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One Act

Good stuff from Cap & Bells.

Back by popular demand, it’s Cap and Bells’ Winter Study One Acts! This year, we’re going back to basics – the January One Act festival will be “Two Chairs and a Box.” And what does that mean, you ask? It means you – yes, you! – get the chance to cast and direct a short play over Winter Study using minimal set and tech. It’s a great way to break into directing for Cap and Bells or to just get your theatre fix when you’re free from the pesky distraction of classes and homework. If you know of, or have written, a great one act play (10-45 minutes), this is your chance to see it performed!

My suggestion: A one act play about Nigaleian. Three actors: Aida Laleian, Layla Ali and one other professor, or perhaps a single actor playing several of the other professors present. (In a pinch, you could drop the last professor.) Setting is the meeting room in which the fateful phrase was spoken. Plot is to show several (3?) versions of the same event, presenting (virtually) the same dialog, or having Laleian say exactly the same words, or, at minimum, each version concludes with the same phrase about how she did not want her field to be “used as a nigger.”

If I were a playwright, I would write this myself. Alas, no talent means no script. The goal would be to show how, even if the words are the same, changes in the surrounding context can transform Laleian from socially awkward (the Rooney Defense) to profoundly evil.

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More Navels

Only gaze below if you really want to . . .

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Closure On Nigaleian

Looks like we have closure on the Nigaleian controversy. Below is the letter sent by Dean Lenhart to all faculty and staff yesterday. (Thanks to fellow EphBlogger Andy Chiu ’00.)

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Nigaleian Updates

The latest Record is chocked full of updates on the Nigaleian controversy, but the quotes from Professor of Art Ed Epping are key:

“All of the faculty who witnessed what happened at the meeting were stunned,” said Ed Epping, professor of art. “The force of the statement directed at Professor Ali was such that there was no way for Professor Ali to remain in the room.” Epping is on sabbatical in New York this semester, but was in attendance at the department meeting last spring.

When asked if he had been troubled by any public misconceptions of the incident, Epping said, “What I believe is not being discussed as fully as is required…is the vehemence with which this phrase was spoken and the directness of its intent.” It may read otherwise on paper, he said, but “the word ‘nigger’ was not used in that situation as a metaphor.”

Damning stuff. If others present at the meeting saw things the way that Epping (and Ali) did, then it would seem that a Rooney defense is out for Laleian.

Key Question: Was Lalelian’s husband, Professor of Art Steve Levin, at the fatefull meeting?

Note that EphBlog is continuing to honor Dean Lenhardt’s request that the community not speculate on the grievance procedure as it is unfolds. Let the College do its work, but let us hope that that work is done quickly.

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Obtuseness in the Eagle

Could the editorial, “Only Words,” in the Eagle on the Nigaleian controversy possible be more obtuse? In full, it says:

The flap at Williams College over, as The Eagle story gingerly puts it, “an art professor who may be the victim of a racist comment from a colleague,” is straight out of Philip Roth’s novel “The Human Stain.” Professor Aida Laleian faces the ruin of her career for a thoughtless remark in a heated faculty meeting. Though she did not actually call Professor Laylah Ali by the N-word, what she said, misconstrued or not, violated the college code and Ms. Ali is pursuing the matter even though the college has imposed sanctions on Ms. Laleian. She could face a star chamber proceeding with no right to counsel or transcript. To be a university professor one must give up not only the right to free speech, but to due process as well, all in service to an institution dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

1) “Faces the ruin of her career?” Give me a break. Laleian has tenure. Barring stupidity of inhuman proportions, her job is safe. She will be able to keep teaching photography, in the same department as her husband, at a very nice salary for decades to come. While her chances of moving to another College are now slim to none, it isn’t clear that they would have been any better prior to this incident.

2) “Ms. Ali is pursuing the matter even though the college has imposed sanctions on Ms. Laleian.” I think that the technical term for thinking in this way is “blaming the victim.”

3) Most delusional is the claim that “To be a university professor must give up not only the right to free speech, but to due process as well.” Your “right to free speech” does not include the right to say anything in a professional setting and expect your employer to put up with it. If Laleian had pulled that stunt in almost any other workplace in Berkshire County outside of Williams College, she would already be out on the street. You have a right to free speech — meaning the government should leave you alone — on the corner of Spring Street. You do not have a right to free speech — meaning that your employer needs to keep sending you a paycheck no matter how offensive/idiotic you are — in the workplace. Is that distinction really so hard for the Eagle to understand?

