Blogs > Cliopatria > Bradford

Dec 9, 2005 6:10 pm


Reader Jacob Paul Segal (in the comments section at the post below) posted an article from a recent edition of the Indy Star that I had missed: IU Law professor William Bradford, who received five highly suspicious votes against his reappointment, has resigned, after admitting lying about his military record.

Before I went public in my tenure case, I was told frankly that every possible negative thing about my background would come out, and therefore I needed to make sure I had no skeletons in my closet. I didn't, and so had no problems with going public. Bradford, clearly, did--and therefore got what he deserved. Since he lied about a serious matter on his resume, he had to resign.

The broader issue about this controversy, however, remains unchanged: according to the testimony of a member of the personnel committee, Bradford's lying about his background was not known when the reappointment vote occurred, and therefore wasn't an item considered by the committee. The Law School has never offered an explanation as to why five faculty members voted to fire someone whose scholarship and teaching were considered first-rate but who had disagreed on highly charged political and social issues with the department's two most prominent left-leaning members, who then turned around and voted to dismiss him. Unfortunately, because of Bradford's own misconduct, his five critics will not be forced to explain their bevahior. If I were on the law school job market, I'd steer clear of IU-Indianapolis.

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Ralph E. Luker - 12/19/2005

There's a sense in which we're _always_ working with external evidence for internal processes -- that is, I don't think that we can assume that actors in events always fully understand and articulate their _own_ motivations. Your call for restraint in that sense is fully justified. The evidence available to us is always limited and shaped by interests and perspectives that have to be evaluated critically. Even you, however, would not call for silence in the face of what appears to be an unreasonable or unjust action. I don't assume that Bradford's initial charges about the process were true. I do claim that what we now know gives no grounds for deciding that his initial charges about the process were not true. Nor do I think that you believe that we now have enough evidence to disprove those initial charges.

Robert KC Johnson - 12/19/2005

On Tim's earlier point on how the anti-Bradford IU profs could have responded: it seems to me there were two plausible options. One--"We dispute Prof. Bradford's allegations but cannot comment about personnel matters." Two--reveal what criteria they use in general to evaluate personnel matters. They did neither--they revealed their votes, thus piercing confidentiality. They described their mindsets in this specific case--thus further piercing confidentiality. And then they claimed that confidentiality prevented them from commenting further. If so, why did it not prevent them from making the first two remarks? As Tim points out, I'm deeply suspicious of the value of confidentiality in personnel matters in any case, especially when (as occurred in this matter, at least through the summer) the candidate him or herself waives confidentiality.

There are a couple of other items in the Bradford matter that are worth remembering. This was not a case where people who commented on the affair (or, at least, where I) relied only on Bradford's personal word. There were a variety of facts that were public knowledge and conceded by all sides: the reappointment vote was 10-5, and thus five profs voted to fire Bradford immediately; Bradford had a very strong record of scholarship and teaching; Bradford had feuded on political and social issues with the personnel committee's two most outspoken leftists; these two leftists (by their own admission) voted against him for reappointment; IU (according to the dean) doesn't use collegiality as a criterion and so the question of Bradford's personal relations with the duo shouldn't have factored into their votes. Admittedly, we didn't have access to the internal deliberations of the personnel committee. But we had a considerable amount of information, coming from the dean, from pro-Bradford profs, from students, and from the two leaders of the anti-Bradford movement.

Second, the allegations for which Bradford ultimately was fired/resigned were disciplinary in nature, and therefore (a) shouldn't have been before a personnel committee; and (b) have under no assumption of confidentiality. Bradford should have been fired for lying about his resume and making anonymous negative postings about the university whether he was tenured or not. But such a decision would be a matter for the college counsel's office--a departmental or school personnel committee shouldn't be making such a decision.

Jonathan Dresner - 12/17/2005

Here, here! I've started using him as an example of a true Renaissance Man in my World lectures....

