Dean Patchner’s Report on Missouri State

This post is one in a series that examines a complaint I filed against Indiana University (IU) and its School of Social Work (SSW) with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) in June 2009. The previous post in this series sketches out the discrimination-oriented aspects of that complaint. The purpose of that sketch is to indicate what I asked OCR to investigate and decide fairly. The next post in this series summarizes DoE’s response to my complaint.

My original June 2009 complaint also contained materials that pertained to other issues in addition to discrimination. As noted at the start of the preceding post, accreditors and agencies (including but not limited to DoE) responsible for overseeing these sorts of issues seemed unwilling to do so. Of course, IU was also obligated to address such issues. Such issues, mentioned early in the complaint, included unconstitutional constraints on free speech, defamation, and educational malpractice.

This post looks at some of those other issues. Some of this material reflects upon discrimination-related issues discussed in the previous post, but the focus here is on several topics that (unlike discrimination) received little to no attention from any responsible person or agency. As in the previous post, material that was footnoted in the original 2009 complaint is presented here as indented, italicized, bracketed text. Footnoted material is especially oriented toward legal, administrative, and ethical principles that were violated by faculty and administrators at IUSSW; many of the relevant factual matters are developed more fully in other posts, some of which are linked in the following text.

Key Points in the Report

In March 2007, Dean Michael A. Patchner of IUSSW co-authored a well-known report criticizing the school of social work at Missouri State University (MSU). In October 2008, ironically, Dean Patchner engaged in behaviors, at IUSSW, that contradicted the principles he had endorsed in that criticism of MSU. His report provides a useful orientation to a number of issues arising at IUSSW. Consider, in particular, these excerpts from that report:

Many students and faculty [at MSU] stated a fear of voicing differing opinions from the instructor or colleague. . . . It appears that faculty have no history of intellectual discussion/debate. . . . [and that formal policies and procedures have] been used to bully and browbeat students. . . . [A]n understanding of the mission of the university and the school [among other things] would go a long way to improve the functioning of the school. . . . Students should be treated respectfully from the point of application through graduation. . . . Some faculty and students do not feel safe. . . . Each faculty member must be held accountable for his or her contributions to the toxic environment. . . . Frequent meetings with students should occur to ensure that they are receiving a sound and respectful education.

I agree with Dean Patchner’s assessment that these sorts of problems should not have been evident in the school of social work at MSU. What I don’t understand is why he would allow them at IUSSW, and would see me driven out of the school for opposing them.

A Fear of Voicing Heterodox Opinions

It is remarkable for me to see that Dean Patchner positioned himself, at MSU, as the champion of intellectual debate. In a meeting on April 29, 2009, he indicated that he had expected me to take a hint from him, during our previous meeting in October 2008, and stop encouraging discussion of gender-based discrimination against male students in his school of social work. His view, in that April meeting, was that I had the power to “de-escalate” a disagreement on that subject; all I had to do was just stop talking about it and allow the discrimination to continue.

Yet Dean Patchner had not told me this in the October 2008 meeting. To the contrary, he said that he was not going to tell me what to post on the listserv, and he was not going to tell me that I couldn’t post. I have encountered people who don’t say what they mean and don’t mean what they say, but it had not occurred to me that the dean of a school of social work would fit into that category. I took him at face value and continued to post. In response, he and Dr. Margaret Adamek, director of the social work PhD program, shut down the listserv for the stated purpose of preventing me from posting any more messages, and facilitated disciplinary sanctions including an order that I stop talking to my PhD classmates at home, online, or anywhere else outside of the classroom.

[The Preamble to IUPUI’s Student Code claims that the university is dedicated to “trust, respect, honesty, civility, free inquiry, creativity, and an open exchange of ideas.” Student Code I.E. guarantees all students the right “to engage in discussion [and] to express thoughts and opinions … on any subject without university interference or fear of university disciplinary action.” HLC Handbook p. 3.2-4 states, “Higher education is not indoctrination …. [It] seeks to equip people to be self-motivated and self-sustaining learners.”]

Bullying and Browbeating Students

Dean Patchner did not tell me, in that October 2008 meeting, that he was also meeting with other students who were active in that listserv discussion and was pressuring them, apparently with more direct hints, to drop the subject of discrimination. And they did. Students who were motivated to participate now declined or ceased to do so.

[Student Code II.H.19 prohibits “hazing of any kind.” Hazing is there defined to include “any conduct that subjects another person … to anything that may … degrade or intimidate the person as a condition of association with a group … regardless of the person’s consent.”]

