Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Negotiating with Boston University, Part 5

The response to the preceding four-part "Negotiating with Boston University," posting about my unsuccessful attempts to get Boston University administrators even to reply to my reports of ethical misconduct and unprofessional behavior, let alone address and correct the problems, has been overwhelming. In the few days since the postings went up, I have received hundreds of supportive responses from blog readers (many of them faculty members at other universities). A number of respondents have pointed out something I had forgotten, namely that an earlier blog posting, "A Letter to the Boston University Provost—Years of Willful Blindness at the Highest Administrative Levels" (available in the side menu under the date of March 2013), documented yet one more attempt on my part to communicate problems to the Boston University administration that was completely ignored and rebuffed. For the benefit of readers who have not seen the earlier posting or who do not want to have to read through the posting in its entirely (since it is quite long), I am reprinting the beginning and the end of it here: the first three and the final seven paragraphs of a memo I submitted to the Boston University Provost, Jean Morrison, reporting a series of extremely serious ethical violations and acts of unprofessional behavior by specific junior administrators in the College of Communication (most notably and egregiously, the Director of Film Studies). It was one of many memos I wrote the university Provost and other administrators on similar subjects. (And as the distribution list at the end of the letter indicates, this particular memo was also sent to three other Boston University administrators along with the Provost.) Provost Morrison's response to what I wrote is summarized at the bottom of the page. It was the same response as her response to everything else I have sent her before and after this point. The situation has not changed (or been addressed) right up to the day I am making the current posting. That's Boston University. Ray Carney

Provost Jean Morrison
Boston University
Office of the Provost
One Silber Way
8th Floor
Boston, MA 02215

Dear Provost Morrison:

I am a senior, tenured professor in the College of Communication Department of Film and Television. I have given the better part of my career (23 years and counting) to Boston University, and at different points have served as both Director of Film Studies and department Chairman. I have an extensive publication record and a high public profile (dozens of interviews for major media and internet outlets). I am writing because I feel I am being forced, against my natural inclination, to take actions that will have a seriously adverse impact on the reputation of the university, the administration, and student recruitment. I’d ask your indulgence, as I explain what has brought me to this moment. I apologize for the length of what follows, but it is dictated by the fact that it is necessary for me to summarize a series of events that spanned many years.

President Brown has placed great emphasis on the importance of high standards of ethical conduct, including “dealing with others honestly and in good faith,” “being respectful of the rights of others,” and “not taking advantage of another person.” I quote from the “Boston University Code of Ethical Conduct” and the documents that accompany it. He has said that “deans, directors, department heads, and other supervisors are responsible for fostering respect for the values embodied in the Code and for promoting compliance with it….. [and that] university employees who have questions or concerns about … possible unethical behavior … should speak with their supervisors ….” The Code also mentions the possibility of serious penalties associated with a supervisor’s “failure to report a violation or … withholding information relating to a violation.”

These are fine words, but personal experience has shown me that the reality is quite different. Over the past eight or more years, and throughout the entire period of time President Brown has led the university, I have documented a number of acts of professional misconduct, unethical behavior, and procedural violation by a small number of individuals in the College of Communication, which I either directly experienced or witnessed. The violations were all over the map and took place at every level—the legacy of thirty-five years of administrative high-handedness and bureaucratic entitlement inculcated and rewarded by a previous Boston University President and the administration he put in place under him. (I’d note that the university culture of those decades is far from dead and that many of the same personnel still hold the same offices.)....

[Thus the opening. The full text of the letter, which lists numerous ethical issues, procedural violations in connection with the hiring, tenure, promotion, and pay system, 
and acts of serious professional misconduct, is available in the original posting. 
The conclusion of the letter to Provost Morrison follows.]

.... So that’s how things currently stand. Not only has nothing been done—by my Chairman, my Dean, the Office of the Provost, or the President—in response to the reports I made over a period of eight years, to the material I provided the university Ombuds in the fall of 2009 and spring of 2010, or to any of the additional follow-up information and reports I sent to Ms. Montemurro, Associate Provost Sandell, President Brown, and other university administrators—but I have not even been accorded the courtesy of receiving a meaningful response from a single member of the administration—beyond the general expressions of “sympathy” from Associate Provost Sandell and Ms. Montemurro. To repeat what I wrote earlier: The only administrative “reply,” if it can be dignified with that term, has been the anger, sarcasm, derision, and eight-plus years of verbal abuse and punitive, retaliatory actions I have described earlier in this letter: the punitive evaluations, the hits to my pay, the withdrawal of financial support, the execrable teaching schedule, etc...

There is no other way for me to interpret the state of non-response that continues into the present except as being one more illustration of BU’s actual treatment of faculty members who raise issues about ethical violations or who call attention to acts of serious professional misconduct—a state of administrative non-response that, on top of everything else and in addition to all of the previous events, counts as one more set of violations of the “Boston University Code of Ethical Conduct.” The administrative non-response of the past two years is additional evidence (if additional evidence were needed!) that reports about professional misconduct and mistreatment submitted to senior administrators are not discussed, not investigated, not corrected, and, in fact, not even replied to. (To say the obvious, I don’t count being yelled at, called names, mocked, or dressed-down in public in front of students, colleagues, and others as a valid reply.) Despite protestations and PR to the contrary, the BU of the past clearly lives on in the Brown administration.

