This blog describes the termination of my PhD studies in two different departments at Indiana University (IU). This post provides links to a few key points along the way.
I have structured this blog as a series of posts broken into two parts, in reverse chronological order — that is, starting with the most recent events. The first part covers the more recent program, in social work; the second part steps back in time to the first program I attempted at IU. That one was in parks and recreation.
This overview cannot even begin to address the many questions that naturally emerge along the way. Was there something wrong with me? Were these particularly strange departments? Why did I pursue two different PhD majors? The posts in this series address those questions, and more.
In this overview, I can’t even hit all the key points. But there are a few that cry out for at least a brief mention.
Basically, they cut me off because I stood up against people who were bullying me and other students, in both social work and parks & rec. I did that because I’m a lawyer and because, anyway, somebody has to. Not the shrewdest move, I admit: in the case of parks & rec, the bully’s wife was the chair of my department. Yet that is part of the point: I was not trying to do the politically shrewd thing. I was trying to do the right thing.
I was persistent. They had to work pretty hard to prevent me from graduating. Again, in this brief post, I cannot list all the things they did to achieve that end. One of the more bizarre ones was when my parks & rec doctoral advisor completely vanished for two years. They told me she was incapacitated. Then she published an updated edition of her book, so I guess that wasn’t true.
She vanished a couple of weeks before she and the other parks & rec grader of my qualifying paper turned in their grades, flunking that paper. The evidence indicates, pretty strongly, that there was a pretense — that someone other than my actual advisor was the first grader. Whoever the first grader was, the second grader significantly copied what s/he wrote about my paper. This was obviously unprincipled behavior, but it seems to have been consistent with de facto ethics in that department, and perhaps in the university as a whole. Specifically, the second grader was up for tenure at precisely that time, apparently didn’t want to offend anyone, and figured she was safe if she just repeated what the first grader said.
Another remarkable little incident arose when the chair of the social work PhD program notified a senior dean, on the Indianapolis campus, that I had a nightmare. The nightmare occurred in 1983. She sent that email because the dean was in the process of disciplining me. Fortunately, as a senior researcher in social work, she got the story wrong. She had to write back, a few hours later, and correct herself.
I appealed the dean’s ultimate decision, in that disciplinary matter. I reminded the appeals committee that the dean had not been able to point to any specific ways in which I might have violated the university’s code of conduct. They informed me that, in that case, I needed to try to imagine what I might be accused of, and then go ahead and defend myself against that. (The committee was chaired by one of the dean’s long-time friends.)
This blog does contain the seeds of a good comedy. But I have not written it that way. I have written it as a straightforward reporting of what I experienced. I will revise it in response to coherent input. I hope that people who do know about the situation will find a way, anonymously if necessary, to resolve the many mysteries that remain.
When these departments proved resistant to change, I filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. But that’s another story.