Viewpoint: A corrupt institution

BY DOUGLAS SMITH

Published May 29, 2010

All universities must take prudent steps to prevent campus violence, as evidenced by the shootings at Virginia Tech University and University of Alabama-Huntsville. But the University of Michigan is exploiting the tense and fearful environment that arose from these incidents. The administration has repeatedly used false allegations of threatening behavior to justify the actions they have taken to punish and discredit faculty, students and staff. This has brought true shame upon a great university, and the recently published case of the treatment of Dr. Andrei Borisov is one such example. Unfortunately, it is but one of many similar cases at the University.

Dr. Borisov accused a fellow faculty member of claiming credit for his work and violating federal rules regarding research grants. His department, the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, retaliated against him, accusing him of being “threatening” because he continued a conversation with a fellow faculty member all the way to his car. The fellow faculty member has said that he did not feel threatened, but the department chair called the campus police to read Dr. Borisov a trespass warning and bar him from campus anyway. The officers arrested him for trespassing and resisting arrest, but he was acquitted of all charges. Yet the University still refuses to lift the trespass warning and maintains the fiction that Dr. Borisov is guilty of “threatening behavior.”

Linda Martinson was a student in the College of Nursing when she was accused of threatening behavior and the campus police were called to read her a trespass warning, effectively expelling her since she couldn’t attend class. After the trespass warning, the administration found no grounds for emergency expulsion based on psychological illness or violation of the student code. Still, the College of Nursing and the campus police refused to lift the trespass warning. The College did not follow the Office of Student Conflict Resolution process, instead inventing a new process within the College. The result was that Martinson was expelled in less than a week after a hearing at which she was not present because she was not notified that it was taking place. She appealed for a new hearing and won, but the appeals board’s findings were ignored by the College.

I was a tenured professor in the College of Medicine, and I was threatened by a University attorney after I filed a grievance against my chairman. I was told that I was scaring people and that if I did not stop talking to people about my grievances, I would be declared dangerous, fired and would have to make the next call to my attorney from Kipke Avenue (the office of campus police).

The former University General Counsel, Elsa Cole, testified in a deposition that she spoke at a national meeting of university general counsels about how the administration handles whistleblowers at the University of Michigan, thus spreading the administration’s tactics to other universities.

Every time the administration strips away rights to a fair grievance hearing or to investigate wrongdoing, they increase their power to intimidate faculty, students and staff. The Administration tried to trick the Michigan Student Assembly into proposing the reduction of proof required for violations of the student code of rights and responsibilities from “ clear and convincing evidence” to “a preponderance of the evidence” in order to make it easier to expel students.

The administration has fought tooth and nail against having a properly elected and functioning Department of Public Safety Oversight Committee. There were no elections for student or faculty members of the committee for more than 10 years and the administration recently rewrote rules for the committee that allow the police chief and president of the University to block any grievance hearing they object to. This codifies the president’s power to cover up police misconduct.

I have lobbied the University, including at the Board of Regents meeting three times and in a letter to President Coleman, for changes to policies and procedures that will protect faculty, staff and students from such false allegations and for true civilian oversight of campus police. The campus police should be responsive to the rights of all members of the University community, not just the wishes of the administration. The administration has responded by “circling the wagons” to protect its members and preserve their power to treat faculty, staff and students as they wish. It is time for the University community to stand up and tell the Board of Regents that their rights must be protected.

Douglas Smith is a former Medical professor.