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Nigaleian Updates

The Eagle and Transcript provide updates on the latest twists and turns of the Nigaleian controversy. See also this article from the Eagle on Friday.

I still haven’t gotten around to finishing my parsing of the previous set of articles, so I hesitate to dive into these right now. (Hold back those bitter tears of frustration and disappointment, faithful EphBlog readers!)

None of the articles mention this line from the faculty handbook.

If the respondent [Laleian] chooses not to appeal, the executive officers shall then act to remedy the harm done to the complainant [Ali], to protect the College community, and to take appropriate disciplinary action against the respondent.

In other words, as part of the formal grievance procedure — unlike the sanctions process that Dean Lenhardt completed over the summer — the possibility of a “remedy” is explicitly provided for. What can the College do for Ali to “remedy the harm” done to her? If I were her, tenure would be the answer.

Note

“One of my concerns is that she might leave,” [Professor of Political Science ALex] Willingham said of Ali. “That’s almost my Number One issue.”

and

James G. Kolesar, director of Williams’ office of public affairs, said the procedure allows for the possibility of a resolution of a complaint that is mutually agreeable to the parties involved.

“It is important to create an environment in which this possibility can be explored productively,” said Kolesar. “Engaging in pubic discussion of aspects of the complaint does not help to achieve this goal.”

I think that we are seeing hints of a (partially) public negotiation between Ali [along with her friends/supporters] and the College over what it is going to take to keep her happy.

Now that I know — if four Factrak entries count as knowledge — that Ali ’91 is a good teacher, and given EphBlog’s longstanding support of hiring and tenuring alumni, I am in favor of this solution.

The College should tenure Ali. She should drop her grievance complaint and assent to the sanctions already imposed on Laleian. And then we can all move on . . .

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Laleian is the One

The following e-mail was sent by Dean Lenhardt to all students this afternoon.

September 23, 2004

To the Williams Community,

I am writing to update you on the matter of the sanctioning of a faculty member, as I reported to you in my letter of September 10.

At yesterday’s faculty meeting I announced that a discrimination grievance has been filed regarding the matter and the procedure for resolving it has begun.

Since that meeting, Aida Laleian, Professor of Art, has asked me to make public three things:

First, that she is the faculty member who made the remark.

Second, that she is identifying herself in order to free her colleagues from being the subject of any further speculation.

And third, that there is more she would like to say about this matter but that the College Administration has asked her not to do so at this time, so as not to jeopardize the internal procedure underway.

As I also said at yesterday’s faculty meeting, the College’s policies call for such procedures to be conducted as confidentially as possible and I ask all in the College community to honor that intent.

Sincerely,

William J. Lenhart
Acting Dean of the Faculty &
A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Computer Science

Comments:

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Penner ’90 on Nigaleian

My Carter housemate Jane Penner ’90 sent in these comments on the Nigaleian controversy.

In response to recent EphBlog posts debating whether or not Laleian’s use of the word “nigger” can fairly be called “racist”:

I’m all for semantic sleuthing, but the use of “nigger” in the context described by Dean Lenhart’s memo seems clearly racist to me. The memo states that sanctions were imposed because the administration determined that the slur was uttered in order “to provoke and/or hurt” Laylah Ali during a heated discussion. While it is certainly true that “nigger” can be spoken and written in non-racist contexts by people who are not expressing racist sentiments, the usage described in the memo is obviously malignant rather than benign.

You suggest that Laleian may be more accurately characterized as a “jerk” than as a “racist.” But if a jerk resorts to using racial slurs in order to gain tactical advantage in an argument, isn’t it fair to call that person a racist jerk? A garden-variety jerk may use words as weapons, but only a racist stoops to “nigger.” Let’s not mince words in characterizing Laleian’s actions that day. If it’s not racist to use the word “nigger” in order to hurt and provoke an African American, what IS racist, for goodness sake?

To be a racist, in my view, you actually have to believe racist things. I have more thoughts on this in the forums.

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Letter to Alums?

A perhaps reliable source suggests that the College will be sending a letter to alums about the Nigaleian scandal in the near future. I am not sure if I would spend the money on such an exercise if I were Morty. A statement on the webpage and a link in EphNotes and/or a reprint in the Alumni Review might be notification enough. Morty might even cover the topic in his Alumni Review column. There is no rush, I would say.

This is especially true if the sanctioning (or any other internal) process is not complete. Then again, Morty has much better judgment on this sort of issue than I do. [D’uh! — ed.]

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The Nigaleian Defense

Daniel Rooney ’06 has a masterful letter in the Record which outlines the sort of defense case that Aida Laleian ought to, or is perhaps planning to, use.

