Opinion

The Unteachables

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Posted: Feb 06, 2020 12:01 AM
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The Unteachables

Source: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File

Last week, I received a phone call from a professor who teaches in another department here at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington (UNCW), where I have taught for the past 27 years. He was reporting a case of possible discrimination, which resulted in a professor being denied tenure thus losing his livelihood very soon. When I received the call, I immediately began asking questions to assess the validity of his concern. After just a few questions, I came across some information that will shock the conscience of any clear thinking, rational individual.

By way of background information, professors at our university must pass through several hoops to get tenure after they are initially hired for a tenure-track position. The initial contract is only for a few years. If professors get reappointed, a few years later they have an opportunity to apply for lifetime tenure. But to get this tenure, they first have to get approval from a majority of the tenured professors in their department, their department chair, and their college dean. If applicants succeed at this, they face a final vote from the university-wide Reappointment, Tenure, and Promotion (RTP) Committee. Since every faculty member must pass through this committee, its chair is arguably the most powerful professor on campus.

In the case that was reported to me, the applicant had received all three initial approvals. But, then, the RTP committee chair rejected the application. When I learned this, I asked about who is currently on the RTP committee. That is when I learned that its chair is Dr. Kimberly Cook.

If you have followed my career or read my previous columns, you may recall that name. I successfully sued Cook (and others) in federal court for promotion discrimination. In fact, of the 500 or so faculty members at UNCW today, she is the only one to have ever been successfully sued for discrimination in federal court. 

Thus, the one person who presides over every single UNCW faculty promotion decision is literally the only one who has ever been held personally liable for promotion discrimination. Many are now asking the obvious question: How is that even possible?

Recently, a reporter for The College Fix posed precisely that question to Nathaniel Grove, the UNCW Faculty Senate President. Grove’s response was predictable. He told the reporter an easily disprovable falsehood. His exact response, sent from his official university email account, was this: “No individual liability or fault was attributed to Cook.”

When my attorneys Travis Barham and David French read Grove’s response, they were amazed that he would say something so stupid and so false. French responded by emailing me a copy of the jury verdict form, which lists the names of those found liable. He didn’t need to do that. I have a copy of it hanging in my office. But the jury couldn’t rule for me without simultaneously finding Cook and the others who were listed at fault.

Barham pointed out that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit stripped all defendants, including Cook, of qualified immunity, a significant and unusual action. This means that once the jury found them liable, they were each personally, individually liable. 

After all this, a university official—who supposedly represents faculty—misled the reporter about what happened. This should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who follows higher education in America today. Narcissists who lack any sense of self-awareness are running our universities. 

It should not surprise anyone that Cook is self-absorbed enough to want to chair the committee that oversees all faculty promotions after having been found personally liable for promotion discrimination by a jury composed of four blacks, seven women, and only one white male. Nor should anyone be surprised that Faculty Senate President Grove is willing to spread falsehoods to reporters to cover for his comrades. Interestingly, the Faculty Senate remained silent when UNCW advanced arguments against me that would have stripped all faculty members of their free speech rights. But when the lead discriminator is criticized, suddenly he found his voice. 

But should we not be surprised about the possible incompetence and negligence of the higher administration of UNCW? Why are they allowing Cook to remain in a position that could well get the university sued once again? 

After all, during my trial, the jury saw that Cook received emails from all faculty members who were supposed to vote on my promotion. The emails were to be used in discussion during that meeting. Cook merged all the emails into one document. She left all negative remarks in but deleted positive ones. Worse, she used ellipses to alter the original meaning of some of the faculty remarks.

During my trial, the jury also saw how Cook wrote a letter to me accurately stating that the departmental committee had rejected my application due to deficiency in the area of research. But later, she sent me another one falsely stating that the committee rejected my application due to teaching, research, and service. So she could not even keep her story straight.

Finally, and most importantly, during my trial Cook contradicted her prior sworn testimony three times under oath – and did so on material issues. At one point, when David French exposed her contradiction, she glibly said, “Thanks for reminding me.” When confronted with one statement from her deposition that said the opposite of what she had just said under oath, French asked her which of the statements was true. Unbelievably, Cook replied, “They are both true.”

Yet Grove describes Cook as “dedicated” and assures reporters that she will handle all proceedings “equitably.” Small wonder. Grove comes from a department that once elected a convicted felon and former member of the Weather Underground terrorist organization as its chair. In contrast with a convicted terrorist, Cook almost appears politically moderate.

The inmates really are running this institution. And they are appointing the convicted fox to guard the henhouse.