Friday, March 19, 2010

Limited apology ends defamation suit brought by far-Left professor at CUNY

Leftists can't take being mocked or criticized

An unusual defamation suit by a professor against an emeritus professor has ended -- without the $2 million payout that the plaintiff had sought, but with a statement by the lawsuit's target that the plaintiff is not a terrorist. Both sides are claiming victory in a case that raised questions about the freedom of academics to attack union leaders. But the plaintiff says that the issue is the right of faculty leaders to stand up to unrelenting personal attacks.

The suit was filed in 2007 over comments made by Sharad Karkhanis, an emeritus professor at Kingsborough Community College who publishes The Patriot Returns, an online newsletter that features regular, caustic criticism of the City University of New York's faculty union. According to the newsletter, the Professional Staff Congress, which is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, is a poorly-run union that focuses too much on leftist politics to be effective on behalf of its members.

One of the issues in the lawsuit was comments Karkhanis wrote about Susan O'Malley, an English professor at Kingsborough, who was at the time a member of the union's executive board. The comments focused on O'Malley and her push to protect the job rights of Mohammad Yousry, who was fired from CUNY and who was convicted (in a controversial case that some believe was unfair) of supporting terrorist activities and of Susan Rosenberg, a CUNY instructor who served jail time for her role in the Weather Underground. In several references, Karkhanis mocked O'Malley for her efforts on behalf of these individuals, whom he dubbed terrorists, and questioned why she was so focused on them. In comments he says are satire, he referred to O'Malley's "Queda-Camp," to her desire to "bring in all her indicted, convicted and freed-on-bail terrorist friends" to college jobs, and so forth. He wrote that she "does not worry about the 'ordinary' adjunct -- but she is worried about convicted terrorists."

The tough tone is the style of the newsletter, which calls Barbara Bowen, the president of the union, "Dear Leader," after the North Korean dictator.

As justification for seeking $2 million in damages, O'Malley said that she was being accused of being a terrorist. While she has said that her reputation was being slandered, others have said that the suit set a dangerous precedent for academic freedom in that a faculty member was being attacked in the courts for his criticism of a powerful figure (even if in this case the powerful figure was a union leader, not an administrator). One blog was formed to defend The Patriot Returns by academics who said they were staying anonymous to avoid being sued by O'Malley.

As part of the settlement, Karkhanis has issued a statement in his newsletter in which he says that he does not believe O'Malley to be a terrorist. Since Karkhanis has maintained that he never believed her to be a terrorist, but was engaged in satire, he maintains this is no defeat. The statement says: "We do not believe Professor Susan O'Malley to be a terrorist, and deeply regret if she, or any of her associates, understood us to have labeled her as such. We are sorry if anything published in The Patriot Returns has been interpreted in such a way. We do not believe that anything published in The Patriot Returns has exceeded the bounds of permissible speech, but express our profound sorrow if Dr. O'Malley sustained any damage to her reputation or suffered any emotional pain or suffering as a result of these statements."

The lawyer representing Karkhanis, Mark E. Jakubik, also published a statement in the newsletter, arguing that this is a full victory for his client. "The settlement did not involve an admission of liability or wrongdoing by Dr. Karkhanis. To the contrary, as is clearly iterated in the statement, we continue to believe that none of the material published in The Patriot Returns that was at issue in the lawsuit was defamatory or otherwise actionable for any reason. Second, there is no financial aspect to the settlement, and Dr. Karkhanis is not required to make any payment whatsoever to Dr. O'Malley or anyone else. Third, Dr. Karkhanis remains free to publish The Patriot Returns without prior restraint. In sum, we believe that, given the terms upon which Dr. Karkhanis agreed to resolve this matter, the settlement represents a significant victory for free speech and academic freedom, and The Patriot Returns will continue to stand as an unabashed defender of those values."

In an interview, O'Malley said that the case "was never about money" so that she did not view the settlement as anything but a victory. She said that she sued after being attacked for years, and after being attacked in ways that not only were personally hurtful, but that limited her ability to lobby in Albany on behalf of faculty interests. "Everywhere I would go, they would say 'Oh, you are the one being attacked all the time,'" she said.

The repeated attacks, which she said represented the thinking of conservative faculty members, were not satire, she said, because it was never clear what was satire and what was not. Further, she said that the attacks were "an attempt to silence me," so her suit was not an attack on free expression, but a defense of it. She said she was legitimately concerned about being branded a terrorist and thought her name might end up on a government no-fly list. She said that she returned to Kingsborough -- after being on leave to perform various faculty governance roles -- and found that many faculty members didn't know her, but had read about her in the newsletter.

Ultimately, O'Malley said, she hoped that the case might "create some good case law" about what can be done "when people are spreading lies" online. But she said she felt she had won a victory in that, since she sued, she hasn't been attacked in the same way. "I just wanted it quiet for a while," she said.


The soft bigotry of low expectations, blackboard jungle edition

As I noted here, the Obama administration's Department of Education has announced that it will crack down on "civil-rights infractions" in public schools, including alleged disparities in the disciplining of white and black students. The notion behind this initiative is that black students are disproportionately subjected to discipline they don't deserve.

