RESPONSE FROM THE UNIVERSITY

November 5th, 2015

According to Slant News, the UC Berkeley Office of Communications and Public Affairs has finally released a statement, dated today, in response to my Whistleblowing post of October 11th.

It reads:

"UC Berkeley's math department is consistently ranked in the top five among universities across the globe. In the recent U.S. News Global Rankings, posted October 5th, UC Berkeley's math department ranked 2nd in the world. The math department faculty here follow a teaching strategy by which entry level courses are uniform, so that all students who take such courses have the same foundation as they move forward.

While the UC Berkeley math department would like to provide significant details and respond to the allegations made by Alexander Coward, under the law, policy and a collective bargaining agreement we are prohibited from discussing the specifics of any lecturer's employment. While the purpose of these prohibitions is to protect employees from public airing of disputes regarding job performance, the prohibitions constrain the campus from commenting even when an employee has decided to selectively release information to the public.

What we can share are the rules governing employment to provide context to the action taken. These are the rules which [sic] are governing our actions with regard to Alexander Coward.

- When lecturers come to work at the department, they are advised that their employment is for a limited period of time. Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement that covers a lecturer's employment, it is made clear that individuals who have worked for a department for fewer than six years have an appointment that has a specific beginning and ending date. When that ending date is reached, the appointment expires automatically; the lecturer is not fired.

- Lecturers are hired to teach a variety of courses, including "service courses." These are courses that fulfill general education requirements or are preliminary courses taken prior to more advanced courses in a major. For the math department's services courses, the professors in the math department establish the course program, the syllabus, and certain course requirements. All of the students who take the course are supposed to receive the same academic preparation in the service course, no matter which professor or lecturer teaches it [sic] Consequently, a department may direct everyone who teaches the course to follow the same syllabus and other class requirements.

- Student evaluations are used by departments but never serve as the sole basis for evaluation of a lecturer's performance. To the contrary, under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, they cannot. Comprehensive evaluations of lecturers consider the lecturer's organization and presentation of the course material in accordance with the syllabus and at the appropriate academic level. [sic] Other criteria may include homework assignments, supplementary material, supervision of Graduate Student Instructors, and administration of examinations. This evaluation may entail assessments by faculty within the department.

- There is a formal appeal process through which a lecturer can challenge the merit of employment actions. General information about how lectures are appointed and the appeal processes available can be found in the collective bargaining agreement between the University and the UC-AFT. An electronic version of the contract can be found at this website address. Article 7a, Section A.2, describes the beginning and ending dates of appointments. Article 32 identify the internal Grievance Procedure."

While it is a positive step that there is a statement, it does not address the main points raised by my whistleblowing post of October 11th. In particular, the University's response does not answer the following questions:

  1. Is it true that student evaluation scores were omitted from my personnel file? If it is true, does the university think that this is appropriate?

  2. Is it true that my students from Math 1A, Fall 2013 performed an average of 0.17 grade points better the next semester in Math 1B compared to those students who had another instructor for Math 1A? Further, is it true that this information was also omitted from my personnel file? Does the University agree with me that the abuse of statistics that took place regarding that score gain constitutes scientific fraud? What consequences are there going to be for the people responsible for this scientific fraud?

  3. The University's statement says "The math department faculty here follow a teaching strategy by which entry level courses are uniform, so that all students who take such courses have the same foundation as they move forward." If it is true that there is an agreed upon teaching strategy, what is that strategy? What procedures are in place for when the strategy is not working and needs to change?

  4. The University's statement says "under the law, policy and a collective bargaining agreement we are prohibited from discussing the specifics of any lecturer's employment." Which specific laws, policies, and collective bargaining agreement provisions are being referred to here? I have already waived my confidentiality, as viewable here, so there is no reason not to respond.

  5. The University's statement says: "When lecturers come to work at the department, they are advised that their employment is for a limited period of time." That is not true. Before I accepted the position at Berkeley, the Chair of the Mathematics Department Arthur Ogus sent me a document entitled "Career Path of Progression in the Lecturer title", viewable here. I invite everyone to decide for themselves if this document gives the impression of an employment that is for a limited period of time. It clearly does not. This raises the question: Why is the University covering up for the wrongdoing of the Mathematics Department with more lies?

  6. It is noteworthy that the University's statement says "the UC Berkeley math department would like to provide significant details and respond to the allegations made by Alexander Coward." Providing significant details is not the same as saying that something is not true. The reason for this choice of language is clear: Every single word of what I said in my post of October 11th is true. The University should answer the following very simple question: Does the University think that what I've said is problematic or not? If the facts I'm reporting are problematic, what is going to be done about this fact?

Rather than answering the hard questions raised in my whistleblowing post of October 11th, the University is continuing to lie about facts. Moreover it is trying to once again defend the notion of department norms. How can there be innovation and improvement when you are not allowed to deviate from department norms? And what exactly are the departmental norms in the Mathematics Department? Even without talking about me or my teaching, the Mathematics Department and the University should answer this very simple question, and have the courage to publish whatever department norms they say are so important.

A pattern is emerging here for how UC Berkeley deals with problems. First, it ignores the problem, irrespective of how many students are not getting the educational experience they are entitled to as a result. Then it tries to belittle the people who point out the problems. Then it says how eminent the people and departments responsible for the problems are, and claims there to be another side of the story without saying what that is, hoping that peoples' imaginations will do the University's dirty work for them.

When is the leadership of UC Berkeley going to learn that the wellbeing of its students being undermined by faculty abusing their power is more than just a PR problem?

In the original advertisement for my position it called for someone with "demonstrated excellence and leadership in teaching at university level". I believe I am showing that leadership. Who will join me? Is there no-one in the leadership of UC Berkeley who has the courage to do something about what has been going on and continues to go on in the Mathematics Department? Is no-one going to take responsibility?

Chancellor Dirks, in your Op-Ed for the Daily Cal of March 6th, 2015, you wrote of the need to address the undergraduate experience at Berkeley with "a new level of urgency and continued commitment to ensure that we provide the right kind of experience and opportunities for all of our extraordinary students."

Where is your urgency now? It has been almost a month since I blew the whistle and there has been no denial, and yet no acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Either what I've said is false, in which case there should be a denial, or it is true and people should admit mistakes and commit to correcting them. Your continued silence on the hard questions I am raising speaks volumes.

Where is your leadership, Chancellor Dirks? Have you learned nothing from the Geoff Marcy affair? There is a time when only the head of an organization can resolve matters. There is a time when leadership is called for. That time is now.

If you continue to stay silent it will make clear to the world that having the highest student evaluations on record by some distance, students doing statistically significantly better in subsequent courses, and every evaluation of one's teaching reporting "extraordinary skills at lecturing, presentation, and engaging students" is indeed in breach of department norms, and that that kind of teaching is not welcome at the University of California, Berkeley.

Chancellor Dirks, it is time for you write to the entire campus community and make clear once and for all whether the facts I reported on October 11th, 2015 are in keeping with the values of UC Berkeley or not. And if they are not, you should say what is going to be done about this fact.

Shame on you, Chancellor Dirks, for your silence.

Alexander Coward