Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Part 5—Controlling What Faculty Write and Say

Controlling Faculty Expression

Defeating Tenure

The Monitoring and Control of

What Faculty Members Say and Write

Boston University has a long and inglorious history, beginning in the 1970s and extending into the present, of finding ways to control its faculty members’ expressions and of defeating and legally getting around the supposed protections of the tenure system in particular. I have received a surprising number of inquiries from faculty members and administrators at other universities who read the blog regularly and want to know more about the treatment I have received in response to the reports of ethical misconduct and professional misbehavior I have filed and the attempts of Boston University administrators to ostracize, marginalize, and remove me from the decision-making process in the university. This is the fifth part of a seven-part posting touching on some of the ways I have, as I note in a previous posting, been “bullied, beat-up, and bludgeoned administratively,” “turned into a persona non grata,” and “effectively expunged, banned, and prevented from doing anything but teaching my courses” in my College. Due to lack of space and the number of years these events have taken place, the individual postings will be of a summary nature. Details are provided on earlier blog pages. —Ray Carney

Part 5—Having Your Expressions Monitored and ControlledGrave Violations of 
Academic Freedom, Privacy, and Confidentiality 

Since the items on this page and the following one are documented at length on earlier blog pages, I will limit myself to an even more partial and summary presentation than characterized the preceding pages. 

Part of the Boston University administration’s response to independent-minded faculty who speak their minds is to monitor and punitively control their expressions, both inside and outside the classroom. Administrators do not hesitate to express displeasure with faculty members for writing or saying things they disagree with—in or out of class. The regimen of criticism and punishment for expressing ideas that are not on the “approved list” is a long one in my College and at Boston University more generally.

Near the end of the preceding blog page, “Part 4—Being Ostracized, Banned, Expelled,” I mention how I was criticized and punished, not only by being ignored, but in my subsequent evaluations and pay increments, for submitting reports on hiring, promotion, and other matters, in which my opinions differed from those of my Dean.

On that page, I also mentioned my Dean’s response to a report I submitted about unethical conduct of a faculty member. He told me it was wrong for me to have written what I had, that he would not be investigating my report, and would not be forwarding it to higher authority. Coming from my boss, the man who approves all pay raises and other faculty perks, this statement is clearly intended to discourage future reports of ethical violations.

I also mention how, in the fall of 2011, I was formally upbraided by my Dean for communicating with my students via email, recommending articles in The New York Times and IndieWire.com that I felt would be of interest to them but he disapproved of my calling to their attention. (See "How Marketing and Branding Considerations Limit What Teachers Can Tell Their Students—Or Suggest That They Read at Boston University.") Again, coming from my boss, the man who approves all pay raises and other faculty perks, this statement was clearly intended to control what I said to my students. 

More than my email communications with my students are monitored and controlled. I have also been informed of specific issues (most pointedly, questions about the value of feminist theory in the understanding of art) that I am expressly forbidden to raise with my students in class.

At several points, students enrolled in my classes have been secretly deputed by my Dean to function as spies to report back to him if I did in fact introduce “prohibited material” into classroom lectures or discussions. I assume I needn’t point out how this not only destroys class morale and undermines respect for the teacher (since an authority figure telling a student to “look out for” and “report on” “misconduct” of this sort by his teacher introduces skepticism about and discredits more or less everything the teacher says), but chills classroom presentations and discussion. 

