This post is one in a series, beginning with an Introduction, that discusses my experience as a PhD student in the School of Social Work (SSW) at IU. The immediately preceding post in this series outlines a regrettable decay in my relationships with faculty. This post discusses experiences with fellow PhD students. The next post in this series conveys a contrasting sense of what some student interactions were like before things went bad.
Of course, there were many aspects of my relationships with fellow students. It would not be possible to describe all those relationships, or even to give a good summary of them, within a single post of reasonable length. The goal here is just to provide a few illustrations, keeping a focus on the topic of deterioration mentioned above, consistent with the general tendency of this blog. In that spirit, the basic message here is that the IUSSW administration actively worked with certain students to paint me as an unwanted person; and once that happened, some others, among my peers, took the cue and likewise began to exclude and disparage me, in an environment where it was politically risky to do otherwise.
As these remarks may suggest, the discussion here is on the level of interpersonal, one-on-one interaction. As such, it may seem trivial or irrelevant to the larger story of my interaction with IU. Obviously, readers are entitled to skip along to the next post at any point. I have presented this material to illustrate how the administration’s approach had ramifications at all levels, down to the petty, day-to-day stuff that students experience in grad school. One’s fellow students are inevitably an important part of the graduate student experience.
My experience was one of recurrent and extensive dysfunctionality among people who will, and who do, train mental health workers and shape the future of the social work profession. Some people, reading these words, are going to wonder what any of this would have to do with the pursuit of a PhD degree. The answer seems to be that the SSW had saddled up a posse and was riding off through the desert in hot pursuit, and frankly it was just not easy to tell where the border might be.
From a first- or second-year PhD student’s perspective, the doctoral students at IUSSW fell into several groups. Those who had been around longest tended to have finished their coursework, passed the qualifying exam, and gotten bogged down at the dissertation stage. There were quite a few students in this group. As described in more detail elsewhere, the PhD program had a pretty dismal record of seeing its students through to graduation. This has apparently not changed. In recent months, for the first time since the events described in this blog, a few students have dared to speak up again about the poor guidance and support they have received in their attempts to graduate.
The students who had finished coursework and were no longer physically present seemed to be mostly out of touch with the SSW and with other students. We interacted with them primarily through their occasional messages on the listserv (i.e., automated email exchange service) that IUSSW had set up for its PhD students. I was acquainted with several students who had arrived a year or more before me and were still wrapping up their coursework. But most of the students with whom I interacted were those who started courses in 2007, as I did, or in 2008, when I was still taking classes.
The students with whom I was acquainted came in three basic flavors — white male, white female, and nonwhite (mostly international), with roughly equal numbers of each. Diversity is a big buzzword in social work, mostly interpreted as meaning skin color, sex, and sexual orientation. But while some of our international students added to our learning experiences, others detracted from it. The school’s admissions decisions were not necessarily influenced by the desire to provide a quality education. One poor guy had such bad English that he often did not understand what was going on. Sometimes he would do the sensible thing and just go to sleep, right there in class. While IUSSW may have looked good on his CV, I really doubt that this school gave him an optimal educational experience. Meanwhile, some Indiana taxpayers might find it interesting that, at the time when IUSSW was bringing in and funding students like this, it was working to drive out two white male students who were born and raised, and who planned to remain, in Indiana. I was one of those two.
I would guess that some of my classmates did not have especially good GRE scores. But I’m not sure how much relevance that might have had. Our studies did not seem to be taxing anyone’s cognitive capacity. Nobody was flunking out, not even the non-English-speaker. An intellectually gifted student would probably have tended to find the environment stultifying. One can always entertain oneself in the published literature, but you don’t need a bricks-and-mortar university and a bunch of make-work assignments for that. Classroom encounters were just never scintillating. Professorial inability was an issue in some courses, but perhaps the larger problem was that we were burdened with this dead weight of time: we were there to put in our semesters, jump through the hoops, and then shuffle along to the next phase.
