Bard Sanctions Star Professor Accused of Calling a Colleague ‘Nigger’ and ‘Fag’

In the age of microaggression, was the punishment too weak? Maybe not—if the incidents never happened.

Picturesque Ward Manor at picturesque Bard College. (Ben Ramirez /Wikimedia Commons)

Picturesque Ward Manor at picturesque Bard College. (Ben Ramirez /Wikimedia Commons)

This has been a strange year for speech on college campuses. Depending on perspective, one was either cheered or disgusted by the parade of incidents that advanced a seemingly brand new campus right—the right not to be offended, or even uncomfortable, ever, for any reason. The parade of trigger warnings, microaggressions, and new rules governing faculty-student interactions has been unrelenting:

  • At Brandeis, the Asian American Students Association had to apologize for displaying anti-Asian microaggressions in an anti-discrimination exhibit—brutal messages sure to do lasting damage to those forced to read them such as “You don’t look Asian” and “Why do Asians always hang out together?”—because the exhibit itself triggered pain and discomfort in some students.
  • At UCLA, students staged a sit-in to protest racial discrimination and a “hostile and toxic environment for students.” One of the issues was that Professor Val Rust corrected grammar and spelling as a form of “micro-aggression.”
  • The entire run of the satirical student paper The Gazette had to be destroyed lest students at the University of Western Ontario be harmed by an article titled “So You Want to Date a Teaching Assistant?”
  • Speakers such as David Horowitz, Ann Coulter, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and even Condoleezza Rice have routinely found their invitations to visit campuses rescinded because of the danger the expression of their ideas would present to the students.
  • Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis, who has fought for feminist causes her whole career, wrote a story for The Chronicle of Higher Education called “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe,” noting that she had slept with her professors when she was an undergraduate, so 30 students marched on the administration building (carrying mattresses, because … sexual exploitation), and delivered a petition and statement praying that the “Northwestern community will meet Kipnis’s toxic ideas with resounding opprobrium, because they have no place here.” Two students actually lodged complaints against Ms. Kipnis with NU’s Title IX coordinator.
  • At Columbia University, which seeks to lead the world in all academic pursuits, including the sensitivity of its pupils, a student became the first person since AD 8 to be “triggered” by a class discussion of Ovid’s masterpiece “Metamorphoses.” The professor’s focus “on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery” failed to take into consideration that she was a survivor of sexual assault. In an article in the Columbia Spectator, four members of the school’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board, said the young woman “did not feel safe in the class.” Worse, when she reported her unsafeness to the unsafe professor who had made her feel unsafe, she felt “dismissed” and “ignored.” Those feelings are even worse than unsafe.

It’s easy to make fun of this stuff. It’s practically the job of college students to be overwrought and on the lookout for injustices real and perceived. They’ll grow out of it. And of course it’s to the good that sexual assault on campus is finally being taken seriously.

But is there a risk that the silliness of the microaggression movement desensitizes us to non-micro aggression? In the same way that Rolling Stone having basically invented a gang-rape may have allowed actual rapists to evade responsibility by making victims reluctant to report, are those students petitioning and protesting and carrying on about bogus slights making it tougher for university community members to find relief if they’re actually face a hostile environment?

When I first started thinking about this, I began asking questions of lawyers I knew to be working on university workplace issues. I didn’t get anywhere at first—all of these investigations are conducted in secret. And then, all of a sudden, I received a document that has never seen the light of day. And probably won’t—the law firm from which the document came appears to be reconsidering its legal strategy.

But the story told in the documents, and in subsequent reporting, reveals just how tortured universities have become as the twin values of free exchange of ideas butts up against contemporary expectations of pain-free workplaces. A system allegedly designed to protect students has been contorted into a cudgel that can be used to attack professors and other university workers, complete with kangaroo courts, secret tribunals and arbitrary punishments.

Here’s what happened, as told via never-before shared legal documents, and a series of over 20 interviews with most of the principal characters.

After an investigation, Professor Craig Anderson was stripped of his leadership position within the department. He maintains that he was never given a proper opportunity to defend himself or dispute the charges. (Bard faculty web page)

After an investigation, Professor Craig Anderson was stripped of his leadership position within the department. He maintains that he was never given a proper opportunity to defend himself or dispute the charges. (Bard faculty web page)

Craig Anderson is a professor of chemistry at Bard College, the elite private school that overlooks the Hudson River about a hundred miles north of the city. He has taught chemistry there since 2001. He became Chemistry Program Director in 2005, publishing regularly and winning the prestigious Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award in 2011 and being named Wallace Benjamin Flint and L. May Hawver Professor of Chemistry in 2013.

