Reappointed prof. scuffles for tenure
By JEROME BURDI
Shouting "Save KC" and carrying placards saying the same, about 35 students marched around the campus last Wednesday in support of history professor Robert "KC" Johnson.
Johnson was reappointed Nov. 26 by President Christoph Kimmich — but the marchers went on. They protested for his denied promotion that would have lead to tenure.
"He's [Johnson] one of the best teachers I've ever had," said Bradley Appell, 21, a history junior, to the crowd in front of Boylan Hall. "We're here to send a message to President Kimmich. I hope the message is heard loud and clear that KC Johnson is probably the best teacher in CUNY and we're going to make sure he works in this school for the rest of his career."
The protesters carried 450 signatures from students declaring that the college grant Johnson tenure. One of the students walked up the petitions to Kimmich's Boylan Hall office, but Kimmich was not there to receive them.
The students, members of the pro-Johnson group "Students Against Academic Terrorism," got the idea for marching and petitioning from Kimmich himself, said Dan Weininger, 21, a history senior and co-chair of the group.
The group got its name from an alleged comment by history department chairman Philip Gallagher. Johnson, 34, said Gallagher called history professors Stuart Shaar and Bonnie Anderson "academic terrorists" for wanting to drive Johnson to quit Brooklyn College. This was an example of the bias experienced by Johnson from the history department for showing opposing viewpoints on academic matters, he said.
As the protesters stopped by the wood benches by Whitehead Hall, Weininger said, "I'm here at Brooklyn College today because of Professor Johnson's work. This college that claims to be the best…we deserve the best, and that's why we deserve Professor Johnson."
Though Johnson was reappointed for the 2003 to 2004 term, he said something "opaque" was going on with denial of his promotion on Nov. 1, after three years of teaching.
"There's no reason the reappointment is a separate decision from the tenure," said Johnson.
He said just being reappointed is an important admittance of fault on the administrators' part and that his promotion, which is under appeal, will be reconsidered by Kimmich.
"If he denies [my promotion], I have no choice then to either grieve or sue," said Johnson.
He said he heard from numerous sources connected to the Personnel and Budget Committee that he would not be reappointed and that Kimmich overturned the decision.
When asked last week if Johnson was going to be dismissed, Kimmich said, "This is news to me."
Lisa Daglian, BC's spokesperson, said Johnson should be content with reappointment.
"Many people who put themselves up for early tenure don't receive it," she said. "The important thing is if you're reappointed, as he was. There's a whole year to show merit for promotion. It's about process, and I think that factor has gotten lost in this discussion."
The Promotions and Tenure Committee, a group comprised of every department chairperson, view a professors files, containing scholarship and teaching evaluations. The Personnel and Budget Committee, made up of every chairperson plus the provost, dean of undergraduates and the dean of graduates, view the same file.
"If there were procedural errors in the reappointment process, they were probably in the tenure process," said Johnson.
SIDEBAR: 'Why stir up controversy?'
According to City University of New York guidelines for promotion set by the board of trustees, professors deemed worthy of tenure must show "continued growth in their teaching, scholarship, and service to the department, college, university and community."
The cause cited for history Professor KC Johnson's denied promotion, which would lead to tenure, was uncollegiality. Johnson said this stemmed from history department chairman Philip Gallagher's charges of Johnson speaking "arrogantly" against history Professor Stuart Shaar for his involvement at an October 2001 teach-in that explored events in the Middle-East without representing viewpoints of American or Israeli policy, Johnson said. Another charge also came from Gallagher, said Johnson, because he waived prerequisite requirements for his courses.
CUNY board of trustees member Jeff Wiesenfeld said it was unusual for Johnson's three year presence on campus to receive tenure. According to CUNY guidelines a professor usually gets tenure after five years.
But as far as the criteria for tenure are concerned, "the scholarship has to outweigh everything," Wiesenfeld said.
The trustees do not consider individual matters of tenure, but Wiesenfeld said; "those of us who found out about KC Johnson [said] he is eminently suitable [for tenure]."
Though collegiality is not a major factor in tenure evaluations, it wouldn't hurt Johnson to improve on this, said Wiesenfeld.
"You don't want a situation where your relation of enemies is higher than 49.9 percent," he said. "Why stir up controversy on this collegiality [issue]?"
Though Wiesenfeld, would not confirm that Johnson was set up for a reappointment denial, he said he would not look good for BC or CUNY if Johnson was denied.
"Once it became an association of the press, his dismissal would have reflected poorly," he said. "I do not envision the university would have denied this scholar to have him been cast to the wind."
President Christoph Kimmich would not respond to questions asking what the ramifications of Johnson's dismissal would have been.
Since the Kingsman first reported about Johnson's case in October, articles have been written about it by the New York Sun, the New York Post, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Karen Arenson of the New York Times sat in on one of Johnson's Core 4 classes recently and Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice has also spoken with Johnson. Johnson said he was first informed about his reappointment this month, through Arenson after she spoke with BC's spokesperson.
Jay Hershenson, vice chancellor for CUNY relations, said Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and other CUNY officials are aware of Johnson's case.
"There is no question this case has received and will continue to receive the college's attention," said Hershenson.
Though the press has given the case a higher profile, Johnson said, it is the merits of it alone that keep it at eye level of CUNY.