This was not the sort of place where it would occur to people to rock the boat. You aren’t likely to meet a future Karl Marx in a dental hygiene program. As the next post suggests, I believe most of the students and some of the professors had a great deal of potential for curiosity, creativity, and kindness; sadly, this program squelched that. The program basically seemed to be designed for the gratification and comfort of the faculty and administration, and perhaps for a certain kind of student who would be well suited to IUSSW’s deeply dysfunctional environment.
The deterioration in my relationships with fellow students was not generally due to any bad things that we did to each other. There were a few exceptions. As detailed elsewhere, three students — Gladys, Sylvia, and Hazel (pseudonyms) — made deliberate efforts to have me expelled, so as to stifle discussion on the PhD student listserv. They did not react against that discussion until I took a lead in questioning certain repressive views and aggressive behaviors with which two of them, Gladys and Hazel, had been particularly associated.
I wasn’t going out of my way to pursue that topic; it just came up, at a certain point early in my second year in the program, and I inquired into it just as I had inquired into Hindu discrimination and whatever else might have been raised by one student or another, there on the listserv. But this topic was different. When I questioned this particular aggression, these three students were able to enlist Dean Michael A. Patchner and PhD program director Margaret Adamek in a long-term pattern of harassment against me.
So there was, first of all, the question of my relationships with these three students who attacked me. Such an experience can trigger a variety of reactions, of course. Among other things, the materials that I uncovered in the months that followed did prompt me to question these students’ sincerity and/or stability. I would have been — I still am — interested in talking with them, to try to understand their behavior. They weren’t interested in any such discussion then, and to my knowledge they still aren’t; and for social workers, that is disappointing.
But suppose, for purposes of discussion, that one or more of those three students were seriously disturbed individuals. One question arising in that case would be, what about the several other students who followed their lead? Although Sylvia was among these three, she was different from the other two. She might be an example of someone whose role was not to start the wagon rolling, but rather to climb on board when it caught her attention.
Bruce was another such student: a gay white male who had previously seemed to be a level, experienced professional, good with people, neutral in outlook, and inclined toward peacemaking. A week or two before the listserv situation arose, I let him know that I was getting hostile signals from Gladys. He sent back an encouraging, supportive email. We had gotten along well throughout the previous year together in the program.
But now, within just a couple of weeks in October 2008, Bruce changed around to being completely hostile toward me. No explanation, no attempt to contact me and explain his views or ask me any questions; just a sudden and enduring wall. Attempts to talk to him face-to-face produced no change. Here we are, nearly four years later. I just got news that he has progressed to a next step in his march toward the PhD. I sent him a congratulatory email. No reply. What happened to this guy? Or was this the real Bruce, and maybe what I was seeing before was just a facade?
Pending further insight, my guess is that the behavior of people like Sylvia and Bruce, in this kind of situation, is attributable to what I call the Rose’s Story phenomenon. That is, as I saw in a class discussion attended by Bruce and Sylvia among others, there is a kind of social worker, or a concept of social work practice, that largely excludes critical thinking. It never occurs to them to ask, in all seriousness, “What if I’m wrong?” It is like a form of religious zeal, where there is just no reasoning with the person. How it originates, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a matter of gratification, of being someone’s savior. This possibility may call for an adaptation of Thoreau’s adage: if you see someone coming to help someone else, run for your life.
But however you slice it, Bruce’s behavior was plainly unethical, within the concept of social work ethics advanced by the NASW Code. The Code‘s ethical principles state,
Social workers recognize the central importance of human relationships. . . . Social workers seek to strengthen relationships among people in a purposeful effort to promote, restore, maintain, and enhance the wellbeing of individuals, families, social groups, organizations, and communities. . . . Social workers behave in a trustworthy manner. Social workers are continually aware of the profession’s mission, values, ethical principles, and ethical standards . . . .