Meanwhile, in 2013, a laboratory technician named Dwane Decker filed a Title IX complaint alleging that Mr. Anderson had created a hostile workplace environment at Bard. Some sort of proceeding was held, in secret, and Mr. Anderson was found to have done so. Whether that proceeding could even be called a “hearing” is the subject of dispute, as we’ll see later. But Mr. Anderson was stripped of his directorship and required to attend “professional coaching on setting appropriate boundaries with coworkers and subordinates.”

Mr. Anderson disputed the findings and has steadfastly maintained that the accusations by Mr. Decker were completely fabricated. According to Mr. Anderson, he and Mr. Decker had shared a productive work relationship as friendly colleagues for years. Mr. Decker only turned on him when Mr. Anderson declined to support Mr. Decker for a teaching assignment for which Mr. Anderson believed Mr. Decker was not qualified.

The process itself was so secretive that the only known news story about it, which appeared in Capital New York this past April, says that, “the exact nature of the Title IX complaint is unclear” and refers only to a “pattern of workplace harassment.”

Meanwhile, things got even hairier.

Mr. Anderson completely disputed the findings. Mr. Anderson’s lawyer, Ron Dunn at Albany firm Gleason, Dunn, Walsh & O’Shea, told the Observer that Mr. Anderson “filed for a formal grievance procedure as incorporated in the collective bargaining agreement between Bard College and the AAUP (American Association of University Professors), Bard categorically refused and said they would only agree to the contractual grievance procedure if ordered to do so by a court.”

So now, the AAUP is suing Bard to do just that. According to Mr. Dunn, “We are very confident that ultimately the grievance will allow Prof. Anderson to completely vindicate his conduct.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Decker took his Title IX complaint to the next level. He filed an official complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights. According to the Bard legal document that came into the Observer’s possession, the NYDHR joined Bard in concluding, “There was probable cause that the complainant [Decker] had been sexually harassed based on his sex and perceived sexuality.”

In response to the Professor's union lawsuit, Bard's lawyers wrote a legal document that goes nuclear on Professor Anderson, alleging that he simulated oral sex and called his colleague "nigger," "little girl" and "fag." This document was provided to the Observer by a source inside Bard's law firm. It is unclear whether these incendiary charges, which were not leveled in the complainant's original grievance, will be included in Bard's final response, which is due to the court by the end of the month.

In response to the Professor’s union lawsuit, Bard’s lawyers wrote a legal document that goes nuclear on Professor Anderson, alleging that he simulated oral sex and called his colleague “nigger,” “little girl” and “fag.” This document was provided to the Observer by a source inside Bard’s law firm. It is unclear whether these incendiary charges, which were not leveled in the complainant’s original grievance, will be included in Bard’s final response, which is due to the court by the end of the month.

The document that the Observer has is Bard’s response to the AAUP’s lawsuit demanding a hearing. And it’s a doozy. If all you had to go by was Bard’s response, things look horrible for Mr. Anderson.

The draft of Bard’s response that was leaked to the Observer claims that according to the NYDHR, Mr. Anderson “sexually harassed Complainant by making sexual comments, taunts, intimidating Complainant and threatening to remove him from a financially rewarding teaching assignment.” Bard further quotes the NYDHR report, saying that it found that “with hand and mouth gestures, Mr. Anderson said, ‘This is how [name of a female known to both Decker and Anderson redacted] was blowing me. Do you like that?” Then it says that Mr. Anderson called Mr. Decker “nigger,” “little girl” and “fag.”

No wonder both sides have fought to keep these accusations secret—neither Bard nor Mr. Anderson wants the parents of kids who pay $48,240 a year to think its labs are run by Mel Gibson with a chemistry set.

If true, it’s incredibly damning stuff—a career-ender, one would imagine, tenure or no tenure. Furthermore, it really does paint a picture of a hostile workplace. One immediately envisions an African American lab assistant who is being ridiculed by a racist and homophobic superior, and if that’s the case, one’s heart cries out for justice.

But wait a minute.

Things are not as they’d appear from the NYDHR report.

