Thursday, November 1, 2007

Professor David Arnow and Collegiality in the Professional Staff Congress

The Emerson Inn and Spa is more collegial than the Professional Staff Congress.

My wife and I having just returned from a lovely dinner with my in laws, who are visiting us and staying at the Emerson Inn and Spa in Mount Pleasant, New York, received an e-mail fromProfessor David Arnow, whom I do not know and I have never previously contacted. Professor Arnow wrote:

>"You bloggeth:

>"> Dear President Bowen: I am working on a blog about the O'Malley v. Karkhanis law suit. I was wondering if you would care to comment on it. In particular, what is the role of "collegiality" in O'Malley's decision to sue; and do you believe that law suits are an integral part of collegiality?"

>"My first question for you is: Have you stopped molesting small children yet?

>"And my second question is: Supposed I posed this question everywhere. Would you sue? Or would you take it in the collegial, satirical sense that it was perhaps intended?"

I had not heard of Arnow before, but have since done a web search and learned that he is my colleague at Brooklyn College.

A number of years ago, my ex-wife, Enid Wolfe Langbert, who is an attorney who has been involved in commercial litigation and published a book entitled "The Bill of Rights--the Right to a Fair Trial", was thinking of writing a book called "The Bleak House Syndrome". The idea of the bleak house syndrome is similar to Pareto's law, i.e., 20 percent of inputs are responsible for 80 percent of outputs. The bleak house syndrome is that two percent of the population is responsible for ninety percent of the litigation and that a certain psychological pattern is associated with litigation. Subsequently, I studied a bit about the economics of litigation in graduate school and learned that rational players do not litigate unless the benefits of litigation outweigh the sum of the two sides' trial costs since it makes more sense to settle a dispute otherwise.

Moreover, transactions costs are relevant. One management aim is to reduce the costs of doing business. Managers aim to reduce the costs of transactions such as attorney costs as far as possible. Ouchi, in his book Theory Z, has argued that high-trust personnel systems, which the Japanese firms exemplified in the 1980s, are more cost effective than bureaucratic or regulated ones.

Collegiality has a similar justification. Academics argue that they are best qualified to evaluate each other and so can do so more efficiently than outsiders. Part of this argument must hinge on academics' ability to resolve disputes without intervention from outsiders. If outsiders and the court system are best able to resolve disputes among academics, then the system of collegiality need not exist. Indeed, there are far cheaper methods available for dispute resolution even in bureaucratic firms. These include mediation, arbitration, interpersonal skills training and supervision. Hence, academics' resort to litigation suggests that collegial processes have failed. Susan O'Malley's law suit is an excellent argument for the Academic Bill of Rights.

I responded to Professor Arnow simply as follows:

"Tell me, Dave. Do you think that suing is the collegial course?"

Professor Arnow responded as follows:

>"Defenders of Karkhanis just don't have the moral high ground to invoke 'collegiality'.

>"As for law suits: for all its faults, the U.S. system of law towers over that of any other country I know. Law suits that redress wrongs are part of that system. If there really is a wrong, it ought to be redressed, shouldn't it? How would you right a wrong? Fisticuffs?

>"I don't know the details of Libel law, but I know that it is happily fairly limited, compared say to the U.K., and so the absurd lies you spin for the Sun are protected-- as they should be. Still, repeated false public accusations of specific criminal acts might satisfy the definition of libel. Your buddy may have crossed the line. Not to worry, I'm sure that the people you and he work for have very deep pockets.

>"Now, answer the questions that I posed below. Don't try to wriggle out of them:

>>" My first question for you is: Have you stopped molesting small children yet?
>>" And my second question is: Supposed I posed this question everywhere. Would you sue? Or would you take it in the collegial, satirical sense that it was perhaps intended?"

My obvious answer is no, unless there is some significant economic reason for me to sue. I do not suffer from the "bleak house syndrome". However, if I am financially damaged, then a law suit would be logical. Very few private firms see employees sue each other. An employee who sues a fellow employee would be viewed as odd in most firms, and would certainly damage their career. Employees in private industry have sufficient interpersonal skills to resolve workplace disputes without costly litigation. This seems not to be the case with the associates of the Professional Staff Congress.

Professor Arnow feels that anyone who is associated with Sharad Karkhanis doesn't "have the moral high ground to invoke 'collegiality'". This suggests to me defamation of Professor Karkhanis's reputation.

I have always puzzled over the claims of academics (with reference to KC Johnson, for example) that "collegiality", defined as interpersonal skills, ought to be a criterion for personnel and tenure decisions. Arnow's e-mail suggests that some senior professors at Brooklyn College lack these, so requiring them for tenure in special cases is at best tenuous and certainly hypocritical.

Arnow goes on to make the less-than-collegial claim that my comments to the Sun yesterday are "absurd lies" that I "spin for the Sun".

He also makes the rather odd statement "I'm sure that the people you and he (Karkhanis) work for have very deep pockets." This statement is especially odd because Karkhanis, Arnow and I work(ed) for the City University of New York, the same employer. Is Arnow suggesting that Brooklyn College will finance Karkhanis's lawsuit? I am having trouble with this. Does Arnow believe I'm paid by one of George Soros's institutes?

My response to Arnow was as follows:

> "I'm going to put your e-mail on my blog. (1) Who are you? (2) What is the moral high ground to which you're referring? Do you have an ethical model or standard? If so, please clarify.

>"(3) Your belief that engaging in litigation as part of the collegial process is based on what definition of collegiality? Please define collegiality.

>"(4)Any concept of collegiality would involve methods of resolving conflicts. For instance, if you know about labor relations you know that arbitration has been favored by the United States Supreme Court over civil litigation in the context of labor disputes. In recent years, even more flexible approaches of resolving conflicts, such as living agreements, have been part of labor relations in some plants. The concept of collegiality involves shared governance. Such a definition would imply dispute resolution methods that are less formal than arbitration and are based on trust and shared values, i;.e., are more like living agreements. Are you claiming that civil litigation is included in the definition of collegiality? If so, do you think than an intensified degree of government regulation might be valuable to reduce conflict costs? Litigation is among the most costly methods of dispute resolution. Less expensive ones would include face to face meetings, mediation, arbitration, collective bargaining, grievances and the like.

>"If collegiality is so inflexible and inept as to require the legal system as a preferred dispute resolution method, should government look for lower cost dispute resolution methods than litigation, as it has done in the labor context, to regulate academics? In that case, you seem to be suggesting that the Academic Bill of Rights would be a wise improvement over current academic collegial processes, which are high cost. Please do tell. Are you arguing for the Academic Bill of Rights?"

David Arnow's collegial response to me was:

>"You can put my email anywhere you like, but the gibberish above) again evades my questions about whether you've stopped molesting small children and I am not going to waste any more time writing to you. I'm adding you to my spam filter."

Yes, the Professional Staff Congress is collegial. Collegial indeed.

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