In addition, the Code‘s ethical standards require that
Social workers should treat colleagues with respect and should represent accurately and fairly the qualifications, views, and obligations of colleagues. . . . Social workers who believe that a colleague has acted unethically should seek resolution by discussing their concerns with the colleague when feasible and when such discussion is likely to be productive. . . . Social workers should defend and assist colleagues who are unjustly charged with unethical conduct. . . . Social workers should not participate in, condone, or be associated with dishonesty, fraud, or deception. . . . Social workers should not allow their own personal problems, psychosocial distress, legal problems, substance abuse, or mental health difficulties to interfere with their professional judgment and performance.
And, for good measure,
Social work administrators should take reasonable steps to ensure that the working environment for which they are responsible is consistent with and encourages compliance with the NASW Code of Ethics.
Someone might argue that a school of social work is not social work practice, so these ethical principles don’t apply. That argument would have problems. Who says that social work education is not a form of social work practice? What alternate ethic would warrant disregard of these or similar principles in social work education?
I don’t mean to imply that Bruce was alone in this. His behavior was particularly disappointing and damaging for me, but he was not the only one. Ethical provisions requiring action (e.g., “strengthen relationships”; “promote . . . the wellbeing of individuals”; “defend and assist colleagues”) were almost invariably ignored by students (not to mention faculty) who knew of the hardships that I and other distressed students were experiencing.
I cannot say that I admired classmates who failed to speak up, where there were so many things to speak up about. But I can say that, to some extent, I sympathized. Virtually everyone has had the experience of maintaining silence out of fear. That is, the ethics governing IUSSW were not the ethics of social work. They were, rather, the de facto ethics of universities like IU: agree with your program’s intellectual authoritarians until you achieve tenure, protect and advance yourself, leave others where they fall. Or as Machiavelli put it, “Before all else, be armed.”
By the ethics of the university, any right-thinking social work student would understand that you don’t get involved in a cause unless you find it personally gratifying and advantageous. If someone asks you why you are doing nothing to prevent obvious harm, one standard tactic is to tell them that you prefer to pick your battles. (That’s another way of saying that you prefer not to get involved.) You do intend to make a difference in the world, when real life begins, after graduation. You’re going to go out there and be a good person. Out there, at some other place, some other time. When it’s convenient.
Experiences along these lines inspired my decision to research and publish a pair of articles on social work ethics. The conclusion, for present purposes, is that IUSSW operated as if there were no such thing as social work professional ethics. Ethics were not taught as a formal subject demanding attention, they were not practiced in any deliberate way, and they were not enforced. This was the environment in which I interacted with fellow social work PhD students.
Guile and Confusion
I knew a student at IUSSW, name of Leonard. A brief account of some interactions with this particular student may help to provide a deeper sense of what relationships with IUSSW students could be like.
Leonard believed that he was bullied in various ways, and he probably was. One particular way in which he claimed to be bullied was that Hazel had attacked him, and two other male students, for entertaining the idea that they might form a “Man Club.” Evidently they hoped that having their own little group would help them feel somewhat safer in a profession, and an educational institution, that was not commonly sympathetic — that was often hostile — to the concerns of male students and clients.
It seemed that Leonard would sometimes dwell upon his experiences of being bullied. That “Man Club” episode had apparently occurred one or two years earlier. To my knowledge, he had not taken any direct steps to resolve it. Instead, in what would be disappointing behavior for a mental health practitioner, it appeared that he had allowed it to fester and to become a larger issue. The episode also seemed to reflect on the SSW’s lack of interest and competence in modeling a healthy community.
I may have erred in taking Leonard’s complaint about Hazel at face value. It belatedly occurred to me that he should take responsibility for his own complaint, rather than share it with other male students — me, in particular — and hope that they would confront Hazel and/or the SSW where he, himself, was afraid to do so. In addition, I did not clearly recognize that his approach of publicly suppressing but privately indulging his grievance may have resulted in some exaggeration. When he claimed that Hazel’s harassment created tensions that lasted for an entire semester, I think, now, that maybe he just meant he still had bad feelings about it.
Leonard’s complaints helped to persuade me that I should confront Hazel, on the listserv, when she made remarks, there, that conveyed negativity toward male social work PhD students. This was the start of the sequence of events that led, however improbably, to my elimination from the PhD program.