That doesn't seem to be the case in the Philadelphia public school system, however. There, as Abigail Thernstrom and Tim Fay report, it appears that African American students frequently harass and attack Asian students without consequence.. The problem is especially pronounced at South Philadelphia High School. There, according to Thernstrom and Fay,
assaults ]by blacks on Asians]have occurred in the cafeteria line, in bathrooms, in stairwells, on school buses, and elsewhere. The incidents ran the gamut from verbal abuse, physical intimidation, blocking doorways, cutting in line ahead of Asian students in the cafeteria, use of anti-Asian racial epithets, and more serious physical abuse including shoving, kicking, and punching--sometimes at the hands of more than one assailant. Advocates have accused school officials, including school Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and Principal LaGreta Brown (both black) of indifference to the plight of Asian students in their charge.

On one occasion,

black students reportedly began to hunt for Asians, checking classrooms were they might be found. A group of apparently organized black students reportedly rushed the stairwells to the second floor where many Asian students were located. Security camera footage from the lunchroom showed a group of 60 to 70 students--most of them black--surging forward with a smaller faction attacking a small group of Asian students.

Another time, after the school was "locked down,"

school officials decided to have classrooms dismissed one-by-one, and contacted police to provide extra protection outside the school. The ranks of the police thinned, however, when some had to respond to another emergency, and by the time a group of Asians were heading home they were insufficiently protected. Escorted out of the school by the principal (perhaps only for a short way--another disputed fact), the Asian students spotted blacks lying in wait; they made a futile attempt to run from trouble. In the ensuing attack, one Asian student's nose was broken, and as many as 13 ended up needing treatment at the local hospital.

If the Obama administration really cared about civil rights enforcement in the context of public education, it would be acting to ensure that minority students, such as Asian-Americans, have access to a public education free of intimidation, and certainly free from violence. It would not be discouraging school officials at places like South Philadelphia High School from maintaining what little discipline may exist by threatening to launch an investigation if blacks students are disciplined in large numbers.

Unfortunately, in the view of Obama's civil rights enforcers, some races seem to be more equal than others.

JOHN adds: Anyone who seriously thinks that the big problem in our public schools is discrimination against violent African-American students has had zero contact with such schools--or, one might say, with reality--in recent decades. I doubt that even the Obama administration is that out of touch. What we're seeing here is a political payoff at the expense of students of all races, nothing more.


A spineless British council allows a State school to be taken over by aggressive Muslims

A headmistress forced from her job after a campaign by two Muslim governors to give Islam a greater presence in a state school is entitled to £400,000 damages, the Court of Appeal has ruled. Erica Connor, 57, left the New Monument primary school in Woking, Surrey, because of stress after she was accused of Islamophobia. A deputy High Court judge ruled in March last year that Surrey County Council had failed in its duty to protect her and to intervene when the actions of the governors created problems. He awarded her £407,700 damages. The council had appealed against the ruling, claiming it was not liable in law and had not acted negligently in dealing with the problem.

Lord Justice Laws, giving a ruling on Thursday, said that Mrs Connor, who was promoted to head of the school in 1998, had suffered psychiatric damage and had to stop work in 2005 and retired a year later on ill-health grounds. The school had a 80-85 per cent Muslim intake and problems began in 2003 when Paul Martin, a Muslim convert, was elected a parent governor and Mumtaz Saleem was appointed as a local education authority governor. Mr Martin started making allegations about anti-Muslim comments by members of staff, which led to an investigation by Mrs Connor. She found that all the staff denied the allegations, which she said had demoralised them. An official review also found no evidence of deliberate racism or religious bias but said the governing body had become dysfunctional. The High Court had been told Mr Martin tried to stir up disaffection in the community against the school and Mr Saleem was verbally abusive in school meetings.

Although during the first five years that Mrs Connor was in charge of the school there had been good relations with the local Muslim community and improved results, the situation changed when the two men were elected as governors. Judge John Leighton Williams ruled in the High Court that the men had an agenda to increase the role of the Muslim religion in the school and that this, combined with the authority’s failure to protect Mrs Connor, had led her to suffer serious depression.

When Mr Martin was removed from the board of governors in June 2005, he wrote a letter of complaint saying it was because he had been raising complaints of institutional racism within the school. A few days later a petition was circulated calling for Mrs Connor’s removal from the school and containing “defamatory and offensive remarks”, the appeal judges were told.

Lord Justice Laws said the High Court judge was right to find there had been negligence on the part of the council. He said it was an unusual case — “partly because of the council’s lamentable capitulation to aggression”.

Lord Justice Sedley said: “Surrey County Council found itself faced with the unenviable task of responding in an equitable fashion to an inequitable campaign designed to capture a secular state school for a particular faith which happened to be that of a majority of the families whose children attended the school.” He said the council had gone wrong by trying to compromise rather than protecting the head, the staff and the school.

“The picture that emerges from the careful and thorough [High Court] judgment is of a local education authority which had allowed itself to be intimidated by an aggressively conducted campaign to subvert the school’s legal status, a campaign which was plainly destabilising the school and placing the headteacher under intolerable pressure.”


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