According to the definition cited by Christopher Sewell ’05 and Jeffrey Delaney ’05 in their opinion piece of Sept. 14 “Responding to discrimination,” the word “nigger” can be taken to mean “a member of a socially disadvantaged class of persons.”

While I obviously was not present at the time this phrase was uttered, it seems most logical to assume from the context we have been given that “nigger” was being used in the sense of a disadvantaged person.

The professor, when saying she did not want her field of study to “be used as a nigger,” may well have been saying she did not wish it to be treated as second-class. Thus her statement, at least according to the definition quoted by Sewell and Delaney, was not necessarily an expression of racism.

It’s a great letter, just the sort that I would have been writing to the Record 20 years ago. [See your future, Danny. — ed.] Rooney often seems to be a voice of reason on College Council, so I don’t think that he is just flacking for Laleian.

I don’t believe, however, that Laleian just happened to use n****r as a synonym for “socially disadvantaged class of persons,” but, at the same time, I don’t think she is actually racist. Indeed, not a single person has claimed that she is. My guess, derived from the circumstances and some private commentary, is that she is a hot-tempered jerk with a history not being a nice colleague. I suspect that she and Ali have had less than cordial relations. I believe Lenhardt’s characterization of the incident as one where the word was used, on purpose, in order to “provoke or hurt the African-American colleague who was present.”

Still, this sort of defence is a plausible one. If the whole dispute ends up in front of a grievance committee, I am not sure that Laleian would be found guilty.

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Sanctions

A new, and extremely well-informed, anonynous source reports:

I am writing with information regarding the racial slur incident you’ve been discussing in EphBlog. The sanctions imposed on the faculty member in question are as follows:

1) She is not allowed to attend department meetings for five (5) years;

2) She is not allowed to participate in tenure and hiring decisions for five (5) years;

3) She is not allowed to supervise junior faculty or other colleagues in the department (i.e., she cannot become chairman of the department) for five years;

4) She will teach an additional undergraduate course every other year for the term of the sanctions (this additional course was assigned in light of the fact she will not attend meetings or do tenure-committee work).

Together, these constitute a minor sanction. The Dean of Faculty and senior College administrators imposed the sanctions (i.e., the Discrimination Grievance Committee was not involved).

I am a person with knowledge of this situation and feel that the debate in EphBlog and elsewhere needs to move beyond a guessing game (about the players involved in this incident) to a genuine debate about the nature of the offense and the appropriateness of the sanctions imposed. I hope the information I’ve provided fosters that debate.

Comments:

1) Great stuff! Many thanks to this source and all the other folks that provided EphBlog with information. I firmly believe that the College is best off handling this matter in the most transparent manner possible. Sunshine is always the best disinfectant.

2) As always with anonymous sources, we need to take care in evaluating these claims. With any luck, the College will officially confirm the information along with Professor Laleian’s identity. Even if the College doesn’t confirm it — and no doubt calls from the Record and Transcript will be coming soon — I would still wager that this information is correct. Who would have an incentive to lie about this, especially when others could so easily correct the record?

3) Although I had initially expressed an interest in finding out more details — who went to Dean Lenhardt, what sort of (ill)working relationships existed in the department — I now agree that we have enough of the details to “move beyond a guessing game.”

4) My own opinion depends on how similar, and not so similar, cases have been handled in the past. Are the sanctions imposed on Laleian the harshest that the College has imposed in the last 20 years or are they, relatively, light? What is the history of faculty-sanctioning at Williams? I am not looking for names and dates, just the sort of executive summary that the honor and discipline committee provides each semester.

Let the debate begin.

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J’accuse

I believe that Associate Professor of Art Aida Laleian is the person who, in Dean Lenhardt’s words,

raised a concern about the status of her own field of professional work relative to the fields of the others. At one point, she made a heated statement to the effect that she did not want her field to be “used as a nigger.”

For my evidence and reasoning, please see here, here, here, here and here. If anyone has reason to believe that my accusation is false, please let me know immediately, or leave a comment here. I do not make this accusation lightly, but there is a still a chance, perhaps as large as 5%, that I am wrong.

To be honest, the leap from the last three suspects to just Laleian is the hardest one to make. It seems fair to say that no one can imagine Professors Podmore or Takenaga ever, under any conceivable circumstances, acting as Lenhardt describes. The same can not be said, for good or for ill, of Professor Laleian. Speculation aside, a separate source confirmed that she is the guilty party.