At the time, Leonard expressed delight that I had stood up to Hazel. “She is in checkmate,” he chortled. My action even emboldened him, for the first and only time, to post a message of his own that raised the question of safety in the classroom — of having some freedom to express one’s thoughts without fear that someone like Hazel or Gladys would jump down one’s throat for using the wrong words. It was a worthy request, and I and several other students posted messages in support. So now several of us had taken at least one step, and I had taken two, in support of Leonard’s issues.
So I was surprised when Leonard proceeded to send an email not only to me but also to Hazel, expressing “care and concern” that she and I were perhaps not being emotionally “provided for” in our brief disagreement on the listserv. Given his behavior to date, it appeared that he was trying to act nice, so as to reduce the risk of offending her, but that he might nonetheless be reserving the right to be mad at her again later. It was certainly odd to see him claim that he felt concern for Hazel, when all three of us had reason to doubt that.
Then there was another new development. Now that he had proposed a dialogue publicly, on the listserv, and also privately, in various emails to me and other students, Leonard gave up on his own idea. Within just a few days, he sent me another email:
I was so hoping after the first response of calling Hazel out on her original oops! Males could have the opportunity to talk about this openly with females. I was going to propose after your first response that any phd social work student meet in a conference room or at Rock Bottom [pub] to further discuss this. . . . I think the point of being a heterosexual white male in the field of social work hasn’t been acknowledged . . . . The build-up of slights and comments over time are not easy to contend with. . . . That’s what I was moving toward within this opportunity for discussion. It may have been too lofty and wishing too much. My sense is the window of opportunity may now be shut. . . .
I have been honest with my own struggle with being a male in this program as communicated on the list serve for all PhD students to see. It did not generate any dialogue. However, I did my part of acknowledging the issue.
Leonard hoped for an open discussion. He was going to propose a conference or outing. He suspected that he may have been wishing for too much. He felt that he had done his part by acknowledging the issue — his own issue! — in a single listserv post.
Social work prides itself on being a change-oriented profession. But frankly, after this limp recitation of vague dreams, the only thing Leonard seemed capable of changing was his mind. This poor soul’s social work education had evidently led him to believe that he did not actually have to do anything in order to achieve results in the real world.
Leonard clearly had strong feelings about the treatment of male students in IUSSW. He was looking squarely at an opportunity to push for attention to the issue. At least four others had spoken up in support. And yet the best he could muster was to pat himself on the back for posting a single message — a message that, as I told him, was so mild that some students construed it as a mere passing comment, not an expression of anything deeply felt. He expressed similar sentiments in another email that he sent me later, and again I pointed out some unpleasant realities:
Unfortunately, Leonard, what we encountered — not just me, but you too, in terms of what happened after you posted your thoughts on safety — was a wall. We didn’t get interested nibbles; we didn’t get intermediaries. We got pretty much nothing.
I say that Leonard gave up. But there is more. It seems that he outdid himself by actively undermining his own efforts. A few weeks later, on the one and only occasion when a group of us went out for beers, he told me (after a couple of drinks) that two male international students had expressed an interest in joining the others who were speaking up on the listserv, to support his call for dialogue on classroom safety for males; but after talking to him, they decided to remain silent. Apparently Leonard discouraged these guys from supporting his own cause.
Now, from an activist’s perspective, behavior like that could be completely baffling. But there may be an explanation. In the materials that came to my attention months later, during my complaints and appeals, I obtained handwritten notes taken by Dean Sherry Queener, during her interview of Sylvia. According to Dean Queener, Sylvia claimed that Dean Patchner quietly asked several students to stop posting messages on the listserv. Dean Patchner did not make any such request of me, nor did he or Leonard tell me that such a request had been made.
It seems unlikely that Sylvia was lying or inventing things, in her interview with the Dean of Graduate Students. Nor can I simply disregard these notes that Dean Queener submitted to the University Hearing Commission. In short, it does seem that something of this nature may have occurred. If Leonard was one of the students thus contacted by Dean Patchner, it could make sense for him to dissuade those two international students from joining the discussion. All he had to do was to tell them that the dean did not desire to hear from any more students on the subject of classroom safety.
