Blogs > Cliopatria > The Bradford File: Where Are the Trustees?

Sep 24, 2005 6:03 pm

The Bradford File: Where Are the Trustees?

I generally favor an activist role for trustees. As the professoriate moves toward increasing ideological homogeneity, it seems to me that trustees—who are, after all, part of the traditional academic system, and therefore do not represent the imposition of authority from the outside—can serve the function once occupied by open debate on campus. They can check against the worst of faculty actions and help ensure that the faculty majority is forced to articulate clearly the rationale for its decisions.

Regardless, however, of whether you favor an activist or a passive role for trustees, no doubt exists that they have one clear role: serving as the fiduciary guardians for the public.

This role would seem to compel aggressive action by the Indiana University trustees in the Bradford case—since, apart from heaps of negative publicity, the Law School’s handling of the matter is exposing the university to potential financial liability. Stripped to its basics, the case involves a white executive vice chancellor, William Plater, and two senior white faculty, Florence Roisman and Mary Mitchell, leading a campaign to oust an untenured faculty member who belongs to an EEOC protected class (Bradford is Native American, and also a veteran).

At the same time, this trio supported the promotion and early tenure of a white candidate, Robin Craig, whose credentials resemble Bradford’s. This action would make it difficult for the university to contend that Bradford’s scholarship was insufficient for reappointment, despite the votes of Roisman and Mitchell; and his teaching commendations speak for themselves. Roisman, meanwhile, 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. I made that clear in the discussions in the Promotion and Tenure Committee.”

If I were an Indiana trustee, Roisman’s heated public statement would cause me grave concern. First, by publicly revealing her vote and discussing her arguments before the college’s Promotion and Tenure Committee, she undeniably pierced confidentiality. In light of Roisman’s actions, I can’t see how, if this case winds up in court, the university could have any credible claim to the confidentiality of any element of its process. The genie, to be blunt, can't be put back in the bottle.

Second, Roisman’s vehement denial of ideology as a factor in her vote increases the likelihood of a negative judgment by the EEOC against the university should Bradford file a racial discrimination claim. If his scholarship and teaching were acceptable; and the law school, as I noted yesterday, doesn’t use collegiality as a criterion; and Roisman says that ideology played no role in her negative vote; and she supported the tenure and promotion of a similarly credentialed white candidate, it’s not hard to see the EEOC making a finding of racial discrimination.

I’ve yet to see any public statements, one way or the other, from any of the Trustees. But it would seem to me a violation of their fiduciary duties for them to sit idly by while the actions of Law School administrators and senior faculty expose the University to a potentially significant financial judgment.

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william c. bradford - 9/25/2005

I hope the Trustees get involved. If they don't, I'll be fired. In three or four years, a jury--or, the University on the eve of trial--will likely award major damages. Great. My career is over, I've spent the last twenty years of my life in vain, and how the heck do I take care of my family in the interim? All I want is to be evaluated on the basis of the applicable laws and rules and on the same standards that are used to judge my liberal white colleagues. Only the Trustees can make this happen. The university administrators are engaged in a cover-up of the actions of the law school. It's an egregious act of nonfeasance by the Trustees.

Robert KC Johnson - 9/24/2005

Agree with you. The hierarchy in this case seems to be unusually confusing: although located on the IUPUI campus, the Law School isn't affiliated with IUPUI, but it's also not directly affiliated with the Bloomington campus, which has its own law school.

The IU chancellor has taken--at least from everything I've been able to tell--a quite erratic course in the matter. He's backed Bradford at a couple of critical points (for instance, forcing the law school hierarchy to concede that Bradford both was eligible and did file for tenure) but has shied away from directly imposing his will (no doubt for bureaucratic reasns).

I can understand his thinking--but it seemed pretty clear to me when this case first emerged in May that it was likely to get messy, and this was an instance where an administrator forcefully stepping in at an earlier stage might have saved lots of problems later on.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/24/2005

KC, I think that you concede in closing that if the University is determined not to renew Bradford's contract, much less tenure him, that there's little likelihood beyond a vote of the trustees of a court forcing the University either to renew the contract or to grant him tenure. Before appealing to the trustees, however, I sure would appeal to the president of Indiana University to initiate a full-scale internal inquiry into the matter before it ever goes to a meeting of the trustees.