Blogs > Cliopatria > The Bradford File

Sep 24, 2005

The Bradford File

I’ve come to believe that, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, collegiality is the last refuge of scoundrels. In early July, William Slater, IUPUI’s executive vice chancellor, stated, “Collegiality is not a criterion for promotion or tenure, and disagreements over issues should never be considered in evaluating a colleague for advancement.” And so I assumed at the time that the tenure candidacy of IU-Indianapolis law professor William Bradford was back on track. It turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong: IU-Indianapolis seems to have embraced the position that it doesn’t need even a superficial justification to drive Bradford out, and is bringing him up on ethics allegations.

The Bradford case, in its most basic form, really isn’t about tenure. At its heart is an academic mystery: this past spring, why did 5 of the 15 members of the IU Law’s personnel committee have voted against Bradford’s reappointment—in effect demanding his immediate dismissal? Bradford’s record of scholarly publication is extraordinarily good. His teaching has been prize-winning. And, as Slater reaffirmed, IU-Indianapolis Law doesn’t use collegiality as a criterion. So, what criteria did the Bradford Five employ? Several months into the controversy, the university still hasn’t offered anything approaching a plausible explanation.

The identities of two members of the anti-Bradford coalition are publicly known. Bradford has contended that his relations with Professor Florence Roisman deteriorated when he refused to sign a statement prepared by Roisman defending Ward Churchill, and has claimed that Roisman retaliated by opposing his reappointment. Roisman has termed the allegation"deeply offensive and outrageous," since she is “devoted to the principle of academic freedom." Indeed, she publicly informed Bradford, “My conviction that you are not deserving of or likely to earn tenure here is not based on any political views you may hold, and I have made that clear in every statement I have made on the subject.” As she has refused to discuss her reasons for opposing Bradford, however, these denials ring hollow. Nor can Roisman hide behind the wall of confidentiality of the personnel process, since she has publicly admitted that she voted against Bradford's reappontment. (This admission alone would seem to me to violate the university's personnel policies.) Apparently Roisman wants to invoke confidentiality only when she lacks an explanation that will be publicly defensible.

Moreover, it has recently come to light that Roisman supported the tenure bid of a candidate who differed with Bradford not in scholarly credentials but in gender and ideology. Could it be, then, that Roisman’s definition of “the principle of academic freedom” is flexible enough to allow her to base votes on gender or ideology rather than a candidate’s credentials? To quote from one of her students (who described her as a fine teacher), “Prof. Roisman is not always a model for diversity. It is true that adhering to a principled position is acceptable and encouraged. But Roisman arguably takes it to another level by advocating her extreme positions at the expense of dissent.”

Ideology seems to be a secondary explanation for the vote of Professor Mary Harter Mitchell, whose credentials recall the adage that second-class departments make third-class hires. Indeed, departments risk future personnel difficulties when they bring on board even one mediocre member, lest the mediocre work feverishly to ensure that their colleagues are even weaker than they are. Since Mitchell ceased functioning as an active scholar two decades ago, it’s not hard to see why she viewed Bradford as a threat. Even before she stopped publishing, her production was so meager as to raise questions about the criteria the law school used to hire her in the first place. Amazingly, however, even though her last legal article came in 1987 and she has produced only one book (under 200 pages, published by a press called ”The Foundation”), Mitchell was recently awarded an endowed chair financed by Finish Line founder Alan H. Cohen.

The university’s response to the matter has intensified the crisis. For much of the summer, IU Law officials relied on procedural arguments, essentially hoping to obscure the issue. They alleged first that Bradford wasn’t eligible for tenure, then that he had failed to apply for tenure, and finally that he had improperly applied for tenure. The university chancellor recently conceded, however, that each of these procedural elements was wrong: that Bradford was eligible to apply for tenure and that he had properly filed his application.

Currently, the University has moved in a different direction. Roisman and Mitchell have filed an “ethics” allegation against Bradford, and the University’s vice chancellor has convened a special committee to investigate. Bradford, quite properly, has refused to cooperate with what is little more than a kangaroo court.

I've heard that both Fox News and the Chronicle are going to be covering this case, so I doubt we've heard the last of it.

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