Bryan’s Investigation

This post is the second in a series that discusses the end of my PhD studies in the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Studies (RPTS) at Indiana University (IU).  This series follows a prior series that describes the end of my PhD studies in the School of Social Work at IU.  (I was pursuing a double major, in parks & rec and social work, and was forced out of both programs.)

As described in the first post in this parks & rec series, I spoke about the situation with Bryan P. McCormick, chair of RPTS.  We met on January 18, 2011.  At that point, he promised to investigate my complaint of corruption in the grading of my doctoral qualifying paper.  His investigation dragged on for several months.  He finally reported his findings in a letter dated April 22, 2011.

Bryan’s letter was remarkable.  Here, I focus on the part that explains his investigation itself, taking place in early 2011.  On August 11, 2011, I sent Bryan a reply.  That reply critiqued his research.  The following are a few quotes from my August 11 reply:

In our January 18 meeting, you repeatedly assured me that you would do your best to arrive at a fair evaluation of the situation I was presenting to you.  You said you were going to explore the concerns I raised.  You promised to go through the whole thing chronologically, starting with an evaluation of the process in which I submitted the paper.

I made clear that I had a lot of relevant information and material.  You said that you would contact me if you needed any of that material, and would also let me know how the investigation was progressing.  And yet, as described above, there was no progress report, no request for further information, and no interest in the possibility that I might be able to rebut what you heard from your fellow professors.

It is an odd kind of investigation that listens only to one side of the story.  The results were predictable, as I explained:

Consider, first of all, your claim that I did not send the [qualifying] paper to all three committee members, and therefore the inordinate delay in grading my paper [back in summer 2010] was partly my own fault.  I wonder how you could have arrived at such a conclusion.  I have attached my email, dated June 30, 2010, conveying the paper to all three.  I have also attached a July 1 email from Margaret Adamek, the third committee member, acknowledging receipt of the paper and its cover letter.

I could have sent these emails to you months ago, if you had been in contact as promised.  Such communication would have alleviated the risk that you would be forming erroneous conclusions right from the start, beginning with this simple matter of the submission of my paper.

My letter proceeded to list other specific dates and statements that made Bryan’s conclusions impossible.  During what appears to have been a fake investigation, Bryan apparently did not even check his conclusions with the other graders of my qualifying paper — when the grading of that paper was the central issue.

Given Bryan’s years of experience as a researcher, it did seem reasonable to inform him that these developments were troubling:

Bryan, I came to you expressing concern about corruption in your department.  I have wanted to believe that you sincerely intended to conduct a fair investigation as promised.  To that end, I have tried to imagine that this glaring error stems from mere distraction, that maybe your other duties in April led you to do an imperfect job in this investigation.  Or, if necessary, I have been willing to go further – to contemplate that conceivably there is a certain amount of delusion here, that possibly you have gone too far with the notion that you know the truth, and are tasked with the duty of explaining it to ignorant students, even when there is not actually any evidence supporting your view.  Unfortunately, I’m having a hard time maintaining those relatively benign interpretations of your efforts.

As I say, my letter did go on at some length, looking at a number of ways in which the claims of his letter were simply not believable.

Upon finishing my evisceration of Bryan’s pseudo-investigation, the real question was, what should I conclude?  The adage advises, “Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.”  But Bryan is not a stupid person.  His refusal to request my documentation on the matter, his inordinate delay, his avoidance of obvious sources of information — these (and other behaviors outlined in my letter) combined to create an impression that he had not made a sincere effort to conduct a fair investigation.  He was not trying to find out what had actually happened, in the grading of my qualifying paper.  And that was interesting.  To my knowledge, he had not been involved in the corrupt behavior I had previously encountered in his department.  But if this was a cover-up, then he definitely was involved now.

Bryan’s April 22 letter was not addressed to me.  For some reason, he addressed it to Assistant Dean Wilkerson.  That was odd.  She had not been present in our meeting or otherwise involved in my interactions with Bryan.  Indeed, she had told me that she was retiring on October 31, 2010.  I don’t know why he would even send her a copy of his letter, much less address it to her.  I asked about this too, in my August 11 letter — but, as noted previously, he did not reply.

This post has provided a brief discussion of the investigation that Bryan McCormick supposedly conducted in early 2011.  The next post steps further back in time.  It is a step toward the remarkable events that Bryan was supposed to be investigating.  The focus of the next post is on the beginning of the fall 2010 semester, and on Dean Wilkerson’s involvement at that point.

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