I can see why Dean Patchner might not want students, male or female, to question the dominant harshness of second-wave feminism in his school of social work. As I discovered, a PhD student could spend years in that place and virtually never hear of anything other than the outmoded hostility toward men that had been popular among feminists in the 1970s and 1980s. It appeared that certain aging faculty members wielded disproportionate influence, suppressing the perspectives of younger professors and students who preferred a more nuanced and inquisitive third-wave approach.
I don’t know why neither Dean Patchner nor Leonard told me of these side communications that Sylvia was reporting. Unless Dean Queener was simply inventing a tale, the most likely possibilities seemed to be that Dean Patchner was taking deliberate steps to isolate me and/or he realized that his request would amount to an objectionable suppression of free speech. Perhaps such questions are best considered elsewhere, in connection with his other actions in the larger matter.
Anyway, Leonard’s thinking continued to evolve. Within two weeks after the original listserv exchange, he had told Sylvia (according to Dean Queener’s notes) that he had decided that I had mental issues. He was not my therapist. We had not had any clinical sessions in which he could have arrived at a qualified opinion. Nor did he seem to have any specific diagnosis. In other words, it appeared that Leonard was using vague accusations of mental disability as a way of making someone (me) look bad. That sort of usage would violate professional ethics. It would also raise questions, on a professional level, as to the quality of his mental health training and, on a personal level, as to what kind of friend he was.
Sylvia reported that Leonard told her he was “trying to counsel” me. I did notice that he, ten years my junior, was behaving in a rather fatherly manner, during a brief interlude when we stepped outside the bar, that night when we went out for drinks. Except for that, I totally missed the fact that I was being counseled. It may have been just another of Leonard’s wishes.
But never mind. Within 48 hours after we all went out for drinks, Leonard went through at least one more change. On the morning after, he emailed us all to convey his excitement at how much fun it had been, the night before, to go out and have real conversations with his classmates. We needed to do it again, he said, and soon. He mentioned another bar that, he thought, might be a great location for our next get-together, possibly the next week.
But then, 24 hours later, I was nonplussed to receive the announcement that he had talked it over with his wife and concluded that he needed to “disconnect” from any further group discussion of IUSSW. And then, when I attempted follow-up contact with him, I discovered that he had also decided to terminate his friendship with me. I mean it: he literally stopped speaking to me, and on subsequent occasions when I tried making contact, he was cold and abrupt. Not only was I not his client anymore, or someone for whom he had care and concern; I wasn’t even a friendly acquaintance.
I don’t think Leonard was malicious. I think he was just confused. I don’t know that his confusion would rise to the level of qualifying for a mental health diagnosis, nor am I certain that such a diagnosis would be necessary for present purposes. Regardless of internal mental states, students have a right (under university codes of conduct and otherwise) to hold and express their own opinions about gender and about their education. One must expect some unhealthy behavior when administrators of a program like the SSW connive in suppression of unfavored views, especially when doing so entails unconstitutional discrimination and encourages harassing behavior by those who feel privileged due to gender or other demographic criteria.
I never heard from Leonard again. He did ultimately complete his PhD and got hired as a new professor in a school of social work. I imagine he is fitting in very well, expressing concern and so forth. He is probably still being bullied; he may still be looking to other colleagues for support in such circumstances. It did not appear that his time at IUSSW had contributed much to resolution of the issues that IUSSW itself had created or aggravated in his life.
A remarkable thing happened in spring 2009. IUSSW terminated the assistantship (i.e., training opportunity and financial support) of the last heterosexual white male remaining in my cohort, aside from me, and gave it instead to Stephanie, a newly entering student. The school didn’t offer any general explanation for its decision to dump that other guy. We were just supposed to not notice that the administrators were eliminating one of our classmates, one semester before he would have completed his coursework for the PhD.