For one thing, Dwane Decker is a white guy. And a heterosexual one at that. And Mr. Anderson was not his superior. Not that those are nice words to use toward anyone, but certainly there’s a difference, right? What’s even stranger is that Decker’s original complaint—the one to Bard, that is, rather than the Human Rights one—made no such claims. It is impossible to fathom a situation where someone complaining about a hostile workplace would neglect to include the n-word and the gay-bashing stuff, had they indeed occurred. It would be like charging Lee Harvey Oswald only for trespassing at the book depository.

But that’s the problem with these Title IX hearings generally. They’re not even “hearings.” Because of the desire to protect the victim from further trauma, traditional protections of western court proceedings—things like seeing the evidence and confronting one’s accuser—are not granted. According to Mr. Dunn, the lawyer for Mr. Anderson, “There has never been a hearing anywhere. There is a fundamental difference between an investigator asking people questions separately in private meetings and a hearing where witnesses are questioned under oath before some type of hearing officer, arbitrator or judge and subject to cross examination. All that happened here is that an investigator interviewed people separately. No one was questioned under oath or subject to questioning by anyone other than the investigator. We were never allowed to question anyone ever.”

Dwane Decker, a lab technician at Bard college, filed a Title IX complaint and a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights alleging that his coworker, Chemistry Professor Craig Anderson, had created a hostile working environment. (Bard faculty web page)

Dwane Decker, a lab technician at Bard college, filed a Title IX complaint and a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights alleging that his coworker, Chemistry Professor Craig Anderson, had created a hostile working environment. (Bard faculty web page)

Other strange anomalies occured that would never withstand the heat of a cross-examination. For example, in this investigation—conducted by Bard’s Director of Human Resources Fiona Smarrito, who brought in outside investigator Sarah Sholes—at least a couple faculty members who weren’t thrilled with Mr. Anderson took the opportunity to criticize him to the investigator for allegedly manipulating junior faculty in his program. But those junior faculty themselves have completely denied that accusation and actually praise Prof. Anderson as a mentor and professional colleague. Despite that, the investigator credited the hearsay word of the senior faculty about the treatment of junior faculty over the word of the junior faculty themselves, even though some of those junior faculty have since become tenured professors and still support Mr. Anderson. (It’s hard not to say ” Mr. Anderson” in the voice of the bad guys in The Matrix.)

Item 18 of the union’s lawsuit against Bard states that “Bard has never shared a copy of its original internal investigation report with the Union or Professor Anderson, nor has it otherwise disclosed to the Union or Professor Anderson the investigator’s findings or Bard’s conclusions with respect to any allegations in the Title IX complaint involving Professor Anderson.”

To this day, Mr. Anderson and his legal team have never seen that report—the report that led to him being knocked out as Program Director and barred from attending certain faculty governance meetings for three years.

What’s more, the Division of Human Rights complaint was withdrawn by Mr. Decker based on a settlement he made with the college, where he continues to work in the lab. According to his lawyer, Mr. Anderson “was not a party to that agreement. Prof. Anderson gave no considerations of any kind and was waiting for our day in court. We told them that their case had no merit.”

So the DHR case against Prof. Anderson was dropped right before the first hearing that would have allowed Mr. Anderson to cross examine the witnesses and review the evidence. And yet in its answer to the lawsuit, Bard repeatedly cites the DHR’s findings as justification why it doesn’t need to hear Mr. Anderson’s appeal. In other words, the DHR made a finding that Mr. Anderson behaved badly. Before Mr. Anderson got a chance to defend himself per DHR rules, his accuser withdrew the complaint. But now Bard is citing that DHR finding in its response to AAUP’s demand for Mr. Anderson’s day in court as proof that he already had his day.

It is Kafkaesque.

Even reporting this story featured several weird twists. After first laying hands on Bard’s response, I reached out to Bard’s law firm, Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP, to try to ask lead lawyer Scott A. Gold for a comment. Sun Min, who handles 
Public Relations for the law firm, emailed me: “Great to be connected. I understand you’re working on a story involving one of our cases. I’m here to help. Did you have a fact-checking question or any other inquiry?”

I called Ms. Min at the number she provided. I told her I wanted to talk to her or someone at Schulte about Bard. She literally wouldn’t even confirm to me that the firm represented Bard. She nervously said, “I need to phone you right back.” I then emailed: “As the public relations manager, is it customary for you to email a reporter saying you are ‘here to help’ and then decline even to say who you represent?” Ms. Min never called me back and declined to answer further emails and phone calls—remember, it was she who reached out to me first.

