In a letter dated November 26, 2002, President C.M. Kimmich indicated that he would recommend the reappointment of Professor Robert David Johnson for the 2003-2004 academic year. President Kimmich then added the following paragraph of his own, discussing his hiring philosophy, which would dramatically shift the contours of the Brooklyn hiring process:

"I encourage you to recognize that collaborative and constructive cooperation with members of the faculty and the chairperson is an essential element in meeting the criteria of teaching, scholarship, and service. It is reasonable to expect that members of the faculty operate, not in isolation from their colleagues, but in collaboration. Decisions that affect the department and the College should follow discussion that is thorough and respectful of opposing views and not be the outcome of underlying individual interest."

Below are relevant excerpts from Professor Johnson's reply.

February 5, 2003

Dear President Kimmich:

Thank you for your letter of November 26, 2002, indicating that you would recommend my reappointment to the Board of Trustees. I look forward to working with my Brooklyn College students and colleagues in the 2003-2004 academic year. And I commend you for recognizing the self-evident: that the grave procedural improprieties in my case required your overturning the recommendation from the P&B while my case is under review by Chancellor Goldstein.

I am, however, concerned about the extended discussion of the notion of "collegiality" that follows upon the welcome announcement of your decision. I am perplexed why, in a letter granting reappointment, you raised the matter of "collegiality" apparently as an anticipated issue in subsequent personnel decisions, and then suggested that "collegiality" constitutes a principal basis for decisions on personnel matters.

CUNY documents provide three grounds for personnel decisions: scholarship, teaching, and service. "Collegiality" is normally considered one of many components of the third, or service, category. In my case, the department chairman treated "collegiality" as a fourth, stand-alone, category, and then defined the concept to mean lockstep agreement with senior colleagues on philosophical issues. Your letter goes even further, elevating "collegiality" into an all-encompassing element of evaluation. Thus situated, "collegiality" presents the very great danger of limiting academic freedom—initially for candidates only, but subsequently, with the chilling of the cultural climate, for all BC faculty members.


 . . . I thus am particularly disturbed by the dramatic expansion of collegiality’s scope and significance in your November 26, 2002 letter: "I encourage you to recognize that collaborative and constructive cooperation with members of the faculty and the chairperson is an essential element in meeting the criteria of teaching, scholarship, and service." (emphasis supplied) This new standard would make Brooklyn College the only institution of higher learning in the country to include "collegiality" as an essential element of each aspect in the traditional trinity of faculty evaluation. The free and unfettered exchange of ideas central to the intellectual life of any college or university would give way to a policy of subservience by all junior faculty members to the dictates of the department "chairperson." In short, authentic collegiality would be rendered sedition.

As you are well aware, collegiality is a mutual, symbiotic, two-way street, and I need not rehearse for you yet again the breakdown of collegiality in our midst, due to the hostile behavior of some department members toward my supportive colleagues and me. Second, there are unintended problems with setting this criterion in this particular context. You mean, of course, as anyone reasonably would understand, "appropriate collaborative and constructive cooperation." In the days when "faculty and chairpersons" conspired to keep women, blacks, or leftists out of a department, of course, it was precisely "collegial" not to collaborate in such an endeavor. I have tried to be "constructive" to say the least—risking one’s career to engage in honest and candid collegiality is about as constructive and devoted as one can be—but I have not abandoned my higher fiduciary and collegial obligations to the values and principles of CUNY. Third, it seems to me that no fair reading of the Bylaws or the PSC-CUNY Contract would support a claim that collegiality thus improperly used "is an essential element" in fulfilling the requirement of either scholarship or teaching. Indeed, it is the highest form of appropriate collegiality to work for the best and the most moral, as my prior examples amply illustrate.


One can imagine if the standards laid down in your November 26, 2002 letter were applied to other institutions that, like colleges and universities, rely on passionate and sometimes even sharp intellectual exchanges to perform their essential duties. To illustrate the point, I thought that I might supply some examples from our common discipline of History.

In one action, a junior employee denounced her "chairperson" for supporting an "untested prophecy" that "contradicts the basic principle" of their field. So strongly did she believe in the corruption of her chairperson’s course that she refused to "respectfully" concede the good faith of her colleagues’ reasoning. In another example, a junior employee predicted that his senior colleagues’ collective judgment would "accomplish the seemingly impossible feat" of leaving their discipline "more confused" than before any action had been taken. And on a third occasion, an employee termed the decision of his colleagues "pernicious" and "wholly inconsistent" with basic principles of freedom and equality.

If evaluated by the standards offered in your November 26, 2002 letter, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be condemned for demonstrating insufficient respect for her "chairperson" in her Bush v. Gore dissent. Then-Justice William Rehnquist’s devastating critique of Roe v. Wade would be faulted for not recognizing the importance of "collaborative and constructive cooperation" with senior colleagues. And it would be hard to determine where to start faulting Justice John Harlan’s course of action in Plessy. At the very least, Harlan would be chastised for acting in "isolation" from his eight colleagues, and thus misunderstanding the fundamental nature of his job.

The dissents of Harlan in Plessy, Rehnquist in Roe, and Ginsburg in Bush v. Gore are widely recognized as both extraordinary intellectual achievements and principled resistance to a majority that failed to appreciate the flaws of its own logic. At Brooklyn College, however, at least according to the standards laid down in your November 26, 2002 letter, Harlan, Rehnquist, and Ginsburg would be deemed "uncollegial," and thus unworthy of tenure, for failing to meet an "essential element" of all criteria of evaluation.

I know that the suppression of honest exchanges of opinion—the suppression, in short, of the highest form of collegiality—cannot be not what you intend. But it is that very suppression that lies at the heart of the chairman’s allegation of "uncollegiality" against me.

In creating his evaluation memorandum, the chairman solicited opinions only from colleagues who had disagreed with me on important philosophical issues. He declined to consult even one person on the other side. In this way, "collegiality" became nothing more than an ideological litmus test, imposed arbitrarily and without warning after other manufactured charges had fallen under the weight of contradictory evidence, to purge a junior colleague with whom the chairman had disagreed in a search.


 . . . As Chancellor Goldstein has observed, "New faculty members are of particular importance at a university, adding new voices to the critical conversation and infusing the intellectual atmosphere with new perspectives." You have indicated that you share both the chancellor’s sentiments and his broader commitment to restoring academic quality throughout CUNY. I therefore urge you to recognize that your new criterion establishing "collegiality" as an all-encompassing element of evaluation will—however unintentionally—muzzle academic freedom and stifle the new intellectual perspectives upon which Brooklyn College’s future depends.

Again, thank you for your letter of November 26, 2002.



Robert David Johnson

Associate Professor