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by Jeff McGraham & Neil Schuldiner

The College of Staten Island judges its professors by what appears to be a thoroughly democratic process. Two bodies consisting of experienced academicians – the Appointments Committee from the Department of Political Science, Economics & Philosophy, and the College Personnel & Budget Committee – each democratically voted in the affirmative that Professor Chalmers Clark’s academic, publishing and teaching record merits the granting of tenure. Having received the affirmative decisions of both academic bodies, CSI President Marlene Springer, utilizing her monarchal powers, ignored their democratic decisions, and denied tenure to Professor Clark.

This is just another example of how CSI often supplants visages of democracy by creating structures reminiscent of old-style, autocratic English monarchies (before Charles I’s execution in 1649). Much like the queen of a small British colonial state, our very own Queen, Marlene Springer – “President” of the College of Staten Island, utilizes her power in an egregious, despotic fashion to aggrandize herself to the CUNY Board of Trustees. On the face of it, Marlene Springer advances the image of a noble, benevolent Queen who is most concerned with improving the academic quality and reputation of our campus. Yet when one gazes beyond the facade, it becomes apparent that Queen Springer has ignored the interests of her subjects – students, faculty, and staff – in favor of prostituting herself to the mandates dictated by the CUNY Trustees, which are dominated by conservative business “leaders” and lawyers from the Giuliani regime.

Professor Chalmers Clark

Professor Chalmers C. Clark, a product of the CUNY Graduate Center, where he earned a doctorate in philosophy, has been instructing students at CSI since 1986 as part of the Department of Political Science, Economics and Philosophy. Specializing in applied ethics and naturalized epistemology, Professor Clark has been awarded a medical ethics graduate fellowship from Mount Sinai College of Education as well as a research grant from PSC-CUNY to travel to the Netherlands for research on physician assisted suicide. As a noted academic on the philosophy of W.V. Quine, Professor Clark’s scholarship has been cited by numerous academicians, including the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Linguistics, J.J. Katz. As a testament to Professor Clark’s significance to the field of Quinean studies, the editor of the Review of Metaphysics selected Professor Clark out of an abundance of candidates to author their memoriam after the passing of eminent philosopher W.V. Quine. Clark’s interdisciplinary work on the epistemology of science, has garnered him respect by many scientists on CSI’s campus —so much so that he gave a lecture in one of their science series, thus helping to bring together the work of professors from divergent fields of study.

After appealing the President’s decision (which was subsequently denied), Queen Marlene dispatched a crude letter informing Professor Clark of the reasons for her decision (the contents of which are printed in its entirety here). Springer’s main criteria for denying tenure to Professor Clark lie (in what is now acknowledged by CSI faculty) to be her gross and purposeful misunderstanding of the academic distinction between refereed “journal articles” and “chapters in books”.

When the student body of CSI was informed of Queen Springer’s decision, thoughts of disappointment, outrage and anger consumed the minds of Professor Clark’s students. It had been obvious that Queen Marlene had ignored students’ evaluations of Professor Clark’s teaching skills and abilities.

After reviewing student evaluations from Clark’s classes (which were excellent), Third Rail Magazine began interviewing former students of Professor Clark’s. The response was unanimous. Not one student interviewed by Third Rail had a bad word to say about Professor Clark’s abilities. Rather, students found him to be a professor of the highest caliber.

In Queen Springer’s letter to Professor Clark, it is curious that Marlene is careful not to question Professor Clark’s teaching excellence, because as she concedes, official evaluations from students were outstanding. Many students told us that Clark was simply the best professor they had ever encountered. Several posited that he possessed a unique ability to make the most complex philosophical material digestible to average students. Having been students of Professor Clark’s, both authors here, think he is quite simply the prototype of what a professor should be – organized, well spoken (a great communicator of his subject matter), knowledgeable, patient, respectful of students needs, and a master teacher.

While one may question Third Rail’s conclusions in regard to Professor Clark’s tenure denial, CSI professors across the political spectrum, from right to left, share our conclusions. Several professors (including department/program heads) have approached Third Rail Magazine to submit letters describing their reactions to Queen Springer’s unfair decision (their letters appear on page 12).

In an interview with Third Rail, Larry Nachman, Professor Emeritus of the CSI Political Science Department, a right-wing, conservative faculty member, shared his belief that Queen Springer’s decision is unjust. On the wall above Nachman’s cluttered desk is a picture of (perhaps the most heinous right–wing president in U.S. history) Ronald Reagan. Nachman, as a defender of the anti-democratic status-quo, has no issue with the general guidelines set down by the CUNY Board of Trustees regarding the granting of tenure to faculty members. These guidelines state that a president’s academic judgement cannot be questioned. Yet after examining President Springer’s letter, Professor Nachman concluded that Professor Clark’s denial of tenure was not based on an academic decision, but rather the decision came first and the justification was created after the fact! In his words, “this decision doesn’t pass the smell test.” Nachman bases his assessment on several factors.