On the positive side, Stephanie and I hit it off immediately. Soon we were talking on at length about all kinds of things related to IUSSW and our own personal lives. She was smart, funny, and motivated. She was one of the closest and most interesting classmates I’d had in years. It wasn’t a romantic thing — she was married and at least 20 years my junior — and that just made it better. Our interactions during that semester and beyond, from February through May, provided a tremendous relief from the hostility and exclusion that I had been experiencing during the preceding months. A flavor of our relationship emerged in, for instance, this excerpt from an early email she sent me:
I wanted to tell you that I cannot express my gratitute to you in words about giving me the opportunity to share my story with you. I have not shared the story with anyone at school because I have not felt comfortable enough to do so, but our time together allowed for full disclosure and I appreciate that.
Additionally, just to reiterate, I know that we both don’t know each other well yet. I too have felt very vulnerable regarding our conversations and being concerned about confidences being kept. However, I can commit to not only keeping our conversations between us but also honoring our new friendship with respect therefore not participating in any negative discussions about you or any of your “antics”. I really try to consistently work on my ability to maintain loyalties and consider that aspect of my character a strength.
With that being said, I am looking forward to our continued discussions about life and our courses. I do enjoy our time together and find your feedback very helpful to me.
So thank you for that.
Stephanie and I proceeded to become close friends, talking — sometimes for an hour or more — multiple times per week, in person and by phone. As I say, it was a delightful relationship — like rainfall in the desert.
So now, having presented that information, I will proceed to describe the remarkable thing that happened to me in spring 2009. During those months, I would have said that getting to know Stephanie was the remarkable thing. Sadly, I would have been mistaken.
Stephanie’s assistantship entitled her to a desk in an office in the SSW. She shared that office with Gladys and Bruce. For the benefit of readers who have not gone through all of the posts in this series, the gist of it is that Gladys and Bruce were engaged in continuing hostile behavior toward me. That behavior centered around two inappropriate complaints, both ultimately dismissed, that Gladys filed against me, and Bruce’s actions in support of her.)
Given Stephanie’s opportunities for interaction with Gladys and Bruce, I was concerned that she would find it difficult to preserve the confidentiality of things I might tell her, and to remain disengaged from their hostility. So I asked her about that, on more than one occasion, and she replied with assurances like those contained in the email message shown above.
In retrospect, viewing that email, it seems I should have been more concerned about her reference to my “antics.” That seems, now, to imply a focus on my behavior rather than that of Gladys. I don’t think I even commented on it at the time. I’m sure I wanted to be reassured by the bulk of her message.
Maybe I should not have trusted a social worker, any social worker, period. That would ordinarily seem like an overreaction. No doubt many social work professors, practitioners, and students do behave in a consistently trustworthy manner. But for some reason, I was getting an unusual degree of exposure to those who did not.
In other words, Stephanie did not keep her promise to remain uninvolved where Gladys and Bruce were concerned. It is possible that she never even tried. By the time she and I began to interact intensively, in February, she had already been working in that office space with Gladys and Bruce for some weeks.
When discussing Leonard’s situation (above), I conveyed a sense that, in the SSW, Hazel could feel supported while engaging in gender-based harassment. The more disturbing sense being conveyed here is that, by this point, Stephanie could feel supported, by certain people in the SSW, as she proceeded to pose as a friend, extract personal information, and more radically abuse the trust of an ostracized colleague.
In late May, I discovered information that forced me to reassess Stephanie. I did not mention this until we had a chance to meet face to face. We decided to grab a bite to eat at the campus food court. I met her at her office in the SSW, and we walked over to the food court from there.
Bruce was at the office when I got there. After she and I left, she told me that he was angry with her for having lunch with me. That was a surprise. How could Bruce not know that she had been my friend for all these months? What did he think was going on, at our table in class, when Stephanie and I were talking and smiling at each other? I had to wonder what she was telling him, such that he would now greet this lunch as some kind of betrayal by Stephanie.