Pirsig is so quotable and fun, and so useless... there's no way to distinguish between engineering and ethics, between histology and historiography, between philosophy and philately in Pirsig's "University." The relationship between inductive and deductive reasoning is fractured by Pirsig, and not really put back together again, leaving it vulnerable to, as Mr. Pettit demonstrates, an overabundance of one over the other.

David Nicholas Harley - 12/17/2005

It's also unnecessary to be rude about Machiavelli, a great historian and an opponent of tyranny who suffered for his support of the Florentine Republic.

David Nicholas Harley - 12/17/2005

It's also unnecessary to be rude about Machiavelli, a great historian and an opponent of tyranny who suffered for his support of the Florentine Republic.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/12/2005

Chris, Your mean-spirited commentary at Cliopatria betrays your vocation as a peace activist. Apart from the insult to those of us who didn't choose to become lawyers, it's also empty of significant content.

chris l pettit - 12/12/2005

...therefore probably more in tune to this than many of you (FULL DISCLOSURE: I have not had, nor will be seeking any time soon, a tenure track position because human rights law demands that one does something other than sit on ones butt publishing relatively insignificant articles simply because ones pitiful employer requires it...I have however been offered two tenure track positions and turned both down)...I would actually gladly head to IU after seeing Bradford rejected like this. Contrary to KC's ideological beliefs, Bradford's positions in much of his writings had no solid legal basis, and were based in ideological nonsense, much like Yoo's stuff at Berkeley and Dershowitz's at Harvard. To use an analogy from Parsig's writings...they are not members of a true University based on critical analysis and lack of ideology...they are members of the "university" displayed to the public...that based in mis-education, ideology, politics, (mis) administration, economics, and power relationships. KC has long shown himself to be part of this "university" with very little capacity towards joining the University with critical thought and knowledge as its goal.

That being said...tenure proceedings in law schools are extremely dodgy things at times...a great example would be when the "Free Cuba" crowd extorted the Florida legislature and the Board of Regents at a certain university into creating another position in international law at that university, and then insisting on putting their own candidate in the who then promotes, just like Bradford does, the abuse and misuse of international law (or "international law according to the US") in his/her classes and writings. The excuse that "one ought to hear all viewpoints" here is simply ignorant and atrocious...there are positions that are simply wrong when subjected to critical analysis and legal reasoning...they may be sustained by ideological dishonesty, but those are not views that are meant to be taught in a University seeking to impart knowledge. KC, Bradford, Yoo, and their ilk are better positioned with the Koresh's, Branson's, Milosevic's, Machiavelli's etc, of the world...braying their ideological nonsense at their brainwashed followers...not at students who are meant to be learning and being taught ideas that stand up to critical analysis and the ability of humanity to reason (even if most of them do not...and power brokers and ideological entrepreneurs then prey on that ignorance).


Timothy James Burke - 12/11/2005

You're trying to read the interior of a process based on exterior evidence, and at the least, that's a dangerous exercise. I would just be a lot more cautious in general about that, but especially in this case. Both you and Ralph are making assertions based on a thin record of what's public that necessarily involves pretty substantial inferences about the day-to-day ethics and politics of a number of individuals. You may be cynical about the way these folks unveiled their votes but not their arguments, but what would you have had them do? Say more, and make the breach of confidentiality worse? Say nothing and leave it to Bradford to represent everything about his case? Maybe tenure cases should be more open to outside scrutiny, but until they are, it's pretty tough to guess for certain what was said in a discussion, and even tougher to guess at the unsaid things people may hold in their hearts.

We've gone round this bend before, but I guess I would at the very least surround those inferences with several degrees more of doubt and tentativeness than you do. I'd do that not just about personnel matters but also about history--and I suspect you would too about historical matters, by and large. I mean, think of how difficult it is to know what really motivates historical figures about whom we have a tremendous amount of information, let alone obscure ones whom we only know by observing some of their actions. I think good rules of historical interpretation should also apply to how we see and think about the world around us.