The content of my million-word, fifty-thousand-hits-a-month faculty web site was censored, first via memos and personal meetings (my polite name for what anyone else would describe as “screaming sessions with”) with the Dean of the College of Communication from 2004 to 2006 and by my department Chairman from 2005 to 2007. In 2008 the site was completely banned and ordered removed from the university server by my department Chairman and the Boston University Provost. (The following two blog pages have information about these events: "Censorship, Punishment, Abuse,Threats—Being Banned in Boston” and “What It Must Be Like to Teach in North Korea.”) I have the enviable distinction of being almost certainly the only faculty member in America to be ordered to remove his official faculty web site from his university’s server. As I note on earlier blog pages, this was the point at which I was told that if I did not “voluntarily” accept the university's censorship of my web publications, Boston University would 1) destroy my professional reputation with an internet posting against me on the university web site, and 2) bankrupt me by “bringing in the lawyers” (my Chairman’s frequent phrase during faculty meetings) to tie me up in legal actions that would destroy me financially. As the thugs they are, BU administrators and lawyers positively pat themselves on the back for creating these kinds of forced choices for faculty members—in this case, the choice between renoucing my academic freedom or enduring a combination of "death-by-litigation" and public disgrace by internet posting. A typical BU non-choice choice. Which would you choose? Which way would you prefer to die, or spend you last dollar as a faculty member? (To see how different the administration of a truly major American university is, how differently faculty members are treated there, how different the attitude toward academic freedom is at Johns Hopkins from the blithe indifference to it at Boston University, see another blog page: "A Tale of Two Schools.")

       There is yet another way to control what faculty write and say that I discuss in more detail on the next blog page ("Part 6Punishments"). It is simply to cancel and retract all research support. In 2008 I was informed in writing, first by my department Chairman and subsequently by the Assistant Dean, and upon appeal by the Dean, that all of my previously granted and promised financial support was as of that moment being taken away and that I would henceforth receive nothing to support my research and publishing. I have not received a penny to support my work in eight years. Censorship of the purse, in this instance, is just as powerful as the censorship by fiat and threat of my web site described in the preceding entry or the censorship by intimidation described in the next entry, where my Dean objected to my writing an essay (and many other essays after that initial one). Once all institutional support was withdrawn, it became virtually impossible for me to continue publishing at a high level when I couldn't pay necessary publishing fees or employ a part-time student researcher.

In the spring of 2012, I gave my Dean a copy of a 20,000 word document that outlined the history of the unethical behavior I had witnessed and an account of professional mistreatment I had been subjected to. He wrote me and sternly informed me that it was not “professional” of me to have written the report, then docked my pay for having done it a few months later. (My Chairman later personally confirmed the connection between the two events, my writing the essay and the subsequent hit on my pay. See “Frightening Advice: The Need for Ethical Speech.") Lesson to be learned: At Boston University it is both “unprofessional” and financially punishable to write reports of administrative misconduct, which, according to my Chairman, was the part of the essay my Dean most objected to. (If you want to read the exact text I gave my Dean, more than a year later, I broke it into two sections and posted it as the first two entries on this blog: "Ten Years of Administrative Retaliation for Speaking Up," Parts 1 and 2. The preceding link is to Part 1.)

My Dean and the Assistant Dean have asserted their right to monitor the content of faculty emails, telephone conversations, and everything printed on a university printer. (For more information, see “The Monitoring and Control of Faculty Emails, Phone Calls, and Personal Expression in the Boston University College of Communication.”)

Acting on his own assertion that faculty have no right to privacy or confidentiality in their emails, in the fall of 2012, my Dean read and distributed to others at BU copies of emails I had written to third-parties (individuals unassociated with Boston University) without my knowledge or permission, and held a formal meeting (with a university lawyer present) to criticize me for writing what I had. (See “Violations of Privacy and Confidentiality—a Continuing BU Saga” for specifics.)

University censorship extends beyond the classroom, beyond the emails I write, and beyond my web site. It includes my outside publications, notably including interviews I give. I have formally been instructed by my department Chairman (in writing, no less) that I am not to talk about my treatment at Boston University in interviews I give with the media.

There have been many other attempts to control what I (and other faculty members) write and say, but the preceding items give a fair indication of the breadth of the efforts not only to monitor but control (through the pay and evaluation process) faculty expression.

* * *

I objected to all of these actions and many similar ones as having a lethally chilling influence on faculty communication and interaction. The memo I link to above (“The Monitoring and Control of Faculty Emails, Phone Calls, and Personal Expression”) was submitted to the university Ombuds, with an offer to meet with her to provide additional information. There was no follow-up. No meeting with me was requested, and no action whatsoever was taken.

[Continued on the next page]