Dogfighting in the Department of Chimera (A Work in Progress) Part III

Deconstructing a Snippet of the Minutes of the December, 2008, Faculty Meeting of the Department of Film and Media Studies

[What Really Goes on Behind Some Walls of the Academy]

Morris stated that he had unresolved issues with faculty. These details were written in his group emails to faculty. Roman responded that he will follow up any complaints 
made by Morris with the Ombudsman. — Shanti Thaku, the minutes of the December, 2008, faculty meeting.

Now, colleague Larry Shore, former chair of the department’s grade appeals committee which I had been describing in several venues “as one of the most corrupt” at Hunter if not CUNY, candidly responded to the question, “Recommend For New Business, Wednesday, Grade Tampering in F/M,” A Big Barnacle: Is a Discussion Needed?” His comments, however, never made it into the department minutes.

Thaku only wrote that the chair had made a response without clarifying that his words had nothing to do with the big question. Maybe she believed that obstructing the context and excluding the responses of the three other colleagues, neither mentioned nor identified in the minutes, would protect them and the department from embarrassment. Maybe someone told her that including the other comments was politically unwise. Or maybe she was indulging in F/M’s formula for political correctness. The latest recruit for obstruct, obstruct, obstruct? Too many maybes, I will admit.

I was annoyed when I learned of the faux record/account, my discovery occurring after I and other colleagues had voted to approve the minutes at the beginning of the first department meeting this semester. I voted without scrutinizing every line of the multipage document. Whether deliberately or not, the three sentences had been rendered like the fine print we are regularly reminded to read. So, there, again, I was approving an obstruction, though this time it wasn’t intended: I had missed the subterfuge.

Nevertheless I contacted Acting Chair Mick Hurbis-Cherrier: 2/11/09 5:38 PM:

> Hi,
> I just read through the third page of the December 10 minutes and realized
> that I somehow overlooked a passage with my name in it near the bottom.
> I want to amend my “approved” vote to “opposed.” Do I do this via email?
> With a motion at the next department meeting? How?
> I’m not asking that the statement be removed or clarified or cleaned up,
> whatever. I just want the record to reflect, amended, I voted no. I will
> make sure in the future that I thoroughly read the minutes.

And he responded Sat 14 Feb 18:26:29:

“Votes are tough because the procedures for relatively minor votes (approving minutes) are the same as those for significant votes (Dept. Chair). I think that in this case the proper protocol would be for you to indicate at the next faculty meeting your desire to be on the record as having changed your mind about the vote cast at the February meeting to approve the minutes of the December meeting. This change of heart will be recorded in the minutes of the March meeting.”

But I eventually realized that the sentences, in context, provide insight into the Department of Film and Media Studies. Thus, the deconstruction. Instead of the 800-pound gorilla in F/M, imagine a Mt. Vesuvius spewing fumes of unadulterated sordidness. Exaggerated? I think not. F/M seems to be always trying to sweep under a rug the consequences of its wackiness and scandals which have been massing for years and there seems to be no end to colleagues ready to join in. Like The 4 Barnacles of the Apocalypse.

More than a year ago, I was told by a member of the central administration that the College wanted to pump funds into the Department of Film and Media Studies so that it could become a showcase for film, media studies and journalism, but there was concern that the ongoing conflict could seriously impact those plans. This conflict first blipped on the radar, so to speak, several years ago at a department meeting. A former department chair and those I regard as his minion wanted to take control of the WORD. Serious First Amendment and Academic Freedom principles had to be breeched in order for the seizure to take place.

Now, there are colleagues in F/M who have been embossing their public personas with solemn assertions about Academic Freedom and Collegiality and professor empowerment and union solidarity and other caparisons. And guess who was leading the charge with the help of a goon squad of the ersatz and thankfully deceased Student Liberation Action Movement?

I know that some will be upset about the use of “goon squad” but for many years SLAM members (many of them not students) palavered and swaggered like goons, so that, well, the description is more than apropos. SLAM may have started nobly as a honest to goodness uprising of concerned student activists but it eventually mutated into an honest to goodness vile and loathing undergraduate student government engaged in all forms of odious behavior and was known to dispatch whacked members to attack students or instructors or anyone that the student-funded organization perceived as a threat. Or, easy prey.

Preferably easy prey because a lot of them huffed and puffed but were quick with a hasty retreat from targets wrongly targeted as easy prey and were ready to fight back. And there were colleagues more than willing to support them.

About three days before the department meeting that would blip on the radar, I chased out of my office a colleague who had been embossing her public persona as an empress of faculty empowerment and camaraderie (via the Professional Staff Congress, the union representing faculty and most staff at the University). She had walked into my office and stated that “we’re going to tell you” what I could and couldnn’t publish in the WORD.

I was suppose to be intimidated. I was suppose to feel bad. I was suppose to keel over, prostrate on the floor, wailing my head off for mercy. Anyway, she fled my office shouting unintelligibles, fleeing as if she thought I was planning to smite her when I rose from my office chair. Another colleague came to my office as part of a ploy to soften me up for the pummeling being planned for the department meeting. Quote Marks for Effect: “I am your friend and you are accused of abusing your power as a professor.”

Here is the succinct description: I had written a really witty op ed rejoinder about a very vulgar SLAM-er (this guy could spew four-letter expletives faster than I could form the words in my mind) who had attacked me in an editorial in the student newspaper the Envoy, left a vulgar screed on my office door and had provoked a confrontation that caused me to chase him out of the Hunter North building. He was known for his cursing binges, and I had described him as the campus’ village idiot and announced an award in his name. He complained and, according to the second colleague visiting my office, in so many words, I was to be brought up on charges of abusing my power as a professor.

At the department meeting, after what seemed 30 minutes of me refuting incredibly obtuse and bovine arguments by colleagues intent on the takeover of the WORD, so to speak, or intent on showing their support for colleagues intent on the takeover, and my pointing out, which was ignored, that there were serious Academic Freedom issues (I didn’t have the presence of mind to bring up the obvious First Amendment issues, I was arguing with sooooo many colleagues), I announced that the New York Civil Liberties Union was interested in my case and that I was ready to go to court.

I recall the former chair’s reaction. Some of his minion were still trying to argue (they probably believed I was bluffing or were too ignorant of the ace I had just pulled from my sleeve), and he looked as if he had been bushwhacked but his response was as sober as one could imagine of a leader of a major misadventure.

[I hadn’t wanted a confrontation with him or the department at this point but no one, and I mean no one, was going to trample on my rights without a fight.]

As he was strongly signaling that he was no longer interested in the fight, a colleague, a member of the Policy and Budget Committee,  motioned to table the matter, providing a face saving solution. And it was unanimously passed, in essence, that the matter would never be brought up again (as I was told after the meeting but didn’t believe the source of the comment). And there also was unanimous agreement that the details of that meeting, including the comment by a whacked colleague that I was in the gutter, were not to be included or reflected in the minutes of the meeting because of the embarrassment it might cause the department and, of course, the whacked colleague.

And also included in the spirit of that resolution was that the specifics and details of future brawls not be reflected in the minutes for the same reasoning. That is, the image of the department was to be protected. And there I was, participating in another major obfuscation. I concurred; I thought the big fight was over. Nevertheless, I secured the original notes of the then department stenographer, Christine Noschese.

I have to add the following: After the resolution for obstruction was passed, I asked the following question. Quote Marks for Effect:So, why couldn’t we have just talked about this?”

But, of course, no one responded.


End of Part III


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