After writing some sixty-plus blog posts on the COVID-19 crisis, I now have to go on a bit of a hiatus from blogging. I’m not sure how long it will last. Knowing me, it’ll probably last a day or two, but it’s supposed to last longer than that. I will continue to post entries from my COVID-19 Narrative Project (a few have piled up), and I want to draw attention to a few items I’ve seen online lately. But for the most part, it will (or should) be awhile before I blog at anything like the rate you’ve recently seen.
As a small handful of you may know, this past Friday, I resigned my position at Felician University in protest at what I regard as the egregious malfeasance of the university’s administration–in particular, the malfeasances of the (imminently-departing) Dean of Arts and Sciences, the Vice President for Academic Affairs, and the President, along with the instructor whose egregious delinquency they decided to tolerate and sweep under the rug.
I don’t know whether it should come as a surprise to anyone that a non-tenure-granting institution* under five years of AAUP censure and on the receiving end of criticism from Middle States during a recent site visit should act in this way, but it did. Felician has been crossing moral lines for years now, much to the resentment of large swatches of its faculty, staff, and students. It’s generated a torrent of terminations, resignations, early retirements, and law suits, and its administration complains constantly about its student retention and enrollment problem.
No kidding. As I explicitly said when I worked there, Felician is “a sinking ship,” and its administration’s HR policies are one major factor responsible for making it one–hiring, promotion, and termination “policies” that make you shake your head, the absence of tenure, a social media policy fit for intellectual slaves, and one hushed-up scandal after another, each worse than the last, and each more strenuously kept under wraps than the one before. Felician University is a case study in how not to run a university, or any kind of institution, for that matter. The trajectory of the institution is a cautionary tale to everyone but the people in charge of it.
It was only a matter of time before I was forced to follow the path taken by so many others before me who were terminated or resigned–whether in protest, in disgust, or just to flee the ubiquitous chaos of the place. The mass terminations began in 2014 (see the AAUP report linked above), and have followed in dribs, drabs, and jabs ever since (despite promises that no more would follow this last purge). With the (predictable) exception of the President, every employee of the institution, faculty and staff alike, is an at-will employee who can terminate or be terminated with or without notice, and with or without cause. For the most part, that’s meant that the institution had always felt free to terminate without notice or cause. I don’t like at-will employment, but the one thing to be said in its favor is that it’s a sword that cuts both ways. I don’t particularly like using a sword, either, but if pushed to the limit, I will.
So many people were fired at Felician for so many insane “reasons” that both faculty and staff eventually became numb to it. One day you’d ask, “Where is Joe? or “Where is Mary?” and you’d discover that they were “gone,” like the desaparecidos of Argentina or Chile. You’d email someone, and your email would come back to inform you that the recipient was no longer there. I figure one reason I was prepared for COVID-19 was that I got a dress rehearsal for it at Felician. SARS-CoV-2 grows at an exponential rate; Felician’s administration seemed to destroy jobs and careers at the same rate. One day so-and-so was in his office; the next day, wham, the office was cleaned out, and so-and-so was gone. People would whisper furtively about what happened. Then they’d shut up and move on.
Given the character of the people “leading” the institution, frankly, it’s only a matter of time before the whole enterprise comes to grief. When one Vice President for Academic Affairs disappears without explanation, along with a Dean of Nursing, followed by the Dean of Arts and Sciences, followed by the Dean of Business (herself a replacement for a replacement for that position), followed by three members of the psychology faculty, themselves preceded by a wrongly-terminated biologist, himself preceded by a professor in religious studies terminated in the midst of a battle with cancer, himself an add-on to a tranche of mass firings (not to mention the sudden departure of a member of the Board of Trustees), you know you’re dealing with an institution wishing itself, deservedly, into the grave–or at least into a zombie-like existence indistinguishable from the grave. Add a bunch of extremely shady hires like this freak and this one, and it begins to seem that the zombie apocalypse has already begun.
Upper admin, no doubt, has their golden parachutes at the ready. The real victims will be the students, faculty, and mid- to lower-echelon staff who can’t so easily jump free without hitting hard ground. But, of course, they’ve been victimized already by malfeasances too numerous to catalog or document. “Students First” is the institution’s proud mantra, along with “In Truth there is Happiness.” I can’t think of any two sayings more preposterously incongruous to the place than those. “Fuck People Over, then Hire High-Priced Attorneys to Generate Sophistical Bullshit While You Invoke the Spirit of St. Francis of Assisi,” doesn’t sound as nice, but suits the place a lot better. They seem to forget that it was illness and imprisonment that induced St. Francis to re-evaluate his life. Self-inflicted illness and self-imprisonment don’t seem to have induced any comparable moral re-evaluation in the Franciscan University of New Jersey.