Bard's response to the AAUP lawsuit relies heavily on findings made by the NYDHR. But the complaint to the NYDHR was withdrawn by the alleged victim. That placed the accused feeling like he was fighting ghosts who were leveling possible career-ending charges at him.

Bard’s response to the AAUP lawsuit relies heavily on findings made by the NYDHR. But the complaint to the NYDHR was withdrawn by the alleged victim. That placed the accused feeling like he was fighting ghosts who were leveling possible career-ending charges at him.

Instead, I next heard from Marcia Horowitz at Rubenstein Associates, the PR firm. (Did you know that law firms have inside PR people and also hire outside PR agencies?) Ms. Horowitz told me Ms. Min didn’t know what she was doing and panicked. She apologized for Ms. Min’s strange behavior and told me, “If you have any other questions please give me a call. I will help if I can.” I told her that was pretty much what Ms. Min had said before cutting me off. “She was for helping before she was against it.” Then when I did have questions, Ms. Horowitz told me, “Though I called you on behalf of my client, Schulte Roth & Zabel, I am not involved in this matter.” Huh?

My questions directly to Mr. Gold, with Ms. Horowitz copied, also went unanswered (eventually, someone with an email address at Schulte called Mark Brossman got back to me, but he declined to tell me who he represented or in what capacity). Mr. Decker, the victim of Mr. Anderson’s alleged unkind words, also told me, “I have no comments.” He later emailed to tell me, “I have no idea where you are getting your information but it is not correct.” But he wouldn’t tell me what was incorrect. Then there was Mark Primoff, the in-house PR person at Bard. Starting on July 1, I called him and emailed him a dozen times with no response, unusual for the official communications person at a major institution. In sum, the Title IX process is not exactly transparent.

Mr. Anderson himself was a bit more forthcoming, but unsurprisingly let his lawyers do most of the talking. He did fill me in on how the reporting structure in the chemistry department at Bard works, and he told me that contrary to Bard’s assertion that he had undergone what it called “professional coaching on setting appropriate boundaries with coworkers and subordinates,” he in fact has not attended any training or coaching. He also told me, “The complainant was not my TA.” (I had initially misunderstood the relationship.) “He is a laboratory technician co-worker and former friend.” Mr. Anderson also clarified for me that he was not Mr. Decker’s supervisor, stating that the “laboratory technician has as his supervisor the Associate Dean.” That’s it.

* * *

But there was someone who was willing to talk: Leon Botstein, the legendary president of Bard College. I had been advised before speaking to President Botstein to head into it understanding two things: 1) He would be the smartest person I’ve ever interviewed and 2) He would let me know he is the smartest person I’ve ever interviewed. Double true.

Speaking in general terms about the way the culture is changing, Mr. Botstein said, “The University is being drawn in by this society into a conversation on the question of the character of gender and sexual relations, and about the morality and ethics of sexuality. And the reason it’s being drawn in is because one of the contingents in that debate is the question of power. So the ethical ideal of consenting adults gets parsed, if you will, by the differentials in all sorts of other issues of status. They could be wealth, they could be age, they could be power. So the decision—which is to my mind not a bad decision—is to take the posture of the ‘professional teacher.’

“This wasn’t always the case. There’s a change in the mores. John Kenneth Galbraith’s wife was a former student. The number of such people in the older generation is legend. There’s Heloise and Abelard. There’s no absence of history of teacher/student relationships. But, at the same time there’s no reason to think that this is essential, good, or relevant to the fundamental function of the University.

“I don’t think redefinition of the professional boundaries on the question of sexual conduct are necessarily deleterious to the fundamental function of the University, which is the pursuit of knowledge and the teaching of scholarship and perhaps it will create a climate where there’s greater debate about things which are really truly at the core of the University.”

I asked him about Craig Anderson, mistakenly calling him a biologist and it was like when Clarice Starling asks Hannibal Lecter to fill out the psychological profile.

“No, no, no—he’s not biology, he’s a chemist. Let’s get our facts right. The allegation, you have to look at the public record, is from an employee who exercised his rights under, you know, current law for workplace harassment, yeah.”

That was all Mr. Botstein would say to me on the record about Mr. Anderson, other than to add, “Your research has led you into an area which is completely sui generis and it just so happens that there are now statutes that allow employees to complain about certain kinds of behavior which would normally be harassment.”

