Although Prof. Roman said he could not recall who in the
administration initially approached him with the idea of offering the
course, from interviews with the relevant parties it appears that the
course originated in the Office of the President. In the months before
it was assigned to Prof. Portlock, meetings took place between Prof.
Roman, Ms. Borrero, the Vice President for Student Affairs Eija
Ayravainen, and the Pre-Law Program Coordinator Barbara Landress to
determine which department would offer this course.
According to Prof. Roman, he chose Tim Portlock to teach the course
because, although he did not have the expertise necessary, Prof.
Portlock is a junior faculty member, and as Chair, Prof. Roman tried to
give untenured faculty the opportunity to teach high profile courses.
Prof. Roman attested to the fact that Prof. Portlock did not object to
the teaching assignment. Prof. Roman also mentioned that he told Prof.
Portlock that it would be good for Prof. Portlock to be visible to the
administration. After Prof. Portlock expressed concern over his own lack
of familiarity with the course content, Prof. Roman assigned an adjunct
with public relations experience, Ben Weissman, to assist him.
During the subcommittee's interview with Prof. Portlock, Prof.
Portlock indicated that during conversations with Prof. Roman, Prof.
Portlock expressed extreme reluctance to teach the course for two
reasons: first, public relations and marketing are far outside his area
of expertise, which is web-based art; second, he objected to
corporate-sponsored courses for ethical reasons. Prof. Portlock also
said that he expressed his fear to Prof. Roman that if he did a
substandard job with it his tenure chances might be in jeopardy.
Moreover, Prof. Portlock communicated to the subcommittee his belief
that he was assigned the course because he was "the most vulnerable
faculty member" in the department due to an unsatisfactory evaluation of
his professional activity by the departmental P&B.
Over the course of the rest of the semester, Prof. Portlock said he
was in frequent (up to three times a week) communication with Ms.
Borrero or other staff in the President's office, representatives of the
IACC, Coach, and Paul Werth, the PR firm that represented the IACC.
According to Prof. Portlock, this led to a conference call with Prof.
Portlock, Mr. Weissman, and Melina Metzger, a Paul Werth employee. Prof.
Portlock asked how much leeway he had in presenting the issue of
counterfeiting. When Ms. Metzger said "We want you to teach all points
of view," Prof. Portlock reported that he asked if he could bring in
pro-counterfeiting perspectives. The attorney allegedly responded: "If
you think you're going to get some Senegalese guy to come in and unroll
his mat and show his wares, that's not going to happen." According to
Prof. Portlock, the attorney ended the conversation by saying "If you
think we're going to give $10,000 to a course that's going to be
critical of us, you're wrong." He asked her to repeat this, and she
Several of the parties interviewed testified to the fact that the
course put considerable stress on Prof. Portlock. Ultimately he had to
take responsibility for reserving space for student tabling, ordering
promotional items, and one week was on the telephone with vendors for
six to eight hours every day. Initially he charged $3,500 worth of goods
to his credit card, but eventually a system was worked out in which he
would request reimbursement from the office of the VP for Student
Affairs. According to Vice President Ayravainen, she often handles funds
from outside donors and approves reimbursements when the funds are
targeted for student use (e.g., scholarships). Although the funding was
specifically for course materials, Vice President Ayravainen explained
that at the time it seemed to be the most expedient way to issue
reimbursements since there is a well-established system to handle donor
contributions through her office.
Although Prof. Portlock told us that the students were enthusiastic
about the course and highly motivated, he expressed academic concerns
about the IACC guidelines for the course, most centrally that there were
no guidelines as to how he should evaluate student work, since, as he
put it "it was all about product."
At the May 2007 Film and Media departmental meeting, Prof. Roman
thanked Prof. Portlock for teaching the course. According to all members
of Film and Media that were interviewed, this caused immediate uproar
among the other faculty, who had no idea the course was being taught. At
the October 10th meeting, Prof. Parisi reported on the course. The rest
of the faculty expressed unease with what had transpired. The department
decided that in future any potential sponsored courses should be vetted
by the entire departmental Curriculum Committee, and that the course
itself was a mistake that should not be repeated.
Given the findings above, the committee has come to the following
1. Although Prof. Roman maintained that Prof. Portlock was neutral,
even pleased, to teach MEDP 299.48, we do not believe that was the case.
This is more than a case of competing versions of events: all our other
interviewees from Film and Media were clear in their belief that Prof.
Portlock was coerced into teaching this course. They all commented on
Prof. Portlock's embarrassment at having to acknowledge he was teaching
it and his emotional stress both before and during the semester in which
the course was offered. Moreover, they were all in agreement that Prof.
Portlock was selected to teach the course because he was newly hired,
untenured, and vulnerable, even though he was wholly unqualified to
teach this material. This clearly contravenes the American Association
of University Professors (AAUP)'s standard on academic freedom as stated
in its 1940 Statement on Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure,
"Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the
protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student
to freedom in learning." In this case, it is impossible to separate the
question of freedom to teach in one's area of expertise from the issue
of tenure. Prof. Portlock's desire for tenure left him open to coercion
in ways that a tenured faculty member would not have experienced. Prof.
Roman's attempt to reassure Prof. Portlock that the administration would
be very pleased if Prof. Portlock did a good job on this course seems to
us to qualify as much as a threat as a comfort.
2. At the same time, our interviewees agreed that Prof. Roman did not
necessarily intend to coerce Prof. Portlock. Even Prof. Portlock himself
concluded that Prof. Roman "probably thought he was doing me a favor."
Given our further conclusions below, we believe that the violations of
academic freedom in this case extend beyond what we agree was the
infringement of Prof. Portlock's rights. While we do believe that Prof.
