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

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.

At the meeting I’ve referred to as this first blip on the radar, I revealed my contact with the New York Civil Liberties Union but didn’t reveal my contact with the National Writers Union, which had responded positively to my request for support.

NWU is very aggressive in supporting its members, and had come to my support in previous conflicts, including one with a county prosecutor in Ithaca, New York, threatening to subpoena me regarding information in my second published book, The Kids Next Door: Sons and Daughters Who Killed Their Parents (William Morrow & Co.) and a later threat of a federal subpoena from a Cleveland court regarding my third published book, Unspeakable Acts: The Ordeal of Thomas Waters-Rimmer (William Morrow & Co.).

The second book got decent reviews and made money; the third did not make money but was listed as one of the New York Times Notable Books of the Year 1993.

I would have contacted the Student Press Law Center had I known then that it also repped faculty in First Amendment issues regarding student publications. Interfering with the publication of a student news medium, regardless if operated by faculty or students, is akin to a mortal sin in some circles. SPLC is a very aggressive organization regarding First Amendment rights. I was also in contact with other groups, such as PEN, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the National Association of Black Journalists and a few other Academic Freedom types.

But the NYCLU and NWU seemed poised for action. I also started work on a press conference to be held on the sidewalk in front of the Hunter North Building. But, of course, a lot of the defense stratagem was unnecessary. I’m including all this information as a primer for those who find themselves in similar situations. It helps to know resources. It is absolutely essential to know how to fight for your rights.

From Part III:But I have to add the following: I asked this before the resolution for obstruction. Quote Marks for Effect: “So, why couldn’t we just talk about this?

The succinct version: Shortly after I arrived on campus in 1995, I started requiring my students in my journalism writing classes to submit articles for publication in the Hunter Envoy, which at that time was publishing once or twice a year but because of the surfeit of articles coming from my classes started publishing twice a month. One of the major expectations in the hiring of me and colleague Peter Parisi was to resurrect the Envoy and reinvigorate undergraduate journalism at Hunter.Â

That resurrection attracted a lot of attention from student activists who eventually took over the publication and turned into into a despicable rag and also attention from colleagues in my department who tacitly supported the student activists and who alsowere just bent on a power play to disrupt what I had been trying to do.

The internecine brawl that had been brewing before the big department meeting over my publishing the WORD sprawled exponentially in ways that I hadn’t anticipated after that meeting: I filed complaints and there were several episodes of physical altercations and threats and foot chases and more violence, the real and the virtual. The Student Liberation Action Movement was in a state of decline and took a licking, especially when my students started publishing articles exposing its sleaze.

But the first big blip also gave me more clarity regarding the nature of my colleagues and the mission of th department. One interesting feature has been how this conflict has been portrayed here at Hunter/CUNY. Which brings me back to the deconstruction of Shanti Thakur’s three sentences.

In spring 2008, I asked two old-timers, Bob Stanley and Joel Zucker, about their opinions of what I was told about the administrationtion’s concern, and they insisted that the administration’s concern was unrealistic, that there had been conflicts in the past far more serious before I arrived and that the department had never suffer harm. Zucker, F/M’s film advisor, and Stanley, a former department chair, are members of the Policy and Budget Committee.

They were blowing smoke. Of course.

So I sent the email in December, 2008, so that I could evaluate whether a discussion was possible under the meeting agenda’s “New Business.”* Everyone in the department was copied the email. This was stated clearly: That I wanted to know if others believed that the image of the department could be harmed by this ongoing conflict.

Also in that email, which included an attachment because what I wrote was more than 1000 words, I described episodes that were examples fueling this adversarial relationship with colleagues: One, a crudely defamatory and incredibly insidious effort on the part of four colleagues (three who made up the departments grade appeals committee) to help a student who had flunked my advanced reporting class to get credit that she didn’t deserve. In their decision, which was unanimously reversed on appeal by the Hunter Senate Grade Appeals Committee, I was accused of harassing her because I had flunked her and they intimated that I be investigated.

I kid you not.

One of the signers of the decision hadn’t even met with the student as required though the decision clearly inferred that he had. He simply allowed his name to be added to the decision written, of course, by colleague Larry Shore, then chair of the F/M grade appeals committee.

And the other episode involved an effort by two colleagues to give a student who was their buddy – that’s the best way I can describe the relationship – a grade that he didn’t deserve. Succinctly: I filed complaints exposing what I consider egregious behavior and I prevailed but the results, of course, fueled more animosity. Some colleagues are like the energizer bunny when it comes to cheap shots and insults and slights. They absolutely will not stop.

Or like the BORG.

Or the Terminator.

I kid you not.

End of Part IV


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