Protecting the Persecutors · 16 August 2005

Filed under: Indiana, Press Coverage

By Professor 17, 2005

To sum up the scandal at Indy Law-Indianapolis for Frontpage readers who haven't followed it until now:

This spring Professor William Bradford received a poor vote from the law faculty at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis both on a straw vote for his eventual tenure, and even on a vote simply to retain him as an untenured associate professor for the next three years. This occurred despite the fact that he has an outstanding teaching record (including a teaching award from the law students), an excellent record of service, and a stunning record of publication, including a book, a forthcoming book, and 21 articles in law reviews or in books-enough ordinarily to assure someone at Indy-Law not merely of tenure but of a full professorship. Indeed, one of his colleagues with a similar record of publication, a person who came to IU-Indy School of Law in the same semester as Bradford, has just received promotion not merely to tenure but to full professor. Bradford believes that he was denied tenure because he refused to sign a petition circulated in the law school this spring which supported Ward Churchill, the Professor of Ethnic Studies at Colorado who described the victims of 9/11 as "little Eichmanns" deserving what they got. The petition was circulated by Florence Roisman, who is a full professor holding a prestigious Chair in Law at the school. Bradford's position was that as far as he was concerned, someone who couldn't distinguish between commercial office workers and Nazis who engineered the Holocaust did not deserve to teach.

What makes the story even more interesting is that while Ward Churchill falsely claims to be an Indian, William Bradford really IS an Indian. He is a Chiricahua Apache. He is also a veteran, who served for 10 years in the armed forces, including at the Pentagon. He says Roisman's response to his refusal to sign the Ward Churchill petition was to say to him: "What kind of Native American ARE you?" Bradford sees this as an expectation that as an Indian, he is expected by leftist colleagues such as Florence Roisman to support any other Indian or even someone who just CLAIMS to be an Indian. Bradford calls such expectations racist.

When he refused to conform to Roisman's view of what an Indian's opinions should be, she engineered a vote in the law school in which one-third of the faculty voted against retaining Bradford for future tenure, and one-third voted against retaining him for three more years untenured. This is a bad sign concerning his eventual tenure; university administrations only rarely grant tenure to someone against whom one-third of the department has voted. The vote on Bradford HAD to be political in origin, because on the merits (teaching, service, publication) Bradford should obviously already be tenured. Indeed, he should probably be a full professor.

One of Roisman's allies in the anti-Bradford campaign has been Professor Mary Harter Mitchell, who, like Roisman, holds an endowed Chair in the law school. Professor Mitchell has one small book of case law (1982), and a grand total of two published scholarly articles to her credit. She has joined with Roisman in an "ethics suit" against Bradford (see below). The Apache veteran Bradford has, literally, published ten times more legal scholarship than Professor Mitchell has.

Bradford has now taken his case to the press - to the local newspaper, The Indianapolis Star. The story has caused a bit of a splash. Roisman has responded with filing an "ethics violation" suit against Bradford with the Vice Chancellor of Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, William Plater. Plater publicly defended Roisman in print after the publication of Bradford's interview in The Indianpolis Star. So what will happen now?

1. We cannot expect the IUPUI central administration to be interested in justice for Bradford. They are interested first and foremost in what is called "protecting the institution," and they are not interested in protecting individuals, no matter how wronged. "Protecting the institution": I assure you this is a phrase I am not making up. In my 25 years in academia, I have heard it often from administrators intent on covering up scandals.

2. Here is what needs to be protected. Before the Bradford scandal ever broke, Roisman's erratic behavior had already brought embarrassment to the law school twice in recent years; and yet it is clear that someone high up in the central administration is protecting her. This is either because she has been at the school a long time, or because of her close connections to the national office of the American Civil Liberties Union, or because this powerful administrator agrees with Roisman's radical politics. Thus, when Roisman illegally used university computers to circulate political propaganda against a Bush nominee for the federal circuit court in 2002, and the story got out in the press (much to the embarrasment of IU-Indy Law), the result was a pro forma investigation by the central administration, followed by her being rewarded with a promotion. She was elevated from being mere full professor to having a Chair in the Law School - an appointment which brings her a salary of over $121,000 a year. Roisman followed this triumph with a very loud public protest against the placement of a Christmas tree in the Law School entrance hall (Christmas 2003), calling it "exclusionary behavior," an antic that even made its way onto the BBC. The result was that the Christmas tree was removed by the administration. Roisman then received a teaching award although a glance at the Indy Law student web-site will show that she is disliked as a teacher because of her harsh closed-mindedness.

A year later, IU-Indy Law and the IUPUI central administration rewarded Roisman's close ally Mary Harter Mitchell, who was already a full professor, with her own Chair in Law - this despite the fact that Mitchell has never produced any significant legal scholarship.

3. What all this means in terms of "protecting the institution" is that now, especially with the Law School administration's decision to give Roisman a Chair and with the IUPUI central administration's decision in support of it, any attack on her becomes an attack on all of them. To repeat: Now the central administration will do everything it can to protect her - no matter what she does - because to protect her is to "protect the institution," to protect their previous decisions in her favor. To protect her is to protect the entire structure of decision-making authority throughout the university. Conversely, to question her conduct becomes a matter of calling into question the legitimacy of the entire structure of decision-making authority at IUPUI. The fact that many people at IU-Indy Law believe that Roisman is engaging in increasingly erratic and unprofessional behavior is beside the point. Or rather: covering up her increasingly erratic conduct becomes the only way in which the administration of the institution can protect itself. All of this holds true for protecting Mary Harter Mitchell as well.