Dean Patchner followed up with guidelines for listserv use. Those guidelines prohibited the kind of discussions of social work issues that we had been having up to that point, and ended our use of the listserv as a way of bringing us together on that otherwise fragmented commuter campus. The message was clear: anyone who dared to speak up as I had done could expect to be punished.

[Student Code I.D. says, “Students can expect to have reasonable access to university facilities and resources.” HLC Handbook says, on p. 3.2-6, that, in an accredited organization, the “environment is supportive of innovation and change”; on p. 3.2-10, that the organization “demonstrates openness to innovative practices that enhance learning”; and, on p. 3.2-12, that the organization “evaluates the use of its learning resources to enhance student learning” and “supports students, staff, and faculty in using its technology effectively.”]

In these matters of voicing heterodox opinions and bullying students, the listserv example was only one manifestation of the larger environment at IUSSW. Students in our PhD program regularly encountered behavior and beliefs by some faculty members that were intellectually indefensible if not incoherent. IU did not disclose or act upon critical student evaluations of such professors, did not conduct research into their actual teaching efficacy, and (unlike most schools that claim to be research-oriented) did not provide links to vitas or publication information for any faculty members on its website.

[HLC Handbook p. 3.2-15 requires that an accredited organization “follows explicit policies and procedures to ensure ethical conduct in its research and instructional activities.” NASW Code ES 3.02(a) requires social workers who function as educators to “provide instruction only within their areas of knowledge and competence.” The GADE Guidelines call for faculty who possess “the competence to provide the educational experiences required by doctoral students” and “an established record of scholarship as evidenced by [among other things] the quality of their publications” (p. 6). HLC Handbook pp. 3.2-9,10 suggest that, in an accredited organization, “Results obtained through assessment of student learning are available to appropriate constituencies, including students themselves”; that data reported for purposes of external accountability should include graduation and placement rates; that faculty and administrators “routinely review the effectiveness of the organization’s program to assess student learning”; and that the organization “evaluates teaching and recognizes effective teaching.” HLC Handbook p. 3.2-13 says an accredited “organization and its units use scholarship and research to stimulate organizational and educational improvements.” HLC Handbook p. 3.2-15 calls for curricular evaluation involving “alumni, employers, and other external constituents who understand the relationships among the course of study, the currency of the curriculum, and the utility of the knowledge and skills gained.”]

Understanding the Mission

The mission statement that had been in place at IUSSW since 1995 was a 320-word document that offered guidance on a number of matters. For example, that statement indicated that IUSSW sought to train its graduates in “developing and using knowledge critically as they uphold the traditions, values, and ethics of the social work profession.” In April 2008, however — a year after Dean Patchner’s advice to MSU — his SSW adopted a different mission statement. The complete text of that new statement is as follows:

The mission of the IUSSW is excellence in education, research and service to promote health, well-being, and social and economic justice in a diverse world.

There is nothing, there, about the critical use of knowledge, about values and ethics, or about most of the other topics addressed in the previous version. In other words, shortly after advising MSU to focus on understanding its mission, Dean Patchner approved the reduction of his own school’s mission statement to a remark so brief and vague as to be virtually useless. This is not the nature of the mission statements at the SSWs at Michigan, Columbia, or Washington University, to cite a few social work leaders.

I don’t know whether Dean Patchner’s advice to MSU was good — whether, indeed, attention to a mission statement can be expected to make a significant practical difference in the operation of an SSW. But if it was good advice, it would not seem to make sense to turn right around and produce a statement incapable of providing the expected guidance. If a mission statement is indeed important in organizational behavior, perhaps the adoption of a vapid mission statement, or the mindset behind such an adoption, could explain the extreme departures indulged by Dean Patchner and his SSW in my case.

Students’ Emotional Safety

It is remarkable that Dean Patchner expressed concern for the lack of safety felt by students at MSU. In the discussion that he suppressed in his own school the next year, PhD students expressed particular concern about what one heterosexual white male student described as a lack of “emotional safety within the discussion of gender.” The concern here was simply that, as noted in the previous post, male students were literally afraid to open their mouths in discussion of certain topics, notably including feminism, because they had seen and experienced instances in which certain female students would embarrass and browbeat them for failing to use the right words and express the right concepts. I conveyed this concern to IU’s Dean Sherry Queener, with a copy to Dr. Adamek:

[V]arious people have wanted to discuss topics like the ones that I have raised [on the listserv], safety being a key example. They have held back from participation because of fear of people like Gladys [a PhD student] who would attack them, as Gladys has attacked me, if they dared to express their views. This is exactly why we were talking about safety.