The information with which I confronted Stephanie, during that lunch, had to do with the second bogus complaint that Gladys had filed against me. Dr. Daley was trying his best to make it into a huge deal. He would ultimately fail, and the complaint would be dismissed. But at this point, the university’s disciplinary office was still reviewing it.
As part of that review, I had an opportunity to go in and take a look at the papers that Dr. Daley had filed. For some perverse reason, Tralicia Lewis of the university’s disciplinary office wouldn’t let me have photocopies. I had to sit in her lobby and make a handwritten copy of what I was reading. It was rushed — Ms. Lewis also decided that I could only have 30 minutes to look at the file — but I got the gist of it.
Much to my surprise, the file contained a secret statement from Stephanie. In that statement, Stephanie made it sound like I was trying to take sneaky video of Gladys in the middle of Dr. Daley’s class session. I asked Stephanie, at that lunch, why she would be filing statements that sounded hostile to me, with a professor who, in Stephanie’s own words, “hated” me.
Worse, it seemed that Stephanie was actually inventing things that didn’t make any sense, as if to portray me in an exaggeratedly unfavorable light. For instance: if I had wanted to take videos on the sly, wouldn’t it make more sense for me to do that in the hallway or some other place? How could it be sneaky to take video in a classroom, seated at a table with other students, where everyone at my table, and some at other tables, could and did observe what I was doing? Besides, who would want to take sneaky videos of Gladys? Gladys was not an especially photogenic individual.
Stephanie was new, so perhaps she didn’t understand what I was up to, with the video camera. But she did ask me later, and I told her that I usually had the camera in my backpack, and sometimes took video of everyday scenes for my personal video diary. (Gladys was already aware that I openly took video around the school, now and then. I had previous video of her, Bruce, and other students smiling at the camera.) Having already provided this information to Stephanie, I didn’t understand why she would then have given Dr. Daley a secret statement that she had reason to believe was false. Yet when I confronted her with this, she did not try to explain, and she did not apologize.
It does seem, in retrospect, that I must have been hoping for too much from Stephanie. I was sitting there, at lunch with her, going through this newly discovered information, and I was having one of those “please lie to me” experiences. I was laying out this evidence of her obvious and damaging treachery, and yet I was saying things like, “We need to talk” and “I’m still here.” I was really hoping that Stephanie truly did value our friendship, somehow, and that she would begin the verbal stumbling that could lead toward a halfway plausible excuse, or an apology, or something. Anything.
And that just didn’t happen. She didn’t have the least interest in even pretending to patch things up. What I had thought was a valuable friendship for her was apparently nothing at all. She just dropped me. We never spoke again.
So this is the remarkable thing that happened to me in spring 2009: I had the pain of losing a growing, special friendship that apparently never actually existed, with a wonderful person who just wasn’t. It was like the phantom itch that someone gets after they’ve lost their arm: they need to scratch it, to ease the irritation, and yet there’s nothing there to scratch. It was disorienting. I felt like I needed to talk to Stephanie about what had just happened in my relationship with Stephanie.
There was more. Months later, I acquired additional documents about this case. Some of those documents contained statements suggesting that Stephanie had invented an incident, between us, and was going to file a complaint against me on that basis. I wasn’t able to find out the details on what this incident would have been. It appeared that she backed away from this scheme when she got a clearer sense that I was documenting matters. Apparently she realized that she might be caught in a lie.
The foregoing materials have provided a sense of the environment I experienced among my classmates, consistent with the administration’s own efforts to drive me out of the PhD program. There is one more student relationship that needs to be mentioned, and that is the relationship with Gladys.
To recap, Gladys was a classmate with whom I had spent the first year in classes together. I had attended a St. Patrick’s Day party at her home. At the start of our second year in the PhD program, fall 2008, we had become Facebook friends, collaborated on certain matters, and — I thought — began to develop a bit of a sense of friendship.
