), and that large a readership will obviously have a pretty significant impact in the community of current and future students and teachers.

[Since I am now publishing this in my blog, let me add a necessary caution for the benefit of future correspondents who may be reading this. Any correspondence of this sort with me should be strictly limited to my private G-mail address, the one listed on the site pages, since as I’ve described in detail, Boston University administrators, including my Dean [Tom Fiedler] and Assistant Dean [Maureen Mahoney], assert their absolute and unquestioned right to read anything sent to or from faculty members in their university e-mail accounts (and also to monitor telephone calls made from office telephones). All faculty communication at BU is administratively monitored and controlled. (See “How Marketing and Branding Considerations Limit What Teachers Can Tell Their Students—Or Suggest That They Read at Boston University,” for an illustration of my Dean’s response to a series of emails I wrote my students recommending they read an article in The New York Times that he didn’t want them to read, and “The Monitoring and Control of Faculty Emails, Phone Calls, and Personal Expression in the Boston University College of Communication," both available in the side menu under March 2013.)]

Regarding your question about administrative “negotiations” with me, I understand where you are coming from, and why you make the assumptions you do. In the early years of my career, I taught at a number of other colleges and universities (Rutgers, Middlebury, Texas, and Stanford). I have friends who hold tenured positions at a dozen other American universities. I think I can categorically state that in these other institutions, without exception, your assumption would be correct. When senior, tenured faculty members have major differences of opinion with administrators at these other universities, the administrators invite the faculty members in to discuss the issues with them and, in every single case I have ever heard about, diligently attempt to work out a compromise of some sort. Reasonable and thoughtful men and women meet and interact reasonably and thoughtfully. That is only to be expected—not only because it is the respectful way to treat someone, but because it is the smart thing to do. Administrators bend over backward to keep a senior faculty member “on board” in any way they can. In my experience that is how administrators at other universities act.

But that’s why the analogy breaks down. Boston University is not like other universities. What is normal and reasonable practice at any other university is simply not what is done at BU. Every page of this blog documents how different Boston University is.

So the answer to your question is not only that there has been no overture, no negotiating offer, no conciliatory gesture, not even a pretense of taking my reports seriously, by Boston University administrators in the past ten years—not one, not a single exception—but that every time in the past three or four years I myself have independently made an overture, a gesture, an offer to meet, submitted a request to discuss things, I have been completely shut down. I may be forgetting a minor exception, but I think I can say that in that entire period of time, I have never even received a response to any of the memos I have written—a response, I mean, other than being called names, being told I was mentally ill, being called a liar and told none of it ever happened, or having my character and morals attacked for having written what I had. (I will describe one actual face-to-face meeting between me and my Dean below [in Part 2 of this posting], but would emphasize that it wasn't a response to a request to meet from me. It took place because my Dean summarily demanded it of me, and the events that transpired at that particular meeting will speak for themselves. They were not even remotely a “negotiation,” in any sense of the term. They were closer to being a witch trial where I was the witch and he and other administrators were the inquisitors.) In short, although I myself personally have made dozens of attempts to negotiate and work out a compromise, and written dozens of memos proposing to meet with administrators to discuss solutions to the current situation, nothing came (or has subsequently come) of any of them—and no negotiation of any sort has been initiated by the university on its part. BU has rejected every single attempt I have made, and made none of its own. That’s the difference between BU and other universities.

And, just to remind you of the obvious: Many of these memos and reports were about ethical violations and acts of professional misconduct--so for my Chairman, my Dean, and the university Provost not to have responded to them, let alone followed up on them, investigated them, and acted on them, is in and of itself a major violation of the Boston University Code of Ethics. We are not talking only about neglect and inattention to a faculty member's memos, we are talking about ethical violations. Deliberate acts of suppression, willful ignorance, and ethical blindness.

The preceding facts speak for themselves to tell you what tenure is worth at Boston University, or how much administrative respect and honor it confers on faculty members who have it. 

[Continued on the next blog page]