Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Lynching Perry Mills

Between 1993 and 2007, my alma mater in San Francisco, New College of California, systematically harassed and removed independent minded faculty and staff concerned about administrative malfeasance. Several whistleblowers lost their jobs and pensions. Finally, after fourteen years, the U.S. Department of Education closed the school after finding the Board of Trustees had, among other violations, been engaged in money-laundering student advance loan funds.

Two weeks ago, another institution of higher ed was in the news. Western Washington University, where I spent two years of undergraduate study, had won a case before the state supreme court confirming its right to hold personnel disciplinary hearings behind closed doors. What news accounts of the case failed to note, however, is that the person being disciplined, Perry Mills, had been railroaded before a lynch mob organized by his department chair in retaliation for the professor's whistleblowing about the chair's misappropriation of student fees.

As noted in the following account by a news reporter removed from the disciplinary hearing, the whole process consisted of trumped up charges designed to silence the professor.
Mills was suspended and barred from campus for a year before he brought suit in federal court to force WWU to state the reasons for his suspension and to get a hearing on the facts. Only then did the university reveal 4 reasons which were accepted on the basis of hearsay and not investigated. The move to suspend Mills followed immediately after the publication of a year-long audit of his department in which Mills charged his department Chair, Mark Kuntz, had wrongly diverted around $20,000 in student course fees.

This audit was a whitewash that came to the ultimate conclusion that the money had been diverted but that the university could not take action because it had no written policy forbidding students to be charged course fees that were applied to other purposes. The publication of the audit was followed by an angry letter from the former dean of the college stating such policy was in place and the audit was a fiction. The audit was irregular in several ways, not just the false statements but also in the fact that Kuntz, the person who committed the embezzlement, was a key member of the audit committee and was instrumental in re-writing the initial auditor's report to absolve himself of wrong-doing.

Mills was suspended based on complaints made by Kuntz to Provost Bodman, who was responsible for the audit and appointed Kuntz to the audit committee. An earlier letter from Kuntz, written while the audit was underway, was very specific about the need to silence Professor Mills: "How long are we going to protect his freedom of speech?"

After suspending Mills and barring him from campus, Bodman and Kuntz refused to take any further action to investigate, collect facts or follow the procedures laid out in the faculty handbook. Instead, a series of meetings ensued in which Mills resignation was demanded. Mills sued in federal court for denial of due process. The upshot was the university would hold a hearing, now 18 months after the suspension, into the facts. Essentially, the court ruled the administrative process needed to be completed before the courts could intervene.

The faculty panel (which should have happened before the suspension) finally occurred 15 months later. The panel was conducted as as quasi-judicial hearing that allowed hearsay, statements without cross-examination, and introduction of new charges as the old ones were knocked down. I was present long enough to hear some of the ground rules laid out.

I was well known to the university because I had been pursuing a series of public document requests for a year in an attempt to obtain the facts about the audit of the diverted $20,000. Despite the obstruction of the administration, I had found enough to show the audit was hopelessly compromised by Kuntz' participation investigating himself.

When the hearing began, the first item of business was my ejection and the closure of the hearing. I was there because I had done considerable investigation and was hoping for further disclosures regarding the embezzlement and retaliation against Mills for reporting the diversion of funds. I was never readmitted to the now secret proceeding.

Later, the faculty panel found all of the allegations [against Mills] regarding guns, knives, etc. were fabrications. In particular, the supposed incident reported by Kuntz involving a knife was refuted by his own informant, who was interviewed under oath by telephone.

The panel's findings of fact and conclusions (6 months suspension without pay) were repeatedly rejected by the administration. Then Mills' suspension with pay was extended an additional year under the excuse that the university did not have office space available.

Once the administration's machinations in trying to fire Mills ground to a halt, Mills' attorney filed for a review by the Superior court. Suddenly, the discredited allegations about guns and knives showed up in the university's pleadings, despite their own quasi-judicial process had rejected these accusations as false and unfounded. Judge Steven Mura of the Whatcom Superior Court side-stepped the university's procedural irregularities and upheld the closure of the hearing and six month suspension without pay. His oral ruling was bizarre (I was present) in that he spent much of his time referring to the discredited allegations and did not appear to have read the findings of fact from the faculty panel. He also stated that he expected to have his ruling appealed.

The next step was the State Appeals court, which fixed on the closure of the hearing as the point at which the process became illegal. The university appealed to the Supreme Court which reversed the appeals court and made new law in granting legislative authority to university administrations.

Note that none of the court cases (which are cases, but the internal prosecution of Mills by the university is not a "case" under the state constitution) were [not] rehearing the facts of the "case" before the university faculty panel, only the legal procedure. Yet, low and behold, the allegations rejected by the panel keep popping up as sensational commentary on the facts, contrary to the findings of the only hearing into the facts.

In the upcoming budget crunch, state educational institutions will be well advised to take advantage of this newly discovered feature of the law in getting rid of faculty who embarrass their administrations by daylighting theft and fraud.

So the long sad tale has come to this. Not one single institution, not the university, nor the courts, nor the press, has managed to get the facts before the public.


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