When it began to appear that Dean Patchner was not attending to this concern about safety, yet another student expressed alarm on the matter, in an email to Drs. Patchner, Queener, and Adamek:

It is my concern that the level of safety for a number of students has been violated . . . . I am requesting a conference with relevant stakeholders to discuss said matters as there are imminent consequences relative to the safety and academic success of a number of students in the IU School of Social Work PhD program.

He was right: his own success, and mine, were nearing elimination. Dean Patchner’s response to these and other statements of concern about safety was, again, to ignore them and, if pursued, to punish their proponents. Not only was it unsafe to be a male, or to express heterodox views; it was unsafe even to mention that lack of safety.

Frequent Meetings with Students

Along with the student just quoted and other classmates, Dr. Bob Vernon and I both expressed, to Dean Patchner, the thought that these matters should be addressed in a discussion among PhD students.

[The Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Ethical Standard 2.11(c) states that social workers should “seek resolution by discussing their concerns with the colleague when feasible and when such discussion is likely to be productive.” NASW Code ES 3.07(d) says, “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.”]

In that conversation, oddly, Dean Patchner seemed to feel that a simple dialogue among students would be a last-ditch strategy, to be pursued if all else failed. And yet all else did fail, and he still took no steps to arrange any such discussion. Having advised MSU to meet frequently with students, it did not make sense to avoid this seemingly obvious step — unless, perhaps, he had already decided that he simply did not want discussion on the listserv, and was not interested in letting students decide otherwise. In that case, his advice to MSU would be, more accurately, “Meet with students unless they seem to want things that administrators don’t want.”

[IUPUI Student Code I.F. provides, “Students have the right to contribute to the making of institutional policy generally affecting their social or academic affairs.” The IUSSW Ph.D. Handbook says, “All Ph.D. and PreDoc students in the School of Social Work are viewed as competent adults who have a right to participate in decision-making activities about the educational program and school in which they have enrolled.” HLC Handbook indicates, on p. 3.2-4, that organizational integrity refers to “The congruence between what an organization’s mission documents say the organization is about and what it actually does.”]

Treating Students with Respect

Perhaps the single most important point in Dean Patchner’s co-authored report on MSU is its repeated emphasis upon respectful treatment of students. This catch-all category applies to most if not all of the many inappropriate behaviors by IUSSW faculty and administrators that have already been identified in this post and in other linked posts. So, for example, it was unethical, a fortiori disrespectful, for Drs. Patchner et al. to go wading through listserv posts that students had written on the promise that faculty and administrators would not be reading them; it was likewise unethical and disrespectful (not to mention illegal) for Drs. Patchner and Adamek to tolerate (much less enforce) an intimidating and discriminatory educational environment.

[NASW Code ES 2.02 states, “Social workers should respect confidential information shared by colleagues in the course of their professional relationships and transactions.”]

Generally, a very important component of respect is in the area of simply complying with rules and doing one’s job. So, for example, when IUPUI’s student code promised that student complaints would receive a good faith response from the university, that did not mean that social work administrators were entitled to disregard them as though they were childish nonsense. Yet consider this exchange of emails between me and Dr. Margaret Adamek, who was not only the director of the PhD program in which I was enrolled but was also my doctoral advisor:

RW: Margaret, I am not sure whether you are aware that I filed complaints with Dr. Queener. Since those complaints are mentioned in the message to Dr. Queener that I copied you on earlier today, I am sending copies to you for your reference.

MA: Ray – I am aware of your meeting with Dr. Queener though not the specifics of your complaints. I am not sure what you hope to accomplish by filing complaints with Dr. Queener or against Dr. Queener.

RW: Margaret, I am not sure I understand your question. Do you mean you have read the complaints and you are not sure what they are about?

MA: Ray – I did not ask a question. I do not understand what you are trying to accomplish.

RW: OK. It looked like a question. I thought you were asking what I was trying to accomplish. . . . I wonder whether you have made that same statement to Gladys, Sylvia, or Hazel. [Those three students had filed complaints against me, and their complaints had been embraced by Margaret and others in the SSW.]

Margaret did not respond to the complaints that I sent her. Her comments, here and subsequently, seemed to indicate that she did not even bother to read them.