Firstly, he offered that there is a major omission in Springer’s letter—she makes no reference to outside evaluators. When a professor applies for tenure, it is customary for his academic papers to be evaluated by outside experts and professors who then recommend whether tenure should be granted. Therefore, one can logically conclude that the scholars who assessed Professor Clark’s scholarship must have recommended tenure; otherwise Springer would have utilized them in defending her decision. Furthermore, Nachman questions why Springer’s judgment is superior to professional philosophers (both in CSI’s philosophy program as well as the outside evaluators).

Secondly, Nachman claimed that Springer’s distinction between refereed journals being superior to non–refereed journals and chapters in books is factually wrong. In fact, Nachman posits the view that most prestigious journals are not refereed, because they are based on the good judgement of a distinguished editor. The editor of a book or journal puts their reputation on the line, so therefore they are going to be sure that the work included is of the highest quality. Nachman further claims that a responsible academic would have researched the field that the candidate for tenure is engaged in, to find out what the norms for publishing are in that discipline. For example, Nachman says that in most areas of science, writing books is not part of what most scientist do (the exception being for scientists who write popular books for general consumption, such as Stephen J. Gould, Richard Dawkins, and Stephen Hawking), instead they publish their findings in scientific journals. Logically one should not judge a scientist by the same criteria that one would utilize in judging the work of other academic disciplines. According to Nachman, if Springer would have done her homework (or in Third Rail’s opinion, had she any degree of true competence) she would have found that some good philosophers publish relatively little, but rather they produce their work through conference papers. Nachman gave the example of the well respected Columbia University Professor, Sidney Morganbesser as someone who publishes mostly in conference papers. But Nachman also states without hesitation, that Professor Clark did indeed publish enough in accordance with the standards he was given.

Professor Clark published within the academic philosophy sphere from his superb work in medical ethics to insightful critiques of W.V. Quine’s philosophy. Springer also conveniently ignored in her letter that a CUNY wide committee of philosophers rewarded Professor Clark a grant to do research in Holland on medical ethics; this committee was by definition refereed.

Professor Nachman explained to Third Rail that he first encountered Professor Clark in the mid-80’s. At the time, Clark was an adjunct professor pursuing a Ph.D. at the CUNY Graduate Center. Nachman was assigned to observe and critique Clark’s teaching ability in front of a class. Nachman discovered Clark to be a teacher of exceptional ability. Professor Nachman felt that Clark refused to water down complex philosophical material, but rather explained it in such a thorough and exquisite fashion that the students could comprehend it. Nachman recognized that Professor Clark had great respect for his students. After the class, Nachman did something that he had never done before— he offered Professor Clark to come over to his nearby home to have a cup of coffee. Nachman encouraged Professor Clark to complete his Ph.D. studies, because he possessed tremendous teaching abilities and would be a credit to the profession.

Nachman’s account of Professor Clark’s pedagogical abilities have been echoed by numerous students and professors. Professor Clark recently taught an American philosophy class which excited both him and his students. Professor Clark was proud of the fact that the students were able to grasp the complex historical relationships between the varied schools of thought that make up American Philosophy. Many of the students were happy to have a teacher with the ability to assist them in this difficult endeavor.

Professor Clark always had time to help students improve their comprehension of philosophy. When conducting a 6:30 to 9:50 pm class he would remain after class to help students, even if that meant that he would not leave the building until after 11pm. Professor Clark was also known to spend time engaging in philosophical dialogue with students in his office; the discussions would often go beyond the content of the particular classes that he was teaching that semester. Yet his love of philosophy would keep him engaged for hours.

Under Queen Springer’s rule, it would have been more advantageous for him to expel the students from his office and keep to strict office hours so that he could conduct his research.

This represents the problem with an administrator who is completely detached from the true learning that takes place on this campus. Perhaps Queen Marlene does not care if students are learning about disciplines like philosophy. Her concern seems to be more geared towards her careerist ambitions of following the edicts sent down by “80th Street” (Board of Trustees). Many professors and progressive administrators have speculated that the CUNY Board of Trustees instructed Springer not to rubber stamp tenure appointments. Consequently, she decided to make an “example” of one of the most well thought–of professors on this campus.

