Some people may know that the person Jackie Stevens identifies as "Slammer" in her account of the outrageous proceedings at Northwestern University that have resulted in her being banned from campus pending examination by a university appointed psychiatrist posted an account of his own yesterday. Jackie has responded (see the link below). Among the complex politics of sex, race, sexuality, law, and academia running through these events -- or, better, which the university is using in an attempt to override tenure and punish an outspoken faculty member -- is the repeated use of tropes of mental illness and instability to characterize a woman who does not back down, who defends her position, who makes argument, and who is brave enough to take controversial positions. The language of fear, potential danger, and need for safety is used to bully and coerce.
Response to Slammer
September 2, 2016Yesterday, the colleague I called "Slammer" -- he slammed the door and then claimed I had a "break from reality" in reporting this -- posted his version of events on Facebook and shared this with a circle of overlapping "friends," many of whom are political scientists. Several forwarded it to me. Since he is not identifying himself publicly outside FB, I will continue to use his pseudonym.
There are two parts of his account that he weaves together such that his horrifying and life-altering experience of being lynched at the age of nine, unknown to me before yesterday, produces his experience of my scholarship within critical race theory, and my comments opposing certain sorts of faculty appointments (spousal hires), as "borderline racist." I hold no ill will against him for these beliefs, but I am outraged to learn that people in positions of authority at NU instrumentalized his anxieties to serve their goal of banning and firing me. These are simply not "feelings" on which a research university can rely for firing a tenured faculty member. I also now understand why no one at NU would share with me the basis of Slammer's fears of me--he reiterates on his FB page that he is "aboslutely afraid" of me: you cannot deny someone access to students and her office because someone claims her scholarship and views on academic governance make him afraid, even if this is accurate. Banning me is neither a legal nor helpful means of addressing this colleague's insecurities.
As my colleagues know, my opposition to spousal hires has nothing to do with race nor qualifications. As I pointed out, when the Office of the Inspector General attacked the Executive Office of Immigration Review for nepotism in the assignment of interns to immigration courts, the accusation was not that the children of headquarters' officials were untalented, but that the practice creates a climate of patronage inconsistent with the impartial handling of official business. I am concerned about the patronage implications of faculty spousal appointments, and how these arrangements may produce tacit expectations of quid pro quo with the administration.
This is a minority view in my department, perhaps just held by me. According to Socrates and John Stuart Mill, my colleagues should be grateful I am sharing this with them. This concern about the large number of spousal hires at NU is one I've voiced for several years. I realize many factors go into appointments and I may be wrong about this, but it is not a view that is insane, nor is it racist.
Before turning to the politics of sex, sexuality, race, law, academia, and much more running through all this, I want to focus on March 8.
I filed the complaint about these events on that date. The Chair, close friends with Slammer, and the Dean of Faculty, a former Department Chair, completely ignored my complaint, even though I pointed out a student witnessed this. The events I described were not visual but aural. Slammer yelled. Slammer slammed a door. These events make noise. You didn't need to see this to overhear it. Why not investigate threats to my safety, then and now, psychological and otherwise?
No one contacted me or the student. Here was a specific allegation of specific violations of NU policies, but no one bothered to follow up on my claim about being exposed to Slammer's aggression. The investigator was brought in much later, to investigate Slammer's claim that in reporting the incident, per NU policy, I had defamed him! The double standard is self-evident.
In the aftermath of March 8, I figured that Slammer would apologize. I was hopeful the episode would occasion bringing in a mediator to meet with members of my troubled subfield, as I had requested several times in the past. Slammer is right: the issues that divide us are not disagreements about the Buffett Institute, though Slammer has made statements avowing his long-standing support for the U.S. military, based, he wrote, on the honorable service of several generations of men in his family. That puts him on record as hostile to my own views on this. That is fine with me, but, as with his claims about our different views on portions of Black Political Theory, he may find this intolerable as well. (My request for a mediator has been rebuffed by two other members of my subfield, whose actions I believe are at the heart of this.)
To be clear on a point Slammer misconstrues: I never claimed that Slammer or other members of my department were provoked to claim they feel unsafe bcause of me because of my research and organizing on the Eikenberry appointment. I believe that they loathe me for reasons that are entirely indefensible in an academic community. Furthermore, the efforts by the anti-Jackie clique would be moot were it not for the fact that Board and Provost's office want me out of NU because of my ongoing research on NU's prominent role in the military-industrial-academic complex, research that uses undergraduate research assistants, as they know from my article about this.
(Among the far more egregious actual incidents of misconduct NU administrators have ignored was a Chair throwing a chair during a faculty meeting, one colleague told me. And where is the discipline for the Provost who demonstrably threatened someone might sue students who disapproved of his Eikenberry appointment?)
March 8, 2016: What was Reported
In the event, here is a screen shot from the statement of the student who overheard Slammer.
Please note that the student points out that he made this statement to the investigator and she omits it from her report.
Why did this happen? The person who conducted the investigation, Kathleen Rinehart, was brought in because she was close with NU's attorneys and specializes in how to fire tenured faculty. NU seems to be following her game plan, which, by the way, is to claim that faculty are "erratic," "disruptive," and so forth. According to Professor Stephen Eisenmann, who helped write NU's Faculty Handbook, the procedures Rinehart outlines are inconsistent with the Faculty Handbook. NU's attorneys seems to be ignoring NU's rules and following Rinehart's script. (See Barbara A. Lee, Kathleen Rinehart, "Dealing with Troublesome College Faculty and Staff: Legal and Policy Issues," Journal of College and University Law, 2011.)
