Binghamton University Student Alleges Retaliation, More Problems in Department of Social Work
December 22, 2008
by Adam Kissel
Binghamton University student "Lisa White" (apparently a pseudonym) has sent FIRE and many Binghamton administrators and students an e-mail with some very disturbing allegations that the BU Department of Social Work is actively retaliating against master's student Andre Massena, whom the chair tried to expel earlier this semester for his political activism. (Read the Binghamton Review's account of the exceedingly shameful tale here.) When FIRE exposed this shameful case to national public outcry, Massena was able to avoid "advancement" (which, believe it or not, is the Department of Social Work's Orwellian term for expulsion) from the program.
Unfortunately (but not unsurprisingly), according to Lisa White, the department has now decided to retaliate in other ways against Andre Massena. White's letter alleges specific acts of retaliation against Massena after he took his case public. It also alleges a pattern of vindictiveness against students who speak out. You can bet your last dollar that FIRE is investigating this and will get to the bottom of what is happening. Here are the key sections of the letter:
From: Lisa White
Sent: Monday, December 22, 2008 9:24 AM
Subject: Binghamton University Social Work department retaliates against Andre Massena, after national embarrassment
Dear Professor Debbie Oliver, Nancy Frank, and MSW Students:
I decided to write this email because as a person, as a social worker, I'm tired of seeing how this program has been treating students, especially Andre Massena. I took the time to investigate and look at every piece of documentation that was available on this situation. I'm left with nothing but disgust and shame with what I read, and, personally experienced, as a student in the program. I apologize for such long email. This crisis can't be made silent anymore.
I am one of the students who know well what's been going on with professor's unethical behaviors, bullying students in the program. After sitting in your class all semester, watching how you treated Andre after the department suffered national embarrassment, for falsifying so many charges against him, for pointing out what the Social Work department was doing wrong, I got fed up. After Andre went through all he did and won his case, Professor Debbie Oliver actively started a process of retaliatory actions against him. You completely started ignoring him in class when he raised his hands to ask questions or make comments, while sitting directly across from you. You would call on students sitting next to him but ignored him. I noticed while his hand was up, you went back to students that previously had their hands up and you asked them "did you have a question?" Some students were laughing because you made it so obvious that you were going to shut him down. All the way to the very last day of class, you never called on him. This ... is a new low for the university.
Every paper, presentation, and assignment Andre did in your class, he received above 90 grades on all of them, but suddenly you gave him a score of 28 on the "Intervention Comparison Paper?" I could not believe how much ink you wrote on his paper. My paper had mistakes on it and you ignored many of them. The confusing thing is all semester, you gave him above a 90, meaning you were more than content with his papers. Suddenly things changed? You're not the only professor trying to fail him out of the program, every professor is doing this. He is either failing or barely passing classes.
Yourself and every other professor in both the MPA and MSW department have either asked or sent him emails for electronic submission of his papers so they can run it through Turnitin for plagiarism. I and other students I spoke to did not have this requirement. Isn't that clear discrimination?
To make matters worst, you sent him an email telling him clearly, in the affirmative, that he passed your class, but, you actually recorded a failing grade for him in the system. As a graduate professor, I'm not going to excuse you in saying you thought a grade below a B is passing. It's pathetic if you don't know as a professor that graduate students have to maintain a B or 3.0 to pass and maintain enrollment in graduate school (attached you will find email exchanges Andre sent to me to confirm this exchange). Maybe you thought he deserved a passing grade and the department made you change your mind...just a thought.
Professor Nancy Frank also failed Andre giving him a C+ for the class. How do you fail him for participation when he came to class almost everyday, having contributed more than most students in the class? I didn't contribute as much or even read class readings, as he did, many times quoting materials when he spoke....and I did much better than a 50 out of 100 for participation. There are 10+ students in the class who can testify to this but none will probably say anything because they are afraid of going through what Andre is experiencing.
