Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Events As They Happened, Not As You Wish They Had Happened

Since Dr. David Kanis, the interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, desires to “provide some context for my decisions” during the recent Criminal Justice search that has “received much attention,” his recent memorandum deserves a close reading. In particular, the accuracy of the end-justifies-the-means tenor of the memorandum should be scrutinized, as should the Dean’s portrayal of himself as controlling the search.

Going paragraph-by-paragraph, it appears that the first two paragraphs, which provide background for the Dean’s subsequent discussion, are essentially accurate. Much of the material in the second paragraph is included in the recent investigative report submitted to the Faculty Senate. Unfortunately, paragraphs three, four, and five demonstrate sophistry at best, and mendacity at worst. No one acquainted with the trajectory of the Criminal Justice search would find credible the scenario sketched by the Dean in these three paragraphs.

In paragraph three, the Dean details the myriad problems with the Criminal Justice Department and claims that the decision to hire new faculty in August came from President Watson, who “heard my (Kanis’s) deep concerns,” about the program and “told the Provost to hire criminal justice faculty immediately.” This account completely contradicts the comments Dr. Kanis made to at least two Criminal Justice faculty that the search had been ordered by the President and that he essentially “had to do it.” Also in paragraph three, Kanis claims that in "the first week in August," the Criminal Justice “chairperson sent out an email to her three peers notifying them of this opportunity, and that they were invited to participate in the search.” There is no record of this e-mail being received by any faculty in Criminal Justice and none of the faculty have any memory of such an e-mail. Kanis must be referring here to the e-mail of August 14 that went out to Criminal Justice faculty after five interviews had already been conducted. In fact, as the Faculty Senate investigation reveals, not until August 10, when the Dean told one Criminal Justice faculty member about the search, did any of the faculty know anything about the possibility of hiring new faculty. In fact, one of the department’s senior faculty learned about the search after the list of final candidates had been promulgated and interviews scheduled. Dr. Kanis contradicts himself in this paragraph when he acknowledges that “I expressed my concern to the Provost over running a search in such a short time period, particularly with faculty involved in student registration or on vacation.” In any event, the "opportunity" afforded Criminal Justice faculty extended only to participation in interviews that had already been arranged by the administrators conducting the search.

The final sentence in paragraph three seems nothing more than an attempt to spin the improper search by claiming that the applicants’ were so impressive that the Dean “was stunned at [their] quality, with at least twelve having qualifications superior to the candidate recommended by the faculty and rejected by the President.” Without going into the qualifications of all eleven finalists, it seems fair to say that the qualifications (as detailed in the job announcement) of Lewis Myers and Andre Grant hardly deserve to be described as “superior.” In fact, neither of those two candidates possessed any record of publications nor did they list anything resembling a research agenda on their applications. In addition, Andre Grant listed no teaching experience on his application.

In paragraph four, Dr. Kanis again presents a narrative that contradicts the sequence of events established by the Faculty Senate investigation. In particular, his assertion that an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates included faculty input is ludicrous. According the documentary evidence, the only conversation about the candidates between Dr. Yan Searcy, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Douglas Thomson, a senior faculty member in the Criminal Justice Department, occurred after the three successful candidates had already likely been selected. There was clearly no “consultation with faculty,” as the Dean claims.

Paragraph five contains what appears to be a completely fabricated account of the Criminal Justice faculty being afforded the opportunity of “weigh[ing] in” on whether or not to halt the search, which the Dean claims he was considering. He describes the department as containing “four . . . faculty,” a complete distortion of the facts. At the time of the search, the department included Drs. Mohammad Salahuddin, Douglas Thomson, and Professor Marc Cooper. The Department Chair, Professor Marian Perkins, is not faculty, as the Dean obviously should know. In any event, none of the faculty received a request to “weigh in” on whether the search should continue. In fact, Dr. Thomson has protested the irregularity and impropriety of the process from August 14 until the present day.

The remainder of the memorandum is mainly meaningless verbiage about how the university and the Dean plan to protect the integrity of future searches, spiced with another reminder that faculty have limited authority in this area. After all, the Dean will decide who the best candidate is for a particular job, and “it doesn’t have to be the candidate chosen by the faculty.” Given that search committees for faculty hires do not rank candidates and in essence to not make a choice, the Dean’s comment here seems somewhat disingenuous.

While I have no desire to speculate on Dr. Kanis’s motives in sending out this memorandum, I will make several observations based on its contents.

First, nothing in the memorandum ameliorates the completely improper nature of the Criminal Justice search of 2012. No rationalization or obfuscation can change the fact that Criminal Justice faculty were not involved in the selection of finalists for the positions, those selections were made by administrators. The complete control of the search by university administrators violated a number of university policies and professional “best practices.” In addition, the improper search likely violated a number of accreditation standards.

Second, there was extremely limited faculty participation in the interviews, with Dr. Salahuddin apparently attending one and Dr. Thomson three. Thus, in seven of the eleven interviews, there were no Criminal Justice faculty present.

Third, none of the administrators who participated in the search operated in the best interests of either the program or the university. The claim that the search produced stellar candidates is disputed by at least one of the Criminal Justice faculty. Had any faculty input on the candidates been considered, two of the eventual hires would not have been on a list of finalists.

Fourth, perhaps most important, Dr. Kanis had an opportunity to go on the record during the Faculty Senate investigation and chose not to do so.

There are others who can speak to caliber of two of the new hires' teaching, and whether their hiring has been a great boon to the Criminal Justice Department, but I would invite anyone who is interested to revisit the investigative report on the Faculty Senate website and determine for yourself which narrative seems more credible.


  1. Thank you, birobi, for this blog, which sets straight some of David Kanis's distortions.

    I would like to speak to an issue of moral character and means-end rationality. Ten or twelve years ago I helped organize a forum on Chicago Public Schools (during the administration of Paul Vallas and Geri Chico), and David Kanis spoke at that forum on how, as the parent of an adopted teen-age son who was African-American, his eyes had been opened to the racism experienced by a young black male. I was very moved by what he said and came to admire his moral character and commitment.

    But moral character is not a "once and forever" trait of a person, but something that can be either nurtured and developed or corroded and destroyed. In a person's desire to make the university better, he can persuade himself, "I am the good guy; so what I do now will lead to a better situation when I have more power and authority." The trouble with this line of reasoning is that if the things we do now do not develop in us moral principle and integrity, then we become what we abhor. If we do not act and speak and write honestly, then we become dishonest and unreliable.

    If birobi's account of things is right (and he has no motive not to be truthful in these matters), then David Kanis is not telling us the truth but trying to represent the events of this August in a way that justify what the higher administration did. Perhaps he believes that some good will come of his memo. But if he is being careless with the truth, then certainly one bad thing has already occurred: he has become someone who is careless with the truth.