January 9, 2003

To the Editor:

The letter of Provost Roberta S. Matthews (Jan. 9, 2003) inadvertently makes Professor Robert David Johnson’s case for him. Indeed, as Professor Erin O’Connor of the University of Pennsylvania has observed in Critical Mass, Matthews’ letter "implicitly corroborates [Dorothy] Rabinowitz’s damning portrait of institutional corruption."

This corroboration occurred in five principal ways:

  1. In her letter, Provost Matthews notes that Brooklyn College "boasts students who have won prestigious awards such as the Mellon, Pickering and Beinecke." Provost Matthews’ letter neglects to mention the fact that Professor Johnson served as the mentor and advisor to the 2002 Brooklyn College graduates who received the Mellon (Martine Jean) and Pickering (Bobby Hardamon) awards, and that Jean and Hardamon have outspokenly advocated Professor Johnson’s tenure. To express their support for Professor Johnson’s tenure, Jean met with Provost Matthews herself, and Hardamon met with President C.M. Kimmich; I was present at the second meeting. Both have been quoted in the press criticizing the decision to deny Professor Johnson tenure.
  2. In her letter, Provost Matthews praises Brooklyn College’s reputation for "excellence in education," pointing to the faculty’s scholarly prestige and rigorous academic standards. Provost Matthews’ letter neglects to mention that while Brooklyn College was once a fine institution, as provost she has aimed to turn Brooklyn College into something like a community college—the type of institution at which she spent virtually her entire career before coming to Brooklyn. In the name of creating "learning communities" and "outcomes assessment," she has looked to water down rigorous learning and de-emphasize the role of facts, knowledge, and critical interpretation. Instead, she says she wants Brooklyn College to "provide a safe environment for difficult dialogues."
  3. In her letter, Provost Matthews expresses confidence in Brooklyn College’s "time-tested processes used to evaluate faculty for hiring purposes, promotion and reappointment." Provost Matthews’ letter neglects to mention her own failure to uphold the standards in this very process. As chair of the College Review Committee, which was established for the express purpose of insuring the procedural integrity of the personnel process, Provost Matthews failed to detect any of the irregularities that marred this case—namely, as the memorandum of law supplied by Professor Johnson revealed, that History chairman Philip F. Gallagher seven times misrepresented Professor Johnson’s record and ten times manipulated the evidence in Professor Johnson’s file to ensure a rejection of Professor Johnson’s tenure bid.
  4. In her letter, Provost Matthews claims that Brooklyn College holds "our students, faculty and staff to the highest principles and values." Provost Matthews’ letter neglects to mention her own conflict of interest regarding Professor Johnson. It was Provost Matthews who called Professor Johnson in and criticized him for protesting college sponsorship of anti-U.S., anti-Israel bias in a post-9/11 college-sponsored teach-in. It is notable that she did not summon any tenured faculty who had lodged similar protests, since she had no power over their careers.
  5. In her letter, Provost Matthews states her pride in "our distinguished chair of the History Department," Philip F. Gallagher. Provost Matthews’ letter neglects to mention how she defines "distinguished." In a 30-year career in the academy, Chairman Gallagher’s record of scholarship consists ONLY of an introduction to a volume of collected essays, none of which he authored. [By contrast, in the nine years since he received a Ph.D., Professor Johnson has published three books, two with Harvard University Press, and a dozen articles.] In the classroom, Chairman Gallagher received a teaching evaluation score of 2.50, 24.8 percent lower than the next lowest-ranked member of the department, and a full 42.4 percent below the department average, according to figures compiled by the Student Government. [By contrast, Professor Johnson’s score was 3.956, and he has taught 13 different courses since coming to Brooklyn College.] And as to his performance as a department chair—a position that has no more important responsibility than dealing with departmental personnel matters—as Erin O’Connor has observed, Chairman Gallagher looked to rig Professor Johnson’s tenure case "to punish independent thought and principled debate." In what way, then, would Chairman Gallagher be termed "distinguished"?



George Ionnaidis

-- East 55th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11234
(718) 444------