This makes any attack on Roisman for her conduct - no matter how abusive or out of control - politically impossible for almost anyone inside the university. And it makes it very difficult for anyone outside too.

4. That is how the administrators will protect her, for by sticking together and actually rewarding her, they protect themselves from the exposure of the potential scandals she has caused. Because they have handsomely rewarded her, and any attack on her thus becomes an attack on the judgment of the entire university administration, all the adminstrators thereby now have a vested interest in maintaining that she did nothing wrong - in maintaining the cover up. Because Roisman was given a Chair to cover up the previous scandal, and Roisman's ally Mitchell holds a Chair she doesn't deserve, Bradford will receive no help from the administration in the new scandal. It doesn't matter if his cause is just. It seems just, but that's irrelevant. It's now a matter of "protecting the institution" - that is, protecting the entire structure of authority within the university. And when THAT is made the issue, it is very difficult to fight back.

5. The hard fact is that no single faculty member, or even group of faculty members, can call into question the legitimacy of the entire administration of the university, nor can anyone call into question the entire structure of authority. The challenge to legitimacy is, on the one hand, too radical for most faculty, too disturbing to the normally placid life of the institution (remember what happened to the child who said "the emperor has no clothes": No one wanted to hear it). And on the other hand, the power imbalance between the administration and any whistleblower or even group of whistleblowers is far too great. All that will likely happen in such a situation is that the faculty-member(s) involved will be punished or even destroyed. This is how "protecting the institution" works. That is how it works all over the country. To see this, one has only to read the pages of Academe (the journal of the American Association of University Professors), or, alternatively, the weekly Chronicle of Higher Education.

The arrival of the Internet has somewhat changed the unfavorable balance of power against faculty whistle-blowers, in that news of scandals can get out too fast to be shut down by the "protecting the institution" instinctive administration cover-up. Whether this has happened or will happen in the Bradford case is uncertain. Were CBS to take up the Bradford case...But I doubt they will. And the procedural issues involved in the Bradford case are probably too complex for someone like Bill O'Reilly to put on TV, though one would think a patriotic libertarian Apache who is being destroyed for not signing a petition about Ward Churchill would interest him.

6. Whether, from the outside, Indiana state legislators or even the governor can or will have the will-power to engage in a questioning of the entire structure of authority at IUPUI, from at least the Vice Chancellor on down: that's an open question too. At best, it will difficult for them, as all the IUPUI administrators rally around "the institution" by denying that anything untoward has occurred, by savagely condemning Bradford, not Roisman, by pointing out Roisman's "ethics" suit against Bradford, by claiming that Bradford should have pursued a remedy inside the university first (as if!), etc. etc. They know it is all bull. But they don't care. They are sending the following message: you can't get rid of her, or even question her, because to do that is to question the existence of us. And to question the existence of us is to question the very existence of IUPUI as an institution. Do you want to do that? After all, IUPUI is an important asset to the state of Indiana, and much money has been invested in building it. Do you want to destroy its reputation now? That's what the outsiders will be told.

7. Now, pressure - from the inside but especially from the outside - can still work if the university involved is weak enough. Outside pressure like the kind described above would never work with a savage and very clever insitutition such as Harvard; but IUPUI is not a first-rank institution. IUPUI is in fact a relatively weak institution, one greatly lacking in self-confidence, feeling greatly under the shadow of Indiana U at Bloomington ("the real IU"). Administrators as well as the law students are worried about the number and quality of people who are going to apply to the Law School there. The Law School is especially weak in terms of the central IUPUI administration because of previous financial difficulties. And the state of Indiana is a politically conservative place, where state legislators are not likely to be happy at the prospect of a very accomplished and patriotic Indian being crucified because of his failure to support a petition in favor of Ward Churchill. So if outside pressure is going to work against the ferocious intent of the university administration as a whole to "protect the institution" - in this case by protecting Roisman (and Mitchell) and destroying Bradford - it is at a place like IU-Indy Law.

8. Most readers of Fronpage were probably previously unaware of the sinister meaning of the phrase "protecting the institution." But it is a central feature of modern university administrative behavior and practice. I wish it weren't so. I wish I did not have to be so cynical. But it is my experience that this is the way things work, and actually, "protecting the institution" is a central attitude and tactic of any bureaucracy (think of the Catholic Church's pederasty scandal). So what can be done for Professor Bradford?

In the immediate future, I can suggest only a couple of things.

a. First of all, great pressure should be put on Vice Chancellor Wiliam Plater to recuse himself from judging the Roisman and Mitchell "ethics suit" against Bradford, since Plater has already put himself on public record as supporting Roisman and attacking Bradford. Yet this recusal is something Plater has vehemently refused to do so far. A truly neutral administrator, higher than Vice Chancellor Plater, should deal with this entire "ethics suit" matter.

b. Readers of Frontpage who themselves live in Indiana should certainly put pressure on their local state legislators to investigate what is going on against Bradford at IU-Indy Law, and urge those legislators in turn to put great pressure on the IUPUI administration to act in a just manner. These state legislators must tell the IUPUI administrators that only justice in the Bradford case will "protect the institution."

9. If something is not done along these lines, however, the way the university system works means that Bradford will be destroyed.