Home / General / New frontiers in law school administrative sleaziness: The Ann Bartow case

New frontiers in law school administrative sleaziness: The Ann Bartow case


The University of New Hampshire’s law school has fired a senior tenured faculty member, on what are transparently pre-textual grounds. The real reason she was fired is because she criticized the law school’s administration, and the school’s dean, Megan Carpenter, decided to fabricate grounds for firing her.

The only person who deserves to be fired here, preferably into the Sun, is Dean Carpenter, whose behavior is shocking even by the abysmally low standards I’ve come to expect from people in her position.

The relevant documents are here.

I’m going to pick out just one of the many outrageous things Dean Carpenter did: She assigned Prof. Bartow to teach a class that Prof. Bartow very much did not want to teach, and indeed said she was afraid of teaching, for the apparent purpose of generating bogus student complaints against Prof. Bartow, which could then be “leveraged,” as they say in the business schools, to help find Prof. Bartow guilty of “deliberate neglect of duty” — the extraordinarily high bar the university had to meet to justify firing Prof. Bartow.

The class in question was Gender & the Law. From the union’s brief:

Expert testimony confirmed that Professor Bartow was reasonable to fear the course. Mary
Anne Case, a nationally renowned expert in the law of sex, gender, and sexuality who has been a
professor at the University of Chicago for decades, explained that even she, a published author
with well-known views on the subject, would take pause before teaching Gender & the Law.125
And she explained that the risk was even greater for a non-expert like Professor Bartow:

Q. So you found when she approached you that there were certainly some reasonable
concerns with—I guess the assignment coming down?

A. Huge concerns. I mean, you know, especially for someone like Ann, who although
she has written at the intersection of IP and gender, has never held herself out or taught
anything like that before, a general survey case—course on gender and the law.
And these concerns extend to—you know, to experts in the field like me. All of us
approach this area these days with caution and some trepidation, and all of us know that
if we teach it, there are—there’s nothing but minefields. And the difference between
someone like me who is concentrated in this area and a bit of an expert in this area is I,
at least, know where all the land mines are.

That doesn’t mean I can avoid all of them, I’m going to step on one or two willy-nilly in
any event, but someone like Ann can’t even know where all the land mines are.126

She also explained that the risk was not merely of offending someone or even of employment
consequences. Rather, she explained that no matter how you teach the course, you’re likely to
traumatize some students without realizing it.127

This theoretical student trauma was soon actualized in practice:

A few weeks into the class, around September 5, the administration apparently began
receiving complaints from students. For instance, on September 5, the director of the Beauregard
Center144 apparently wrote to the administration to report outreach from a student concerned about the course’s content. The email reported that the student was “uncomfortable with the
professor’s interpretation of sex/gender and the use of these terms being used
interchangeably.”145 The director explained that “Professor Bartow is using the terms
synonymously and her reasoning is because that is how the law interprets it.”146 (As Professor
Case explained, the law is an outlier in academic fields in treating the terms “sex” and “gender”
as synonymous; Professor Bartow was absolutely correct and the students were absolutely wrong
to fault her for it.147)

The whole thing is like that.

Prof. Mark Lemley of Stanford Law School is organizing a boycott of UNH if Prof. Bartow is not reinstated.

This case illustrates the lengths to which law school and university administrators will go to sanction internal critics for the crime of abusing the concept of academic freedom by criticizing those administrators. As various law schools go through increasingly severe economic crises, the incentives to get rid of expensive senior faculty members via whatever means necessary are only going to become more intense.

And a particularly frightening innovation here is using “the customer is always right” logic of the corporatized university to quash faculty dissent.

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