The University Record, September 19, 1994


Letters shy of facts

The letter to The University Record (9/6/94) by Stebbins et al. represents a disturbing tendency among University faculty and administrators to draw broad conclusions and make often draconian recommendations without endeavoring to establish the veracity of the information that has led them to write to the Record. For example, in April (4/11/94) a group of over 40 Medical School faculty sent a letter to the Record with respect to a professor in their unit who was alleged to have made racially insensitive comments—allegations that were made by several faculty members and were presented during confidential hearings by a grievance review board. Their letter contained statements such as “the allegations ... constitute nothing more than unsupported accusations,” “It is for these reasons that we find these charges of racism ... to lack credibility,” and “...this campaign of slur and innuendo...” Unfortunately, none of the signers of that letter, to my knowledge, made any attempt to determine whether the allegations with respect to the racially insensitive comments were true or not. It was widely known that I was one of the individuals to whom the professor made such comments, but no one contacted me with respect to this matter. The basis for these allegations has now been substantiated and documented in correspondence sent to the Regents, the provost and other University officials, but none has attempted to set the record straight with respect to this matter.

In a July (7/18/94) issue of the Record, another faculty member, Prof. Richard Bailey, stated on the Faculty Perspectives page that a member of the University community prominent in faculty governance “has plans to sue the University.” I am personally acquainted with the individual to whom Prof. Bailey referred and have been informed that she has never met or spoken with Prof. Bailey, to the best of her knowledge, and that she was surprised and upset when she found in Prof. Bailey’s column the statement that she has plans to sue the University. One would have thought that Prof. Bailey would have contacted this individual before making his allegation.

Thus, the recent letter from Prof. Stebbins and others who in the past have been prominent in faculty governance was most disturbing to me. They based their letter on unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct contained in the column by Prof. Bailey. Although Stebbins and his colleagues used language in their letter such as “if true...” and “if..., these events are confirmed,” they did not hesitate to suggest the recall or impeachment of members of the Senate Assembly and/or of SACUA. One would have expected scholars and scientists to have made at least a modest attempt to verify the allegations that they were addressing before recommending such extreme action.

An underlying theme in all of the communications mentioned above is related to faculty of color and the environment that they experience at the University of Michigan. The Medical School faculty members were reacting to allegations with respect to racially insensitive comments made by a faculty colleague, and Prof. Bailey, in part, was reacting to a preliminary report made to SACUA with respect to faculty of color. One would have hoped that these individuals would have bothered to gather the “facts” before leaping to conclusions. But instead of “doing the right thing” and attempting to determine the truth, these faculty members flocked together in a manner quite similar to that described by former Harvard Prof. Derrick Bell as “white bonding” in his book Faces at the Bottom of the Well, ostensibly for the purpose of maintaining their position in the “dominant circle.”

Thomas D. Landefeld

associate professor of pharmacology

Committee of whole not a ‘sinister plot’

The letter appearing in the Record of Sept. 6, from Profs. Stebbins, Briggs, Green, Moerman and Penchansky, is based on the Faculty Perspectives article of Prof. Richard W. Bailey, appearing in the Record of July 18. The letter has the crucial phrase “if true” in its opening sentence.

I can testify that at least one major point in Prof. Bailey’s article is not true. This point is made by innuendo, as are most of the points in the article. Prof. Bailey implies that the motion to form a committee of the whole at the May 16 meeting of Senate Assembly was the result of a sinister plot by SACUA members to prevent adoption of a resolution on the topic being discussed: the dispute with Provost Whitaker about interference in a grievance process.

As an annuitant member of Senate Assembly (not a member of SACUA), I suggested to Jean Loup, chair of

SACUA, that one form a committee of the whole. I proposed this, several days before the May 16 meeting, in order to promote free discussion of a difficult topic. This device has often been used, for that purpose, in meetings of the LS&A faculty. The idea was subsequently accepted by SACUA and Senate Assembly and did indeed lead to an open discussion, in which all points of view were presented. I heard no statement at this meeting or the June meeting that the procedures had been unsatisfactory.

Wilfred Kaplan

professor emeritus of mathematics