[IU Code of Academic Ethics B.I says, “Any concerned person may initiate complaints about alleged violations of this code. Such complaints should be brought to the attention of an appropriate chairperson or dean.” The IUSSW Ph.D. Handbook (p. 26) assures Ph.D. students that their written grievances “warrant formal investigation and full exploration . . . . Ph.D. and Pre Doc students have the right to provide feedback about . . . the behavior of faculty and staff members. . . . If the student has reason to believe that in communicating directly with the person she or he would be placed in some jeopardy, then the student should register the complaint with the Director of the Ph.D. Program, who will address the concern and respond.”]

Of course, I had filed the complaints with Dean Queener, following instructions from Deans Queener and Patchner. But Dean Queener made clear that she, too, had not read them; she also refused to forward them to other people who would act on them — as, she admitted, she was required to do; and the university’s Tralicia Lewis, to whom they were later referred, likewise refused to read and act on them. In other words, Dr. Adamek failed in the first instance to take proactive measures with respect to my complaints — to look into their allegations of serious problems within her own program (e.g., false accusations, stalking activities, disruptive behavior), regardless of whatever Dean Queener might or might not do — and also failed to provide backup relief when it became clear that Dean Queener was doing nothing.

[Student Code I.H. states, “A student charged with violating this Code has the right to a fair and reasonable process for handling the charges” and “A student making a complaint under the provisions of this Code should expect that the university will make a good faith attempt to determine the validity of the complaint.” IU Academic Handbook (p. 201) requires, “Students are to have clear procedures to follow when they believe that any of their rights … have been violated by a member of the university community.” HLC Handbook p. 3.2-5 requires that an accredited institution “documents timely response to complaints and grievances, particularly those of students.”]

Simple respect for the rules — duly reading and investigating my complaints, and making fair decisions about them — would have had an enormously positive impact on the ambiance of the school, on the reputation and behavior of Drs. Patchner and Adamek, and on my career outcome and my place in the SSW.

Those administrators declined to do their job, in this regard, because they were pursuing a strategy exactly opposed to the rules: instead of giving me the protection of fairness, they were striving to exclude and ostracize me. Consistent with the Rose’s Story nature of social work education, their minds were already made up; there was no need to consider both sides.

These realities are especially clear in the behavior of Dr. Adamek, whose search for negative information about me extended to the point of notifying Dean Queener about a nightmare that I’d had 25 years earlier, in 1981. Dr. Adamek admitted, in one email, that she knew her efforts to isolate me were succeeding. She arranged to have my professors visibly send her copies of all of their email correspondence with me; she then passed to Dean Queener anything that looked like it might be incriminating, including documents that were obviously staged for the purpose. When I published an article in a leading journal, she suppressed the information rather than publicize it as she routinely did for other students.

[HLC Handbook p. 3.2-13 suggests that an accredited organization “publicly acknowledges the achievements of students and faculty in acquiring, discovering, and applying knowledge.” HLC Handbook p. 3.2-15 says that an accredited organization “supports creation and use of scholarship by students.” IU Code of Academic Ethics A.II.16 states, “Indiscriminate criticism or gossip about colleagues is condemned.” HLC Handbook p. 3.2-3 “asks that all organizations be transparently clear in their statements of expectations of college constituencies, fair in their enforcement of those expectations, and protective of the dignity of individuals whose behavior or beliefs may not always fit those expectations.”]

Dean Patchner did not make visible efforts to rein in Dr. Adamek. Instead, like her, he declined to take necessary action to insure appropriate outcomes. His commitment to a predetermined outcome led him, ultimately, to a course of action in which he engaged in and condoned numerous counterproductive and even irrational measures. For example, given the benefit of hindsight on our October 2008 meeting (above), he wanted me to stop addressing the question of anti-male behavior even though he could not explain how it was hurting anyone, when he had reason to believe that the complaints advanced against that discussion by Gladys, in particular, were false and unethical.

[Under Student Code II.H., dishonest conduct by a student includes “false accusation of misconduct … and giving to a university official information known to be false.” NASW Code ES 4.04 states, “Social workers should not participate in, condone, or be associated with dishonesty, fraud, or deception.” NASW Code ES 2.11(e) requires social workers to “defend and assist colleagues who are unjustly charged with unethical conduct.”]

For the sake of that single incident, Dean Patchner endorsed and achieved my eventual removal from his school. Unless there was some kind of ulterior motive, that just did not seem to make sense. It certainly was not respectful of my own rights, nor of the rights of those classmates who wanted to speak out but whose choice of action was influenced by my treatment.