In her letter of explanation for denying tenure, Springer dichotomizes between “journal articles” and “chapters in books,” based on her crude notion of academic weight. Such criteria elucidates the detached and silly calculus used in her decision to deny Professor Clark tenure.

But, as Professor Nachman asked, is a third rate refereed journal of a higher quality than a chapter in a book that has a distinguished editor? The argument can be made that a chapter in a book is refereed at a higher level than a journal piece, for the very fact that a book chapter is more scrutinized because the editor has more at stake — the editor’s name is on the front cover. The same is true for papers “selected” from academic conferences, because the editor or editors had to select the piece among many others, again putting their reputation on the line. On the other hand, a geographically isolated member of an editorial board of a refereed journal has his name hidden inside the journal among many others. Therefore, does anyone really believe that a refereed journal article is prima facie superior to a chapter in a book? Obviously our simple minded southern Queen does!

But perhaps the best evidence disproving Queen Springer’s purposeful incoherent arguments emanates from the Queen’s own Duchess—Vice President for Academic Affairs/Provost, Mirella Affron. In a document obtained by Third Rail Magazine, dated January 2, 1997, Affron outlines the fashion in which a professor’s Curricula Vitae (academic resume) is to be presented for promotions (such as tenure). Affron writes, “Refereeing is the critical issue, not whether articles or chapters were invited or submitted blind.” Affron further asserts that “Introductions or chapters in individual books appear under (column) “B. REFEREED ARTICLES AND CHAPTERS IN BOOKS.” Affron makes no distinction between chapters in books and articles in journals. Therefore, why are Professor Clark’s chapters in books not given equal academic weight with journal articles? Clark’s pieces were indeed refereed by editors. Considering Professor Clark was appointed to a tenure track position in 1996, this is the criteria which he should presumably be judged by.

CSI Professor Emerita of Economics, Robin Carey thrusts another damaging strike at Queen Springer’s assertion that there is a distinction between journal articles and chapters in books. In a letter to Professor Clark (which is reprinted in its entirety here), Professor Carey, the then-Chairperson of the Political Science, Economics & Philosophy Department, clearly explains that Queen Springer erred in her evaluation of Professor Clark’s Curricula Vitae. In her letter, Professor Carey explains that Marlene misinterpreted Carey’s Annual Evaluation Conference Memorandum and incorrectly concluded that Professor Clark had failed to live up to Carey’s expectations. Professor Carey points out that articles appearing in journals and chapters in books merit equal academic weight and therefore Queen Marlene had misjudged Professor Clark’s publication record. Professor Carey cites her understanding of Mirella Affron’s guidelines as evidence that chapters in books should be given equal weight to articles in journals. Carey’s interpretation of Affron’s guidelines are bolstered by the fact that Mirella Affron voted in the affirmative to grant Professor Clark tenure during the Personnel & Budget Committee meeting.

Queen Springer exclaims in her letter that it is in her “judgement” that there is a distinction between refereed journal articles and chapters in books drawn from conferences, but the queen’s “judgement” should be inconsequential when compared to the rules and precedents set down by the college. Otherwise, the decisions in such matters become capricious and arbitrary (at the queen’s whim or her latest, shameless self promotional strategy). Another point clarified in Affron’s letter is that an article that is “forthcoming” is synonymous to an article that has been accepted under contract. Springer does not compute two “forthcoming” articles into her silly calculus because she is not informed of who the publisher will be or the date of publication (and, of course because they are chapters in books). One must wonder why she doesn’t get off her royal ass and find this information out, considering the fact that they fall under the rubric of “forthcoming,” instead of looking for every possible way to be a punitive monarch.

At the conclusion of Springer’s letter she employs her twisted logic by again invoking the University Bylaws and claims that she is not “reasonably certain [Clark] will contribute to the improvement of academic excellence at the college.” The queen may not be certain, but faculty, staff and students acquainted with this fine professor know that he has, and given the opportunity will, continue to contribute to this institution. One must wonder, after kicking out a professor of Clark’s abilities, if Queen Marlene is truly competent enough to be in charge of this institution?

In Third Rail’s estimation she is most surely not democratic enough to remain in her royal garb. As was the case for Charles I in 1649, Third Rail believes it’s time for this queen to go – off with her head!

Third Rail would like to congratulate Professor Chalmers Clark who will be a Visiting Scholar in the Ethics Institute of the American Medical Association beginning in September 2002. In the meantime, the PSC is in litigation with the CSI Administration over their refusal to grant Professor Clark tenure. More updates to come in future issues.

NEXT ==> Queen Springer's Letter



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