Robert KC Johnson - 12/11/2005

I agree with Tim that it's possible that Bradford's opponents knew of this duplicity when they voted in the spring. But there's no evidence to suggest that they did (and circumstantial evidence that they did not, based on the testimony of one of Bradford's previous supporters who was at the meeting). Indeed, had it been known that Bradford falsified his resume, the springtime result would have been exactly what we saw now (i.e., that Bradford was fired, with no supporters remaining among the faculty), not a 10-5 vote in favor of his reappointment. It's possible that he revealed his duplicitous side only to those senior people with whom he clashed ideologically. But that would be a pretty big coincidence.

In this particular instance, moreover, while IU Law in theory was constrained from speaking openly, in practice, Bradford's opponents did speak openly--revealing their votes against him, denying that ideology played any factor, then claiming that they could speak no more. So, basically, they were telling outside commentators that they would breach confidentiality in saying that they voted no and in discussing their mindset, but that they would honor confidentiality by refusing to reveal why they voted no. That doesn't fly.

As I said in the post, I think that IU's decision was correct in light of the information revealed since September (the falsified resume, the anonymous postings). But I still see nothing to suggest that the original 10-5 vote wasn't deeply flawed.

David Silbey - 12/10/2005

I agree with Dr. Burke. I'd also say that I thought that Dr. Luker's self-examination in his revisit of the issue was a model for this.

Timothy James Burke - 12/10/2005

I'm suggesting that a little more humility in the face of a revelation like this would be the thing that would separate judiciousness from hatchet-wielding. Maybe we all ought to be more cautious about being manipulated in contexts where one side is constrained from speaking openly (tenure committees). Doesn't mean we shouldn't take note of injustice when it becomes apparent, but I think perhaps we've become too ready to slap on our six-guns. And would it hurt to say, "Well, maybe they really did have some intimation that there was an issue here": Bradford appears to have a serious, sustained, systematic credibility problem--this wasn't just a one-off bit of dishonesty.

I just think the first obligation of any good thinker who has a public voice is to humbly revisit old arguments in the light of new evidence. I don't really see KC doing that here: he's saying that he's still right about everything in this case except whether Bradford should actually be tenured. Would it hurt so much to say, "It's just possible that the people I'm criticizing aren't quite what I thought they were, or that there were complexities here that I didn't perceive?"

Ralph E. Luker - 12/10/2005

Tim, I acknowledged much of your point when I posted this several days ago, though my "unnerved" condition was "under the fold." There really is no evidence, however, that those who opposed Bradford's being given tenure had any intuition of his having lied about his military service. It didn't emerge until after the public controversy started. It still remains possible that virtually everything that Bradford charged is true; but that he had an incapacitating handicap that _he knew_ he was hiding. I suspect that KC's and my reactions to these things are largely a function of our own experiences -- how could they _not_ be -- and yet, both you and I spoke with some degree of conviction about KC's tenure case at Brooklyn College, even when we could not be absolutely certain that there was no skeleton hiding somewhere in KC's closet.

Timothy James Burke - 12/10/2005

KC, it seems to me that this is a case that might occasion all of us, including yourself, to acknowledge two things: first, that weighing on tenure cases based on media coverage is a perilous thing to do, and that anyone who wants to ought to dig a little deeper or be a little more circumspect in their opinion. Second, and more importantly, at least allow a smidgen of judicious doubt to enter in one's judgement of others. Perhaps it's just possible that at least some of Bradford's colleagues, whom you judge to be purely ideological, picked up some whiff of suspicion about his credbility in his behavior. Because confidentiality binds them, and because they might not be able in any event to clearly make the case for external consumption about that suspicion, they couldn't say as much to outside sources, while Bradford was free to say whatever he liked.

I would really prefer it if you could at least allow for the *possibility* in cases like this that the people you judge with such certainty may have had information that you did not. It's very possible that your critique is sound and just. It just seems to me that this case should engender at least a little more doubt and self-reflection on your part as well.

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