My most recent memo to Ombuds Montemurro expressing dismay about the lack of administrative response to the information I have provided was sent to her via email on June 18, 2011. I include the text of that memo following this letter. (I’d note that in order to keep the Provost’s Office as fully informed as possible about the ethical issues I have raised and my continuing need to receive redress for the unethical, unprofessional ways I have been treated, I carboned Associate Provost Sandell when I sent this memo, just as I have carboned Associate Provost Sandell on, or sent her hard copies of, most of my previous communications with Ms. Montemurro.) In that memo, I explained that although I had scrupulously kept my reports “in house” and attempted to “work within the system” up to that point, the only remaining course of action I saw available to me, due to the non-response at all levels, was to “go public” with what I had observed and documented—both in terms of the behavior of colleagues and administrators and in terms of the administrative retaliation I have personally experienced (and continue to experience) for reporting the events I have. I said that, as reluctant as I was to take action outside the university system, and as destructive to the college and university as such action would inevitably be, it seemed that this course of action was being forced on me.

I would have thought that that memo at least would have received a response, but, par for the course and true to form, it too was accorded no response whatsoever—either from the Provost’s Office, another BU administrator, or the university Ombuds. It has now been more than three months and it has still not even been acknowledged, let alone replied to by anyone (including the university Ombuds). The university is nothing if not consistent. The BU administration and now the Ombuds Office are maintaining a perfect record of not dealing with faculty reports of professional misconduct.

I am writing today to give the university one final opportunity to address these issues in a timely way to keep them in-house. For something like eight years by this point, I have scrupulously kept all of my communications and appeals for redress inside the system. I have declined numerous requests from the media and others to air my grievances publicly. I have been an absolute and complete team-player in this respect, even as I have endured numerous insults, indignities, and outright punishments for filing the internal reports that I have. I find it hard to believe that it is really the desire of the administration to force me to go public about these issues—to post them on a blog or to speak to reporters about them.

Surely verbal abuse, denial, dismissiveness, name-calling, sarcastic come-backs, and punitive actions (my program Director’s, Chairman’s, and Dean’s responses) or see-no-evil silence and head-in-the-sand denial (the response I have received from higher levels of the university administration) are not the only reactions BU administrators are capable of when they receive reports of professional misconduct from a senior faculty member. Surely this is not the way reports about professional misconduct from senior faculty are supposed to be treated according to President Brown’s “Code of Ethical Conduct.”

Even at this late date, eight or more years into the administrative mistreatment and personal abuse I have been accorded in response to my reports, and almost two years after I met with and communicated these issues to the university Ombuds, I am hoping that there is a desire, however overdue, to redress the treatment I have received and continue to receive. The culture of the university and the educational life of its students are the real losers. The students deserve better.


Ray Carney
Professor of Film and American Studies

Author of: 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); The Adventure of Insecurity; Necessary Experiences; Why Art Matters; and other books, essays, and editions, translated into more than ten languages. 

Web site: www.Cassavetes.com (ordered to be removed from the university server and suspended at the demand of my Chairman, Dean, and Provost)

cc: President Robert Brown
     Associate Provost Julie Sandell
     Francine Montemurro, University Ombuds
* * *

The conclusion to the original blog posting (available in the side menu under March 2013) follows:

The reader may, naturally enough, be interested in the Provost’s response to the preceding memo—or her response to any of the subsequent memos and emails I have sent her. It won’t take long to describe. As has been the case with all of my other reports of ethical violations in my College, and my descriptions of the financial, bureaucratic, and personal retaliation I have experienced for making such reports, Provost Morrison did not offer a single word of reply. Not a token “thank you for expressing your concerns” note. Not a “we’ll look into it” note. Not a “let’s meet to discuss this” note. Nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. Silence.

In the eighteen months [as of the date of the March 2013 blog posting; at the point of this blog posting it has now been been three years, but none of the facts that follow have changed] since I wrote the memo reprinted above, I have followed it up with additional reports to the Provost and other administrators on related topics, with numerous requests for action, and with multiple requests to meet and discuss the issues I have raised--to brainstorm how best to deal with them and resolve them. Those memos have also gone unresponded to. The Provost has not written me a single word in reply. Nor has any other BU administrator.

Let it stand as a lesson for faculty members considering a job at Boston University. I am not describing the Silber era; this is the way the current university administration treats serious ethical concerns from senior faculty members. This is the way the “new BU” deals with reports of professional misconduct. It doesn’t respond to them; it doesn’t take them seriously; it doesn’t even offer them the token courtesy of a reply. Its only response is to dock the pay and lower the evaluation of the faculty member making the report. And to reschedule his classes without his permission, move him into unsuitable classrooms and times, assign him course overloads, and take away his research support. That should tell you a lot about the institution. A faculty or staff member considering an offer to work at BU might give it some thought. — R.C.