Leon Botstein speaks during the "Changing Landscapes" panel during the TIME Summit On Higher Education on October 18, 2012 in New York City. (Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Leon Botstein speaks during the “Changing Landscapes” panel during the TIME Summit On Higher Education on October 18, 2012 in New York City. (Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Speaking generally, Mr. Botstein made a point of why universities, including Bard, should not try to pierce tenure and fire professors who behave badly. “I believe the University must go to grave lengths to protect great talent … Take the example of Albert Einstein. Albert Einstein was by all accounts a chronic womanizer, right. I don’t think it’s a good thing. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I don’t think it’s anything. Do you follow me? I actually probably think on balance it’s a bad thing, but it is who he was, and he…you always have to find a way… Beethoven was an irascible and abusive man shouting at everybody and with an horrific temper. My view is that deviancy and eccentricity are not neatly packaged. You cannot expect to have a brilliant scientist or great artist or great novelist be Ozzie and Harriet. It doesn’t work that way. So we have to find a way to sustain the protection of great ability at the margins, which may come with it the unfortunate patterns of behavior which are not necessarily admirable.”

One of the lingering questions here is why Bard is resisting Mr. Anderson’s appeal so strenuously. If the school really believes that Mr. Anderson used the language he was accused of using in the second Human Rights complaint, one would presume they’d be confident of a victory.

Mr. Botstein made crystal clear that he opposes an appeal, telling Union President Matthew Deady that Mr. Anderson’s grievance “does not fall within the purview of the AAUP.” He went further, writing “there should be no expectation that the administration will submit its compliance with Federal law to a faculty arbitration grievance process.” The school also maintains that Mr. Anderson was aware of the proceedings at all times, writing in their response: “At all times, Professor Anderson fully participated in the investigative process and knew the allegations against him. He was interviewed several times and asked pointed questions and had access to the NYDHR complaint, Bard’s response to the NYDHR complaint, as well as the summary of findings by the NYDHR.” Bard accuses the union of “attempting to get another bite at the apple under the guise that Professor Anderson was not afforded full due process.”

So we know the school opposes it but no one would tell me why they oppose it. Mr. Botstein wouldn’t discuss it in our otherwise free-ranging conversation and the lawyers at Schulte wouldn’t take my calls. According to Larry Cary, attorney for the AAUP, the matter is clear: “The contract with the AAUP outlines a grievance procedure that the College is obligated to follow. You would have to ask President Botstein why he does not think the College has to comply with the express provisions of the contract.”

According to Mr. Dunn, the lawyer for Mr. Anderson, the reason Bard doesn’t want an appeal is that even the milder original claims will unravel if exposed to the light of day.

“The texts ultimately are pretty tame. It is two guys bantering. It is quite clear that they are between two friends. A hearing will very quickly reveal that. … The gay issue is ridiculous. He is married to a female. As far as we know he is a heterosexual male. So is Anderson. It is absurd that we are even writing that. There was never ever a pass and no one suggested otherwise in any statement we saw. The original complaint had no such claim.” Same with the n-word. “That claim is also ridiculous.”

But one theory of Bard’s reluctance was expressed by a different lawyer involved in the case. That lawyer passed along a transcript that basically shows Scott Gold, the lawyer for Bard, saying that the reason the college doesn’t want an appeal is that its tenured professors who would hear the case under Title IX provisions are too stupid to understand the issues involved:

THE COURT: Well, I have a question for you. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just arbitrate this than to litigate it in this court?

GOLD: Perhaps cheaper, but, again, to go before a panel of tenured professors with no experience in this, and depending on what they decide, whether — what if they undo everything, and that means has the College taken an effective action under Title IX. That’s the concern. We don’t, we don’t know what could happen. You know, the — again, the arbitration panel, whoever they might be, are inexperienced in these kinds of claims, and, so, the concern is for the College under Title IX that it took appropriate action.

So that’s where things stand—both at Bard and in American higher education.

* * *

Title IX seems so simple on its face:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

But here at Bard we see a case that came before the school’s Title IX committee having nothing to do with sex. It was only after the Title IX decision came down that a sexual element—an alleged homosexual discrimination angle—was added, and that part was withdrawn. Despite the withdrawal, the school still uses the Title IX provisions as the basis of its decision to punish its professor, or at least to prevent him from appealing. No wonder his lawyer said to me that “Professor Anderson is in an Alice in Wonderland world where he stands accused of infractions which he categorically denies, is unable to see the reports upon which disciplinary action is taken against him, cannot confront his accuser, and has seen his reputation severely damaged.”

