Patti Adler wins reinstatement at University of Colorado, takes opportunity to stomp the balls off school administrators

Adler calls out her attackers. But winning a battle isn’t the same as winning the war.

I noted last month the latest in the University of Colorado administration’s ongoing campaign to completely destroy the school’s reputation, as it sought to fire Dr. Patti Adler for daring to teach deviance in her class on, well, deviance. There’s good news. The professional idiocrats who run the place backed down. Last week, Dr. Adler published a statement in the Boulder Daily Camera, and if you were expecting a display of mealy-mouthed diplomacy, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

In short, Dr. Adler stomped the hell out of the administration. She begins by setting a clear tone.

After more than a month marked by trauma, turmoil, and great emotional distress for my family and myself, I am proud to say that the University of Colorado has backed down from their initial position and is allowing me to return to teach this semester in the course, Deviance in U.S. Society. During this process my character was severely and repeatedly defamed by administration officials, I was denied academic freedom and due process, my rights to privacy in a personnel matter were trampled, I was both intimidated and induced to take early retirement, and was then buffeted by the continuous and changing stories coming from the University as they attempted to cover-up their egregious mishandling of my case.

Not much of a conciliatory pose there, huh?

My victory today is a small one, and mostly Pyrrhic, because the trends toward mission creep and overreach by bodies such as the Office of Discrimination and Harassment and Institutional Review Boards are increasingly dominating decision-making in higher education. Universities and schools at all levels around the globe are increasingly sacrificing academic freedom as they become more concerned with risk and liability than with creating an environment in which creativity and ideas can flourish and students can be challenged to expand their horizons.

In the words of a famous Dixie Chick, “I’m not ready to back down,” I guess. Adler’s tone and words here may seem restrained, especially by the standards we’re used to seeing with mass media coverage of popular controversies, but by the rules of decorum commonly observed in academic circles this statement was an absolute flamethrower. She makes clear that the university blinked and she lays the blame in some rather specific places.

Adler’s case is a well-publicized skirmish in the war being waged on university campuses every day, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the soul of our educational system is at stake. Once upon a time colleges were run by educators, people who knew their areas of expertise and who cared passionately about their students. Over the years, though, institutional power has been usurped by a rising class of professional bureaucrat with no grasp of nor investment in the educational mission. It’s even worse when they try to apply “business principles” to the university environment. First off, business principles are usually not very well suited to educational institutions, and second, these people’s grasp of business principles tends to be shaky, at best.

It’s an all-out war for control of some campuses and it’s a big part of why a lot of us left teaching. When you sanitize and strip the deviance out of Deviance in U.S. Society so that it passes muster with the squeaky-assed HR and Legal departments, what you have left is devoid of meaningful content. (And the idea that students are going to be traumatized by a skit on prostitution in a lecture is laughable. These kids get more first-hand experience with deviance in the average weekend of partying than you’ll see in a season of Game of Thrones.)

What the race to the bottom crowd is pushing isn’t education, folks. It’s Education-Whiz® Pre-Processed Learning-Like Product, Now With Half the Critical Thinking! Students – excuse me, customers – might as well spend three hours a week watching Three’s Company reruns.

Congratulations to Dr. Adler, not only for prevailing against an arrogant, gutless attack against her expertise, professionalism and character, but also for standing up in this public statement and calling out the anti-educational forces behind the attack.

Sadly, I doubt it’s going to matter. The same is true at the University of Colorado as it is most other places around the country: the administrators have won, or soon will, and the rest of us have lost.

Gods, I cannot wait until the school calls me up for its 2014 fund-raising campaign….


  • Frank Venturo

    Unfortunately, I have to agree that the “administrators have won”. But, administrators are only the low level lackeys of an insidious effort by the corporate elites to take control of public education. The University of Colorado Board of Regents who governs the CU system has been steadily eroding faculty/staff influence on all the system campuses. They are the only elected higher education governing board; other Colorado higher education governing boards have their members appointed by the Governor. The electorate do not care who runs CU, so, those with money and power have made sure that their picks get elected to the Board of Regents. And, this Board does not hesitate to impose its ideology as demonstrated by their forcing the Boulder campus to develop a department of “conservative studies” to offset a perceived “liberal bias” of the campus.

    The CU system president is an oil millionaire who donated $25 million to have the Boulder campus build a geology building named for him. His whole effort has been to slowly convert CU to a private university (only 4% of CU’s total budget comes from state support) that is beholden to corporate private enterprise.

    It is indeed surprising that in this environment Dr. Adler spoke so candidly. We should hope that maybe her colleagues would take her cause as a rallying cry for initiating a claw back of some control? Ain’t gonna happen.

    • I remember when that jackass was named president, Frank. At the time, I felt like it was a watershed moment. The faculty should have gone on strike and stayed there until he was gone. It would have been risky and draining, but that was the put up or shut up moment and once it passed the war was essentially over.

  • Fred Friendly

    this is mostly good, but the politics still elude me a bit. is it really salutary to be attacking the Office of Discrimination and Harassment? is that just a tool of the neoliberal/administrative assault on the project of higher education? in my experience, such offices can be used for evil, but in general, discrimination and harassment are still widely present on US campuses and we need institutional structures to combat and address them.

    • Preventing discrimination and harassment is a good thing. But in the modern university (and the same can be true of corporations, for that matter) the entirety of the HR group can be co-opted for really unproductive purposes. In this case, I suspect what happened is less about any of the people in that group (or even the group per se) and more that it was the locus, the manifestation of the deeper systemic dynamics I’m talking about.

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