For Academic Elites Evidence is Irrelevant

Posted: Apr 23, 2014 12:01 AM
For Academic Elites Evidence is Irrelevant

Former UNC Dean Dan Plyler is like a lot of academics today. He forms strong opinions without taking the time to study an issue to determine whether his opinion is supported by evidence. Evidence is irrelevant for such academics who are more interested in preserving visions of how things should be - as opposed to evaluating how things are with some practical game plan for improving upon them. Plyler's disdain for evidence was on full display when he wrote a Letter to the Editor in response to my recent promotion to full professor. It is reprinted below with my usual witty commentary (and humility) interspersed between each paragraph.

The recent ruling by a federal judge that a faculty member at UNCW be promoted to full professor establishes a dangerous precedent that can have serious consequences for colleges and universities throughout the country.

Actually, the ruling didn't establish any precedent at all. After the jury ruled in my favor, both sides in the conflict (my attorneys and the attorneys for UNCW) were asked to submit their recommendations for relief. My attorneys asked for promotion and $60,000 back pay. UNCW attorneys recommended promotion and $40,000 back pay. The judge split the difference on the back pay and gave me $50,000. He did not have to split any difference on the promotion because it was not in dispute. My promotion set no dangerous precedent because it set no precedent at all. Ordering the things both sides agree upon is a routine judicial practice. There is no seismic innovation here.

The real question here is why Dean Plyler decided to go public with his views without familiarizing himself with the facts concerning the promotion? The answer is simple: He wishes to preserve a vision that the academy is under some sort of external assault by people with lesser judgment. (Please note that even judges have lesser judgment than academics, in Plyler's humble view). Since the evidence would have contradicted the vision, it was ignored. In fact, it was not even sought after by the learned Dean.

Academia, since its inception, has held firmly to the belief that accountability of its members is best determined by peer review and peer evaluation. This process at UNCW and most other universities is a multi-tiered one, with many steps designed to ensure that fairness prevails. Also, any member of the faculty having received an adverse ruling has access to a lengthy review process that can eventually lead to a hearing by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

The lawsuit was filed in 2007 after UNCW refused to let me appeal in 2006. The "lengthy review process" in my case was this: "Dear Dr. Adams: We are sorry but you can't appeal this decision." Does Dean Plyler equate denial of a single appeal with due process? Of course he doesn’t. He simply knows nothing about the case over which he is offering public commentary. To learn about the case would require learning about the evidence. Seeing the evidence would diminish the vision. So the evidence is deemed irrelevant. Welcome to Academic Elitism 101.

The purpose of these procedures is to ensure that the quality of the faculty is maintained at the highest possible level – while at the same time assuring fairness to all its members. There is no other institution in our society that guarantees fairness and due process more than colleges and universities, and to have a jury of the general population and a federal judge – as wise as they may be – determine whether or not a faculty member is eligible for promotion is ludicrous.

Any shred of credibility Dean Plyler had was destroyed as soon as he said "There is no other institution in our society that guarantees fairness and due process more than colleges and universities ..." When I read this line to my classes, they erupted in laughter. The reason they laughed out loud was that they have to live under the iron hand of the UNCW administration. They do not live in an ivory tower where they have a) tenure, which prevents them from being fired, and b) qualified immunity, which allows them to violate the law, feign ignorance, and let the taxpayers pick up the bill.

When the laughter subsided, I took the time to survey all of the students in my criminal procedure classes. (There are two classes with thirty students in each class). I asked them two simple questions:

1: Have you (or one of your friends at UNCW) ever had to go into a university expulsion or suspension hearing and face a university attorney while being denied counsel of your own?

2. Have you (or one of your friends at UNCW) ever been subjected to a student conduct "hearing" where the university made a determination of guilt prior to the "hearing," which was typed up before the "hearing" and handed it to the accused at the conclusion of the "hearing."

Over 80% of the students responded by raising a hand after I asked the first question. The same result was obtained after I read the second question. I wasn't surprised by the results. I'm familiar with the evidence.

Given the reality of things, it would probably be more accurate for Dean Plyler to modify his statement to say "There is no other institution in our society that disdains fairness and due process more than colleges and universities." Of course, modifying his statement would require that he examine the evidence. And that would threaten his vision.

It's another example of the "race to the bottom" mentality that has permeated our society.

How obscene of Dean Plyler to use a phrase, which is in vogue now in conjunction with the issue of globalization, but was popularized a century ago by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Justice Brandeis was a champion of free speech and due process. Among other things, he taught us that sunlight is often the most powerful of disinfectants.

In contrast, Dean Plyler is a hypocrite who demonstrates that ignorance is the opiate of academic elites.