Unsurprisingly, the firm representing Bard sees it differently. According to Mark Brossman at Schulte Roth & Zabel, the lack of cross-examination opportunity is actually built into Title IX.

He told the Observer, “Title IX does not require a hearing. If a school conducts a hearing, Title IX does not require that a school allow cross-examination of witnesses, including the parties. In fact, the Office of Civil Rights strongly discourages allowing the parties to personally question or cross-examine each other during a hearing.” But how is that fair to the accused?

According to Mr. Brossman, Mr. Anderson got his shot at the NYDHR procedure, an assertion that Mr. Anderson’s team disputes. Using a slightly different acronym for the state’s agency, Mr. Brossman told the Observer, “Bard has no involvement with the charges set forth by the complainant. The NYSDHR complaint is governed by state and administrative law requirements, and was investigated by a representative of the NYSDHR. Mr. Anderson was represented by counsel and had full opportunity to respond to the charges.” But that complaint was withdrawn, which makes it all the more vexing for Mr. Anderson’s effort to clear his name. And Bard’s lawyers claim “no involvement” with the charges in the NYDHR complaint, but then cite that very NYDHR investigation in Bard’s official response, including the incredibly incendiary charge that Mr. Anderson called Mr. Decker “nigger,” “little girl” and “fag.”

This inconsistency might be at the heart of why Bard might be changing its legal strategy. According to the source from whom the Observer obtained the documents, Schulte and Mr. Gold might delete some of the offensive language cited in the NYDHR report from Bard’s response. We’ll know when they file on date by the end of the month. (One source told the Observer that Bard has made a motion to dismiss the complaint in lieu of filing an answer, so until that’s decided, it’s unclear whether the response, with its salty language, will see the light of day.) But in this charged climate of language policing, can a professor who was accused in legal documents of using such language ever fully recover?

Since Title IX’s passage in 1972, we have had a system in which the sledgehammer of federal money demands that procedures are put into place to protect students. But of late, many have mastered the manipulation of those procedures to deprive the accused of the rights they’d have under ordinary judicial proceedings.

Mr. Anderson has been accused of some pretty horrible things. He’s been punished by the university he’s faithfully served. And even President Botstein expressed reservations about the damage to a university’s intellectual rigor if these kangaroo courts are allowed to chill even ordinary speech between two adults.

“To Bard’s credit, Bard did not take the route of violating that individual’s tenure,” Mr. Botstein told me. “So if you want to look at that case from the point of view of the discussion we just had, Bard stood its ground in making the tenure superior. And that I thought was proper … America is a very conformist place, we want everybody to behave the same way and you cannot ask that of the University. In the University you are going to bring people who don’t do ordinary things. They study quantum mechanics. They study the nature of the universe. They ask questions ordinary people going to work every day don’t ask. They are writing poetry. They are writing novels. They are doing research about arcane aspects of medieval theology … looking once again at the texts of Sophocles. That’s not what ordinary people do. They are not ordinary people and you can’t necessarily ask them all to behave like your ideal, average citizen. They are not average citizens. You’re not going to get Pablo Picasso or Virginia Woolf or, Lord knows, Georgia O’Keefe. Forget the gender. Gertrude Stein. You’re not going to get them to play by some kind of extremely puritanical restrictive rules.”

I asked President Botstein, “I guess what you’re saying is at the end of the day you would rather have Virginia Woolf than a perfectly behaved, average mind.”

“Absolutely right. I’m about to do an opera by Dame Ethel Smyth, right. Dame Ethel Smyth, a woman composer, lesbian, suffragette, went to jail. Much to Virginia Woolf’s horror she came on to Virginia Wolfe. Now if this were a university setting, would I fire Dame Ethel Smyth? The University is finding a way in the current climate to protect the fact that we are in the business of institutionalizing and promoting the pursuit of knowledge and inquiry that requires exceptional talent and eccentricity. You know what I mean?”

Yeah, I do. It’s a beautifully articulated assessment that from my point of view exonerates Mr. Anderson, however awkward the banter between the two chemists—the two former friends—may have been.

As one lawyer involved in the case put it to me: “Remember Kissinger’s old line about academic politics—it is so vicious because the stakes are so low.”

Wardens Hall by Daderot (Wikimedia Commons)

Wardens Hall by Daderot. (Wikimedia Commons)

Bard Sanctions Star Professor Accused of Calling a Colleague ‘Nigger’ and ‘Fag’