The Committee on Academic Freedom released a report on May 24, after an Academic Senate meeting was held regarding statements made by Elman in June 2009 in which he ordered Biernacki not to publish his book “Inside the Rituals of Social Science.” Biernacki’s book critiques the work and data use of other sociologists, including that of a colleague within the UCSD sociology department.
“To the best of my knowledge…the dean never received and therefore never read my manuscript before he directed me not to publish it upon threat of dismissal,” Biernacki said. “His preemptive injunction expresses a new extreme of administrative paranoia.”
Elman sent a letter to Biernacki on June 16, 2009 with claims that Biernacki’s critique of the colleague — anonymously identified as Professor B — in his manuscript constituted harassment.
“You are to stop harassing [Professor B],” Elman stated in the letter. “…do not publish texts that refer to [Professor B].”
The letter also threatens formal discipline which includes “written censure, reduction in salary, demotion, suspension or dismissal.”
“We were flabbergasted and couldn’t believe that any dean could have written such a thing,” CAF Committee Member and associate professor of history Sarah Schneewind said.
Biernacki has been a State of California Whistleblower since 2007, which means he can disclose information to law and government agencies about his place of work with reasonable cause.
“The dean’s astonishing attacks on me as a State of California Whistleblower raise grave legal issues,” Biernacki said.
According to Schneewind, Elmer wrote the letter with approval from faculty and administration above him, and with the assistance of lawyers that work for UCSD.
“That all did not bode well for the future of academic freedom at the university,” Schneewind said.
Academic Senate Chair Frank Powell drafted a resolution denouncing the dean’s actions, which passed 25-4 at the May 24 meeting, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.
Biernacki claims he has not spoken to Professor B since 2006 and has decreased his visibility within the department in light of this situation to maintain his duties as a professor.
“The dean’s so-called harassment charge [toward Professor B] centers only on a meticulously researched publication of mine,” Biernacki said. “The dean never cited to me an objectionable passage.”
The publication — originally sent to Duke University Press in June 2009 — was also included in Biernacki’s request to be considered for a promotion which requires publishing a second book. Biernacki was forced to withdraw his personnel file and retract his submission for promotion in light of the manuscript.
Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Suresh Subramani announced at the May 24 Academic Senate meeting that Biernacki is now able to publish his manuscript.
“We deeply regret that statements made by [Dean Elman] have led to questions about the administration’s commitment to academic freedom rights,” Subramani and Powell said in a statement.
Schneewind has since suggested that administrators be required to take a seminar on academic freedom — similar to the sexual harassment seminars that are already required by the university.
Professor B’s identity has not been released, therefore he/she could not be reached for comment. Elman could not be reached for comment. Powell refused to comment.