I’d like to extend my apologies to Professors Shanks, Hill, Brainerd, Shore-Sheppard, Filipczak, Ockman, Jang, McGowan, Podmore and Takenaga for mentioning their names in the context of my search for the truth on this matter. It was not my intention to accuse any of you of being the guilty party here. Alas, at the time, the information provided by the College made it impossible to rule you out, and so I speculated freely. If any of you would like your names to removed from all EphBlog postings and comments on this sad affair, I would be happy to do so.

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Who’s on Leave?

I know that the truly computer literate among the Eph would be able to do this in a much cooler way than I, but here is my psuedo-geek attempt to figure out all the female African-American faculty members on leave. Using R, it’s pretty easy . . .

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And Then There Were Three

A different anonymous source confirms that the department is Art. Apologies to Political Science, History, Economics, Music and Theatre for speculation to the contrary. This source also claims that it is the Studio Art portion of the Art Department and not the Art History part, consistent with some of our prior speculation. Apologies for speculation about other innocent members of the department.

If you don’t want more speculation, then stop reading right now.

Given everything that we know, the perp would have to be one of three:

Laleian
Podmore
Takenaga

As best I can tell, these are the only three tenured female faculty in Studio Art.

Anyway, one of the last clues in this puzzle is the fact that, in Lenhart’s words, the Speaker of the Evil Word was concerned “about the status of her own field of professional work relative to the fields of the others.” Hmmm. Here are examples of the work of our three suspects:

exhibit1.jpg

exhibit2.jpg

exhibit3.jpg

Who do you thing might be concerned about the status of her own field of professional work?

I’ll take door number 1!

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Transcript Article

The well-done Transcript article on the Eph scandal du jour is worth going through in some detail. Kudos to author Karen Gardner for a fine piece of writing.

In a movie filmed at Williams College, “The Human Stain,” Anthony Hopkins played a professor who was charged with making a racial slur against some African-American students.

Nice start. EphBlog should really put together a listing of every movie/book with an Eph connection. Put that on the to-do list.

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Art?

Given all the new information in the Transcript article — History is not the guilty department; the African American faculty member present is female and currently on leave — doesn’t it have to be the Art Department?

As always, I will gladly print a correction if this speculation is incorrect, but I think that we have run out of options

To repeat: Is there another female African American faculty member on leave this year besides Laylah Ali ’91?

I don’t think so. If this is correct, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out which female art professor is the guilty party.

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History of Faculty Censure

In our counter logs, it is sometimes interesting to see what web searches bring people to EphBlog. One search that did so this evening was for:

“Williams College” AND faculty AND censure

conducted on Yahoo. Hmmm. Who would be interested in finding out about this topic right now? Likely suspects would include the perp, the perp’s attorney and enterprising reporters. But who searches for things on Yahoo anymore? And uses all cap logical terms?

I continue to suspect that the perp is either tenured or was born/educated outside the US. I have a new guess, but want to do a bit more digging first. As best I can tell, there is only one female professor (in a department with an African American colleague) who was not educated in the US.

Alas, whoever was searching did not find anything useful on the topic at EphBlog or, as best I can tell, anywhere else. In fact, I can’t think of a single example of a professor who was formally (publically) censured by the College in the last 25 years. Perhaps the Rosemarie Tong controversy — whose details escape me but had something to do with a lack of scholarly attribution on Tong’s part, IIRC — resulted in a censure? I know, second and third hand, of professors who were forced to leave for some unsavory reasons, but can’t recall an official act of “sanction” by the College.

Anyone with a better memory than I should give us the history . . .

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Used as a . . .

One of our Williams sources forwarded e-mails (from Morty Schapiro and Dean of the Faculty Bill Lenhart) and suggested “discussion” at EphBlog.

Well, I don’t know if discussion is really what we do best here, but if you’re looking for uninformed speculation and disjointed mutterings, then you have come to the right place!

See below for the complete e-mails. Here is the key section, from Lenhart:

At the end of the spring semester, a meeting took place in which a group of faculty members, one of whom is African-American, was conducting department business. One of those present raised a concern about the status of her own field of professional work relative to the fields of the others. At one point, she made a heated statement to the effect that she did not want her field to be “used as a nigger.”

The matter was promptly brought to my attention by several of those present at the meeting and a formal complaint was made against the faculty member who made the remark. Upon investigating, I concluded that the faculty member’s behavior warranted the serious step of imposing sanctions on her, which I have done. I believe that the statement made at the meeting was a use of racist language that was meant to provoke or hurt the African-American colleague who was present.

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