[HLC Handbook p. 3.2-5 indicates that an accredited institution “consistently implements clear and fair policies regarding the rights and responsibilities of each of its internal constituencies.” IU Code of Academic Ethics A.I. says, “Trust and respect are diminished when those in positions of authority abuse or appear to abuse their power. Those who abuse their power in such a context violate their duty to the University community.”]

I do not know to what extent, if any, my ostracism from the SSW was facilitated, not only by earnest efforts on the parts of Drs. Patchner and Adamek, but also by what may have been a dossier of collected gossip assembled by Gladys. The real question, there, is not what Gladys may have said or done, but why the supposedly trained and experienced faculty of the SSW would have decided — and would have been allowed to decide — to treat me and certain other students disparagingly without the benefit of proper investigation and fair hearing. By what ethical criterion would a professor — one who, by the way, let his PhD students know that they were markedly inferior to PhD students at his alma mater — engage in dirty looks toward me, based on one-sided rumor, without so much as the courtesy of a conversation or other attempt to communicate intelligently? Wouldn’t any halfway skilled practitioner recognize that undesirable ganging-up was taking place when, for instance, the school’s PhD Committee held a meeting devoted to the discussion of certain students’ complaints against me, without notifying students generally that this gossip session was taking place, and without devoting any subsequent session to the presentation of opposing views?

It was as if these putatively intelligent and educated people had no inkling of how difficult it can be to determine actual guilt or innocence — which raised the question of whether they had ever been exposed to a serious effort of that nature. For these professors, respect was not even part of the equation. These supposed leaders in a supposedly helping, empathic profession — including professors who had spoken glowingly of me and whom I had known for years — did not seem at all disturbed about the damage that they might be doing to me, psychologically and professionally, by shunning me and by refusing to provide even so much as a copy of a previous letter of recommendation.

[IU Code of Academic Ethics A.II.7 says, “[L]etters of evaluation written by a teacher may be uniquely important documents in both the academic and post-university life of a student.” Student Code I.A. gives students the right to expect that faculty will act professionally and will be available for consultation. IU Code of Academic Ethics A.II.4 says, “A teacher will remain available to students.” The GADE Guidelines require doctoral faculty to have “a continuing commitment to . . . ethical behavior toward doctoral students” (p. 6). NASW Code ES 2.11(a) requires social workers to “take adequate measures to discourage, prevent, expose, and correct the unethical conduct of colleagues.”]

The existence of respect toward students may be best measured, not in those instances when it is normal and easy to treat them civilly, but rather in those situations where it is easy and even encouraged to treat them poorly. In my experience, respect toward students, as a principle in its own right, barely exists at IUSSW. Here, again, I cannot fathom why Dean Patchner would ever have made the decisions he made, in his handling of my case, after what he had said to MSU on this very topic. But I can see how an SSW led by such a person could indulge gross and extreme unethicality toward an ostracized student for years on end.

Conclusion

In March 2007, Dean Michael A. Patchner of the Indiana University School of Social Work co-authored a scathing critique of the School of Social Work at Missouri State University. That critique identified a half-dozen ways in which MSU failed its students. Remarkably, IUSSW failed me and other students in precisely those same ways. To a considerable extent, those failures occurred because Dean Patchner led his school in the wrong direction.

Dean Patchner’s obtuse and unethical decisions reinforced the messages that students would be punished for exercising their rights to think and talk about complex issues in social work; that it was permissible to bully and browbeat students; that the school’s mission statement was unimportant; that meetings with students were optional, according to the educator’s preference; that respect for students was not a guiding principle; and that there was to be no emotional safety, for male students, in the discussion of issues pertaining to feminism and gender.

Male students in social work are a small and dying breed. Dean Patchner’s decisions perpetuated the fact that heterosexual white male students are welcome to the extent they are willing to accept undeserved blame and criticism, from administrators, faculty, and/or female colleagues, for acts they have not committed and for views they do not hold, and also just for being male and for behaving in male ways.

Indiana University, and particularly Dean Patchner’s School of Social Work, taught me that doctoral education could be gratuitously dangerous and destructive. I had not foreseen that a man could enter such a program with honors and leave as an outcast, with no references and with a tarnished transcript, after having done excellent work and getting published, and without ever actually having violated the Student Code.

These remarks conclude this two-post recapitulation of the complaint that I filed with the Department of Education in June 2009. The next post in this series turns to the question of what DoE did with it.  There is also a subsequent post floating the question of whether my elimination from the PhD program may have been for reasons I had not previously considered.

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