As noted elsewhere, Gladys was a militant feminist of the old school. She and I had experienced a few rough spots, arising from her tendency to tell people what they should say and how they should say it. This seemed to be at the root of her decision to complain to Dean Patchner and then to file a formal complaint against me with the university. She was not interested in joining me, and her other classmates, in our listserv discussion of gender issues; she just went straight to the authorities and got that discussion shut down.
In the process of seeking that outcome, Gladys exhibited some disturbing behavior. The documents that I have received indicate that she claimed to be so terrified, due to our listserv discussion, that she could not attend class without a police presence. She circulated rumors that I might be suicidal, or a terrorist. I am not certain whether her state of terror was real or staged. Since multiple students and administrators could not understand or explain it, it seems that it would be troubling either way.
In response to my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the Department of Education (DoE) sent me a copy of the complaint that Gladys had filed against me. Here is the first page of that complaint, as provided to me by DoE. The full complaint ran to a bit more than three pages, and except for the introductory material shown here (e.g., name, contact information), it was all blanked out in green.
Now, why would DoE’s FOIA office find it necessary to blank out every word of an entire complaint? In the 1,195-page file they sent me, only one other document was completely blanked out — and that one, written by Margaret Adamek, seems to have contained the same material that appeared in Gladys’s complaint.
What Gladys wrote must have been pretty intense. For example, if I understand the FOIA rules, it could have been unusual personal information about Gladys. Or, as occurred to me long afterwards, it could have been a statement of rumors about me. Perhaps the FOIA office was trying to protect the confidentiality of people who had passed along those rumors. An example of this sort of thing emerged in one instance that I did discover, namely, Dr. Adamek’s breathless (and inaccurate) report about a nightmare that I’d had back in 1983. That report was stimulated by Gladys’s act of finding and reading through the 1991 book in which I had published that story. [Year later, I would discover that my ex-wife was conveying false information about me. Perhaps Gladys had looked her up and was passing that gossip on down the line.]
Without access to the things that Gladys was saying about me, of course, I could not defend myself. So, in the worst case, she might have assembled some really terrible accusations; and she or others might have been passing around those materials, or a story about them, to various professors and students. I do not know whether something of that sort did occur. But in light of the Rose’s Story experience, a development of that nature could help to explain why professors whom I had known for several years would suddenly and without explanation turn cold. As social work PhDs, they may have been inclined to assume uncritically (in some cases, eagerly) that I, a male, must be guilty of whatever might have been alleged.
Again, I do not know if that’s what happened. But it does seem appropriate to ask questions when you cannot get a copy of a complaint that someone has filed against you, and yet are being accused and hounded because of it.
My mother died on September 11, 2008. My classmates and one or two professors, including particularly Dr. Adamek, expressed their sincere condolences. And yet, within three weeks, a number of these people — people who had been friendly for more than a year, who had invited me to join their church or to attend a party at their home or to go out with them for drinks, people who had shared their own stories of deep loss, of the deaths of their own mothers and other relatives — were digging into my past for nasty stories about me and, failing that, were inventing stories of their own. This departed dramatically from concepts of professional behavior suited for an institution of graduate education that trains mental health workers. It was also deeply painful and unsettling.
Far from getting a grip on this circus, Dean Patchner and Dr. Adamek were feeding it. It is difficult to understand why a competent administrator would proceed as if s/he were determined to put his/her school into headlines like those attending the harassment of Emily Brooker in the SSW at Missouri State. It is almost beyond belief that Dean Patchner was, himself, the coauthor of a report castigating that SSW for very similar conditions in the wake of the Brooker case. As the comedians say, you can’t make this stuff up.
Once these administrators marked me as a target, classmates tended to break out into several clusters, along a behavioral spectrum that ranged from disappointing to horrible. The one guy who stood up for me was about to have his funding cut, as noted above. Among those who remained, the best I could say was that I was able to maintain ongoing acquaintanceships with some who wanted to stay in touch with me, but who were afraid to venture too close to the administration’s crosshairs. At the worst, I encountered predators who took cynical and extreme measures to make me an outcast and to help destroy my career as a social work educator. The next post provides further insight into just how unnecessary and destructive the administration’s approach was.