I don’t call this blog “Policy of Truth” for nothing. The truth behind my resignation will eventually come out, and when it does, there will be more egg on more faces than you can scramble up for Sunday brunch at a Jersey diner. For now, I (literally) keep my counsel. One of the (deep pocketed) parties to the dispute has, however ludicrously, threatened litigation against me. I’ve said before that contrary to all of the right-wing claptrap you’ve ever heard about left-wing control of university life, the real threat to free speech on and about campus is non-partisan: litigation and regulation, which are anybody’s game. You don’t need “censorship” in the stereotypical sense to shut someone up. All you need is the threat of a frivolous lawsuit, lots of money, and the promise to use that money to shut someone down.
I just remind all concerned that a threat to shut me down is easier asserted than brought about. And a threat to shut me up is a bit like hoping to prevent the tides from reaching the shore. King Canute (is supposed to have) tried it. It didn’t work for him. It won’t work for you.
People say that you should never leave an institution with recriminations, especially not overt ones. “What if you need a recommendation for your next job? Prudence in all things.” You should always act as though all went well, as though your departure was a frictionless parting of the ways, as though bygones were bygones, and as though all that happened in Lodi and Rutherford should remain there. It’s a very American attitude, along with “Let’s talk about the weather,” “Let’s not talk about politics, religion, or money,” “Think positive,” and “Let’s make our country great again by electing a lying psychopath to the presidency.”
I’m afraid I don’t share these attitudes. Maybe I’m exactly the foreigner to these shores that so many jeering people have always said I was. Whether I am or not, I don’t suffer from amnesia. I have no inclination to deceive anyone about anything. I have nothing to fear from an honest recounting of the facts. And I happen to know that injustices were done, not just to me, but to others, and that harm was done, not just to particular victims of injustice but to the educational enterprise itself. So why then should I forgive or forget? Why should I make a “clean break” with palpable filth? The “forgive, forget, move on” attitude people recommend is the attitude from which this country is now perishing before our eyes: over a million infected, approaching a hundred thousand dead. It’s an attitude I’ve spent a lifetime opposing. It’s what I spent 25 years teaching my students to oppose. Why change now?
So now, I’m the one going out into that world that so promiscuously demands forgiving and forgetting as it falls apart through the delinquency of those who so easily forgive and forget everything. I’m the one without a job or a paycheck. I’m the one ineligible for unemployment. I’m the one whose benefits will soon run out. I’m the one looking for a job as the unemployment rate reaches 25%, and I’m the one willing to take any job that will take me, even if it exposes me to the coronavirus, even it forces me to clean toilets, or deliver packages, or do whatever needs to get done out there. The least I’m going to do is take a parting shot at the people who put me in this situation. Forgiving and forgetting is not my style. And if I’m going to go out, I’m going to go out in style. My style. Plug your ears if you like, but don’t expect me to change my tune.
*During a recent site visit by Middle States Commission on Higher Education, I made the case to the accreditors that Felician ought to adopt tenure. The suggestion was not only derided by one of the accreditors (who suggested with world-weary resignation, so to speak, that tenure was an institution gradually going out of style in this, our modern age), but opposed by every one of the faculty in the room who decided to weigh in on the subject. (Most prudently kept quiet. I wonder why.)
One relatively new faculty member–incongruously hired for a specialized research position at what regards itself as a teaching institution–had the nerve to assert that we didn’t need tenure because he, after all, had been treated so well by the institution. Why, admin had relieved him altogether of teaching duties, giving him leave to do nothing but research on his favorite topics, had given him a fabulous office, had bought him an fMRI machine to play with, and in general, treated him “really well.” It had not occurred to this faculty member that he might have been given a special dispensation, that admin had nothing to fear from someone given such extravagant playthings, and that 99% of the rest of the faculty was in a different situation than he was. If Felician had had tenure, I might be in a position to explain to him the sheer idiocy of his views. But I guess “we” were better off without tenure, right?
I regard this memory as a kind of keepsake of the sheer absurdity of the twelve years I spent at Felician: a faculty not only denied tenure, but adamant about not wanting to have it.