Thursday, November 24, 2016

Bullying Isn't Confined to the Oval Office

I wrote the following response to the note from Vinay Nair that is printed on the preceding blog page. -- R.C.

Date: 13 November 2016
Subject: Coming soon to a screen near you
Dear Vinay,

Thank you. Even after I suspended the blog postings in May of 2015 (I think that was the date) I continued to receive several hundred emails a month, from blog readers who live in countries all over the world (a surprising number—surprising to me at least!—from mainland China), and the Trump posting alone has been viewed by something like five thousand people in three days (with the number going up every day). But only a thousand or so, give or take a few hundred, of the thousands who have visited the blog in that period have written me, and very few have written as personally and kindly as you have. So I thank you for your kind thoughts and generous sentiments. Much appreciated!

To answer your unasked question, yes, I deliberately suspended blog postings a year ago, actually I guess it was something like 18 months ago, in hopes that if I kept my mouth shut, electronically speaking, and tried to work behind the scenes to appeal privately and confidentially to higher administrative authorities things would change at Boston University. Well, I have kept off the internet, held the meetings, and made my heartfelt pleas, but unfortunately, things haven't improved, and in fact have gotten significantly worse since I stopped posting. I won't bore you with the details, but I will say that I intend to resume regular postings sometime in the next few weeks—most likely as soon as the teaching semester is over and I have a little more time to devote to it. Right now I am occupied with classes and even more “crazy busy” working on my three Robert Bresson books. They are my personal Mt. Everest, the hardest, longest (550 thousand words and counting, yikes!), and most challenging writing project I have ever worked on. But also the most fun scholarly project of my life. What a joy it is to have such a challenge. How lucky I feel I am to have an artist whose work I can pour every electron of my soul, heart, and mind into and know that the effort is not wasted. What an adventure. What larks!  

I also intend to post some of the syllabi and assignments from courses that have been banned by BU administrators. They’ll give you and everyone a laugh, since they are so obviously unobjectionable. But boy have they gotten me into trouble. Because of them I am currently forbidden to offer courses in the film major by the director of the program, if you can get your head around that. It makes it all the weirder that I'm not only the most senior, but the most highly published- and, in terms of having an international reputation, most respected-member of the entire film faculty, while he's a comparative non-entity with very little scholarly work to his credit. It's a typical Boston University situation where an administrator thinks he can tell faculty members what to teach, how to teach it, and how to evaluate students. There's been thirty or forty years of this at Boston University. This guy, the director of the film major program, has his way of understanding movies (a very old fashioned and outmoded way left over from his graduate school days a couple decades ago) and forbids me to teach anything more intellectually advanced, anything treated differently than the way he does it in his classes--and has simply banned my methods of teaching, writing and reading assignments, ways of evaluating students, and courses from being offered in the Cinema and Media Studies program. Just last year he suddenly and unexpectedly wrote me that I would not be allowed to teach in any of the ways I have done for twenty years, to communicate my ideas the way I have done, to assign the kinds of paper topics I do, or to evaluate the students in the ways I do. Get this: Last year one of the criticisms used to shoot down a course I wanted to offer was that I planned to use three of my own books as the reading list--including the manuscript of the unpublished Bresson books. I was going to give the students an advance look at the forthcoming books and talk to the grad students about “how to write a book,” by showing them my actual manuscripts. Oops! Ouch! That was a no-no. I was told I wasn't allowed to do it. I had to use other books and articles. (The only reason I can figure for the reading list censorship was the fact that the administrative director has not written a single-author book since his dissertation, he's basically a journalist, so I guess he thought my using my own scholarly writing might make him look bad to the students by comparison. He's a very insecure and rivalrous person and takes it out in petty, petulant micro-managing to control everything he can--including course content and teaching and evaluation methods.) So much for academic freedom at Boston University! So much for the students being exposed to different perspectives, having experiences with more up-to-date teaching methods, and being given more complex understandings of film—or how to write about it! His demands were non-negotiable. according to him, I had to teach the course the way he wanted, evaluate the students with the methods he dictated, and as I say even create the reading list in accordance with his preferences for what students were and were not allowed to read--which I couldn't possibly do, since it would be a terrible disservice to my students to dumb-down a course in the ways he wanted, which when I told him he replied that that meant I would simply be forbidden to teach in the program.  That course and as I note below all subsequent courses I wanted to teach were "de-listed" from the list of Cinema and Media Studies (the film major at BU) course offerings. Poof. Gone. End of the story, end of that course offering, end of student film studies majors ever being able to take a course with me. But not the end of his control of how and what I teach and his refusal to let me teach in the program if I didn't do it his old-fashioned, brain-dead way. It was just the beginning in fact. Since then, he’s now done the same thing to all of my subsequent courses. Banned all of them from being offered in the program. No Cinema and Media Studies student can study with me! Pedagogically, it's his way or the highway. Or just call it the BU way. Teachers have to teach what and in the ways (and with the reading lists!) that administrators demand. And if they don't they are punished. First my faculty web site was censored and taken away from me; now my course offerings are censored and students are taken away. (I leave out the shouting, personal abuse, adminstrative threats, and hits on my pay; the actions and events can speak for themselves.)

The students are the ones I feel sorry for, more than myself, of course. I can take the intellectual censorship, after all, since I already got a top-notch education at two terrific universities, but they are being deprived of the opportunity to hear different views and interpretations and the chance to study different kinds of films and learn different ways of thinking about them. That's the real loss. That's the real tragedy. They are being cheated of their tuition dollars (Boston University is an extremely over-priced school) by a narrow-minded intellectual bully of an administrator. (When I appealed his decision to de-list my courses, other administrators backed him up, including two different Deans—that’s the BU way, it’s a very primitively tribal place where the administrators always scratch each others’ backs and back each others’ faculty-unfriendly decisions.) So that's one of the Trump connections I was making in the blog posting you allude to--the bullying, the nastiness, the narrow-mindedness of this administrator imposing his narrow way of thinking and feeling about art on me and on every student who takes courses in the Cinema and Media Studies program--none of them taught by me of course! As I say in that previous blog posting, warped, frustrated, backward-thinking, narrow-minded, vindictive bullies can be anywhere. Even in a university. That's one of the first lessons I learned when I arrived at Boston University so many years ago. That a university could be no different from the rest of the world--just as compromised, just as corrupt, just as full of arrogant know-nothings as the U.S. Congress or the future Oval Office. I had been a starry-eyed idealist before that. I thought places devoted to the life of the mind were different. My previous academic positions--at Middlebury, at the University of Texas, at Stanford--sure had not prepared me for the lesson

But that’s, as they say, just the tip of the iceberg of the awfulness of the last eighteen months. You won't believe some of the other things I'm going to describe on future blog pages. But I just realized that this is going on much too long. I simply set out to thank you. So I’ll end in a rush by thanking you, along with the thousands of others who have written me and the tens of thousands who have visited the blog since I suspended it, one more time. Look for more postings in the near future… Coming soon to a screen near you!

All best wishes,


Ray Carney
Prof. (Film and American Studies)
Boston University

Ray Carney is the author or editor of: Henry Adams, Mount Saint Michel and Chartres (VikingPenguin), Henry James, What Maisie Knew and The Spoils of Poynton (New American Library/Signet), Rudyard Kipling, Kim (New American Library); 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); Autoportraits (Cahiers du cinema), The Adventure of Insecurity; Necessary Experiences; Why Art Matters; and numerous other books, essays, and editions, published in more than ten languages. Professor Carney is currently working on a three-volume treatment of the early, mid-career, and final films of Robert Bresson intended to transform the understanding of his work.