Roman behaved inappropriately, particularly in not consulting with his
departmental P&B committee before assigning the course, we did not find
any evidence that he intended to harm Prof. Portlock's tenure candidacy.
3. The IACC Professor/Faculty Advisor Project Kit makes clear that
only one point of view is acceptable for the course. Moreover, Prof.
Portlock's suggestion that contrary opinions be aired was summarily
(and, apparently, disrespectfully) dismissed. This also clearly and
seriously subverts the tenets of academic freedom. In its 1940
Statement, the AAUP maintains that "Teachers are entitled to freedom in
the classroom in discussing their subject." In its 1970 interpretation
of the 1940 principles, the AAUP clarifies this point: "Controversy is
at the heart of free academic inquiry." The committee concludes that
controversy was not allowed in the course: only one perspective was
allowed, which was that of the IACC. It is important to note that this
was an infringement not only of Prof. Portlock's academic freedom
rights, but also of the academic freedom rights of the students who took
the course. Students enrolled in the special topics course were not
provided with materials or the opportunity to pursue multiple points of
view of the counterfeit product market. The IACC course pack imposed a
narrow and biased perspective in the classroom; students were not
presented with a scholarly analysis of the counterfeit market. Moreover,
the IACC's emphasis on the Coach company's financial contribution to the
course, and the lavish funds available to instructors, at the very least
suggest that the IACC believed that they were paying for a service, a
service that brooked no challenge to its message.
4. The committee also concludes that the IACC (in the person of
Melina Metzger and the IACC attorney) actively interfered in the
content, process, and teaching of this course over the semester in which
it was offered. This is clearly a violation of academic freedom for the
reasons listed above. Although the committee finds that the President's
office did not directly interfere with the course during the semester,
it feels that the frequent and repeated communication with Prof.
Portlock was unusual and inappropriate administrative involvement. The
committee also wonders why the office of the Vice President for Student
Affairs was involved with the administration of the funds for the
course, rather than the Vice President for Academic Affairs. The
committee finds that there was an inappropriate blurring of
administration and curricular concerns making it difficult for Prof.
Portlock to exercise his right of academic freedom in the classroom and
raises questions about shared governance, in particular the faculty's
oversight of the curriculum.
5. While several of our interviewees were convinced that this course
was a direct result of a large donation to Hunter by Lew Frankfort, the
CEO of Coach, we did not have access to any information that could prove
or disprove that belief. Moreover, it seems to us that courses with
corporate sponsorship in their own right do not violate academic freedom
as long as there is no coercion involved at any stage. While we do have
questions about the larger academic ethics of Hunter's offering courses
that are generated by corporations or that are linked to donations, we
believe that it is up to the Senate or individual departments to decide,
as Film and Media has done, how to approach such courses. In addition,
we commend the Film and Media Studies Department in formulating a
meaningful policy to deal with sponsored courses that ensures that such
courses meet with approval of a committee of faculty members. We
strongly recommend that other departments consider enacting similar
guidelines specific to courses receiving funding from outside of Hunter.
In summary, the committee concludes that there were three aspects of
MEDP 299.48 that circumvented the academic freedom rights of Prof.
Portlock and his students.
-- The most egregious aspect was that free inquiry into multiple
points of view was effectively blocked despite the expressed desire of
the instructor to promote such inquiry. Only a single point of view, a
distinctly non-scholarly perspective that came from outside of the
Academy and hence not subject to the usual rigor of peer-review and
other academic standards of higher education, was presented during the
-- The unconventional nature of the course, both in its genesis
(i.e., from outside of Hunter), and the extremely narrow perspective
presented in the IACC's Professor/Faculty Advisor Project Kit, clearly
invites discussion about substantive issues of pedagogy at Hunter. The
choice of an untenured faculty member whose expertise falls well outside
of the scope of the IACC course material predisposed a situation which
made it difficult for the instructor to exercise his academic freedom
rights, both in his ability to refuse to teach the class beforehand, and
in his ability to control the subject matter presented while the course
-- Content of courses at Hunter is reserved to individual faculty,
and the faculty collectively through the Hunter College Senate. There
was unwarranted involvement in the course from parts of the
administration that are not charged with curricular substance, i.e., the
Office of the President and the Office of Student Affairs. This blurring
of the definitions of shared governance specifically contributed to the
academic freedom concerns articulated above.
In closing the committee notes that there is much deeply troubling
about the genesis and execution of MEDP 299.48 beyond issues of academic
freedom. This episode raises concerns about the ethics of pedagogy in
higher education today -- concerns that deserve discussion by the
College community. Sponsored courses seem not to violate academic
freedom in their own right, but invite manipulations of the usual
principles of classroom discussion. More discomfiting, the course in
question, MEDP 299.48, made use of Hunter students to advance corporate
interests, and created a false ad campaign(2) that deceived Hunter
students (who were not in the class). The nature of the course allowed
for a casual approach to the dignity of students and relied on deception
to achieve some of its aims -- which were, we emphasize, as much
corporate as pedagogical. While we cannot say that these ethical
questions amount to outright violations of assumed principles of
academic freedom, we note that they share with the academic-freedom
concerns explicated above a disregard for the usual practices of
pedagogy and the principles of teaching at Hunter College.
1 The Committee agreed that the subcommittee should only approach
persons with a current Hunter College affiliation. Hence, Ms. Metzger
and Mr. Weissman who has left Hunter and is currently out of state were
not interviewed on this point.
(2) "Hunter's campaign", as the IACC's website puts it, centered
around a fictional student who posted fliers "all over the campus
advertising a $500 reward for her [lost] bag". After receiving a
counterfeit bag for her $500, this fictional character then created a
blog, a YouTube video, and MySpace.com and Facebook.com Web pages to
"educate her peers about counterfeiting by using online tools in
conjunction with an on-campus event."