I sat in Cassandra Bransford's class last year where Andre, once again, talked about issues in the community that needed attention, challenging the Social Work department and professors to be more progressive and increase their involvement in bettering the community. The consequences of that, challenging the program to live up to its mission, got him a C- grade. After he successfully argued his case to you, you apologize for retaliating and changed his grade to an A. (See email attachment with grade change)
Andre has received every major honorary scholarship the university offered he applied for, won competitive Graduate Assistantships (2 years in a row), and finished almost every semester either honor roll or on the President's list. Every degree he earned has honors distinction. How are you guys going to explain his failing or barely able to pass classes now? ...
Nancy and Debbie should not be allowed to teach Social in this school anymore. What you two did was not only shameful but out right vindictive. After Andre went through all he did, Gail Glover simply said, "Due to regrettable procedural misunderstandings, we are no longer pursuing this case" meaning clearly the university has a vested interest in making him pay for what he has done fighting embarrassing the university.
When the department tried to kick my friend out, I had to watch helplessly. At first when she told me crying she was going through "Advancement Procedures" to be "Advanced" out of the program, I thought it was a promotion. What a fucked up term to use in a social work program that is supposed to be strength-based. She challenged the status quo so they told her she was "insubordinate" and "not ready" for the profession of social work, like you guys told Andre. We all know once you cross Brian Flynn, especially Jennifer Marshal, you will either redo field work over or get kicked out the program. Asking other staff for help or Laura is completely useless. We asked Francine Montemurro for help, and she turned a deaf ear....
As a community activist, [Massena] saw the poor, disabled, elderly, and people of color in the community suffer many forms of discrimination, including evictions leading to massive displacements from Binghamton Housing Authority. After he notified the department, they ignored him and tried to hide the situation because that guy they hired, David Tanenhaus, to teach us social work, is the Director of BHA, allowing those evictions. When Andre, his field instructor, and other students notified the department about his reputation in the community, no one listened. When a number of students, including myself, signed petitions to boycott his class, Laura basically told us we're either going to take his class, or, take our asses to Marywood School of Social Work if we wanted to graduate....
After a 3 month period, Andre had over 20 charges/complaints to respond to. I even listened to the hearing audio tape from his appeal in which the Chair of the Social Work program is telling Andre she has records of investigative reports from not one, but 3 police/security personnel that questioned him about his actions and he "lied" to them. One of the officers, Officer Rossie Matthew wrote an email to Andre in which he stated that he never investigated nor spoke to him. She even said he harassed professors and students in the program sending them "sexually explicit" comments. Is it not a crime to lie on the police and falsely charge someone with sexual harassment? How ... can someone like that still be Chair of a program teaching us the values of professional and ethical behavior as social workers? The MSW program ... should be under heavy investigation....
I am so ashamed to be part of a social work program that is actively trying to destroy a student's life for doing the work they should be doing.
This program has failed its mission miserably. They are teaching students to be afraid and not challenge the status quo, which is exactly what social workers should be doing to bring change. Not one professor in the department, in their professional capacity acted or did anything for Andre. They are giving students a clear message that "We have power and you don't challenge us because every single one of us will gang up on you to protect ourselves." On the other hand, Instead of investigating, most students ignored the situation or simply thought he was lying. Now that this is national news and the facts are out, I know 3-4 who have taken a stand, in hiding. Isn't it a shame that I had to create a secret email to speak my mind? This is because I don't want to lose my job or go through what Andre went through.
This is the kind of fear the department is reinforcing in students....
After seeing ... what Andre went through, my friend walked out of the program last semester. Now I am walking out of this program to go to a better school where I can learn true social work....
Before I leave this school, I will do my part to make it better and it starts with making sure the following names are accountable for their unprofessional behavior: [...]
If true (and it's all too believable—I recommend you read the whole thing), this is sickening. The only good news here is that students like Lisa White are finally starting to stand up for students' rights on campus—even if the climate of fear at Binghamton University is still too much for them to come out by name. Indeed, White's e-mail illustrates the culture of fear that arises when students let violations of rights go by year after year. Some programs are so thoroughly corrupt that they should be disbanded, and then the university should wait a few years for the dust to settle before starting over. Maybe the Binghamton University Department of Social Work is one of those programs.