That script requires someone who is incoherent, erratic, unbalanced, and so forth. I am not that. So they had to invent a paper version of me as though I am. And who better to do that than the co-author of the article on this, who was closely coordinating her investigation with the Department Chair, whose improprieties I also had challenged and reported?
Notice Slammer's claim that the my version of events indicate that I had a "break from reality."
What a weird claim. Slammer's PhD is in Politics, not Psychiatry. Why say I had a "break from reality," and not just that I lied? Also, is my psychosis contagious? Did the student who heard Slammer also have a "break from reality"?
If Slammer simply said I lied, then this would have to be characterized as a violation of a specific university policy. Discipline would require a specific charge and evidence that I lied, evidence that I could challenge in the Faculty Senate. I believe that Rinehart and other NU administrators were eliciting statements from Slammer and my Chair that they "feel unsafe" around me and to claim I "break from reality" to suit their legal strategy. NU's attorneys seem to believe that they may legally restrict my research and teaching in an indefinite time frame (the actions against me began at the end of April), without sharing with me any charges or evidence.
Slammer tells his FB friends not to credit my account of the events of March 8--they weren't there and shouldn't write in my support. But claiming I "broke from reality" is not a factual claim about what happened. It is a claim about the personality and psychology of the person who put forward a narrative other than the one Slammer and his clique who dislike me want to advance and can and should be refuted by evidence I am not someone who would ever "break from reality."
As recently as last Sunday, August 29, Associate Provost Lindsay Chase-Lansdale wrote to me: "Regarding your question about a review by the Committee on Cause, I would point out that no sanctions have been imposed to date." (NU's attorneys must be going nuts over the fact that Slammer in his FB post referenced the "recent disciplinary actions that Northwestern has taken against" me. This is evidence that clear the actions against me are indeed punitive and that the "safety" claims are a ruse.)
Chase-Lansdale states she will forward my request to the Committee on Cause after a new Chair is named, but this will be far too late for me for me to have the ban lifted in the near future. It likely means that my classes this fall will be canceled, which was the stated objective of the Provost's office and my Chair since the fall, 2015.
March 8, 2016: The Substance
Slammer claims that I am a "disruptive person" and that in his position of Associate Chair, this became unbearable. The position of Associate Chair in my department carries few responsibilities that put the person holding this position, appointed by the Chair, in regular contact with other faculty.
In fact, the meeting on Mach 8 was the second of two interactions Slammer had with me as an Associate Chair the entire year. The first was in the fall, when I asked him to have the Advisory Committee consider for including on the Department agenda the fact that the Chair had cancelled the Department's election for Faculty Senate. He told me she "has her reasons" for this -- I believe it was to ensure I could not hold this position -- and that he was "close personal friends" with the Chair. On this basis he refused my request to raise this matter with the Advisory Committee.
In the end, it seems I was right to be suspicious of the reason Slammer provided me as to why he wanted to change my schedule; having me teach a seminar instead of the scheduled large lecture class would cause less havoc with student schedules. There is a third party involved (who did not request this change) but I can say that a) the rationale Slammer gave me is contradicted by the last five years of posted course schedules; b) it fits the timing for pushing me out in the fall. In an April 29, 2016 letter to the Dean of Faculty, the Chair of my department, who already had banned me from hiring undergraduate research assistants, writes: "removing [Stevens] from the workplace in advance of the start of the fall 2016 quarter is advisable, likely necessary."
The April 29 letter also states that "[Associate Provost] Lindsay [Chase-Lansdale] and I have been conferring all year" (emphasis added).
The colleagues who wrote the Dean, as well as Slammer, call me paranoid. As one colleague in the Political Science Department told me recently, apparently I was not paranoid enough. I knew the Chair had cancelled the Department's fall election for the Faculty Senate after failing in her efforts to dissuade me to run. (The Chair and Slammer both intended he would assume that position without opposition; apparently fearing he would lose a department election, they cancelled it altogethe.) The Chair gave me an explanation that was clearly pretextual and resulted in the Department's Senator being an assistant professor who was on leave in France. The Chair also had instructed staff to lie to me about how they were handling the applications of students who were applying to work for me under the auspicies of the Farrell Fellow program.
Still, it never occurred to me that these people would spend months and months plotting with the Provost's office, NU's attorneys, and a hired gun to try to remove from campus a productive, respected colleague who was doing her job, including appropriately voicing questions and stating reasonable concerns on matters that bear on faculty self-governance and pedagogy.
More to come...
In the meantime, if you want to take a look at the scholarship informing my critique of Slammer's views on Black Political Thought, which came up just once as I recall, in the context of discussing the wording of a position request, please read my essay, "Recreating the State," which first appeared in a special issue of Third World Quarterly I co-edited with Richard Falk and Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Third World Quarterly, 27.5 (2006). This essay explores how essentialist identity politics of White and other racial, national, and ethnic groups consolidate nationalist, imperialist, racist state power, and points out the changing characteristics and dynamics of these subject positions as evidence for demanding critiques of nationalist insitutions that consolidate intergenerational identities, including those that may appear to be harbors of temporary safety for a few but that perpetuate systemic violence and inequality for most of us. A few years ago I was honored to learn that Angela Harris had selected this essay for incluion in her reader, Race and Equality in Law (Vermont, Ashgate: 2013).