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Help Fund My Supreme Court Appeal

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Raised by 46 people in 2 months

 

John is a huge asset to UVM...exceptional, approachable, fair and challenging...students enjoy his teaching.” —  Associate Dean Patricia Corcoran, Director of UVM's Student Affairs Division.

The above words were taken from a letter written by Dean Corcoran in support of my reappointment as lecturer in the University of Vermont's Department of Economics, where I successfully taught more than 75 courses, including two Honors College seminars, to over 2,500 students between September, 2009 and May, 2017.  I began my teaching career in 1989 in Connecticut, where I was raised.

But the Chair of my department and some faculty reviewers, using exaggerated and false claims, convinced the Dean to deny my reappointment during a review in late 2016. 

Despite proving there was no factual basis for the key claims against me, my grievance before the Vermont Labor Relations Board (VLRB) was dismissed earlier this year following a two-day hearing in February. Now I'm taking the next step required to seek justice -- I'm appealing the VLRB's decision to Vermont's Supreme Court. But I need your help.

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This is an important and necessary fight for our academic freedom. As Associate Dean Corcoran wrote in her letter, I am well known as being a "challenging" lecturer. To kick out a challenging, popular and veteran teacher, one who has top student evaluations, would seem to fly in the face of UVM's own values. Students have the right to hear all points of view.

In spite of this, UVM's Provost permitted a complete lack of accountability regarding the behavior of certain faculty, the Chair and the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. As I demonstrated to the VLRB,  exaggerated and false claims by peers and the Chair were sent to the Dean, who relied on these statements to deny my reappointment. This violated my procedural right to a fair review.

But the VLRB never addressed this evidence I provided to them. It was ignored in their written decision dismissing my grievance, which amounts to a denial of due process. 

 

UVM'S STANDARDS COMMITTEE VOTED IN MY FAVOR - NOT FOOLED BY CHAIR BEHAVIOR

My teaching threatened a number of powerful faculty in my department because it inspired many students to question conventional models that fail to address major public concerns -- like global warming, growing inequality and systemic market failure.

Many of the  faculty are professionally attached to these models - or do not care to fully and fairly educate students about the profound shortcomings of the standard economics curriculum and present the many alternatives . I have strived to be a challenging, interdisciplinary, unorthodox teacher and have always been embraced for it. My primary goal as an educator is to empower students to think for themselves by exposing them to a variety of economic viewpoints.

UVM's Department of Economics Chair took the lead in what UVM's highly respected Faculty Standards Committee(FSC) believes was a determined effort to remove me from the department, which was revealed by a whistleblower on the committee (entered into evidence at the VLRB).

In spite of the FSC's unanimous vote for my reappointment, UVM's Dean William Falls, who is professionally close to the Department of Economics Chair through work on some of his special committees, sided with her -- and my fate was sealed.

       

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"One of the few heterodox lecturers in the economics department, very popular with the students, was recently purged. He used the Freedom of Information Act to access the emails discussing his firing, and it is quite obvious that his crime was to challenge the economic orthodoxy, as he has chronicled in his blog. Economics departments appear to be advocates of competition everywhere except in ideas."

     --Josh Farley, Ph.D (on the removal of John Summa from the Department of Economics at UVM)

       UVM Professor, Community Development and Applied Economics
       Fellow, Gund Institute for Ecological Economics                   

 


CHAIR QUIETLY SOUGHT REMOVAL OF THE CORCORAN LETTER - A VOICE THAT STOOD IN THE WAY

In the letter cited above, Associate Dean Corcoran also noted the following: "We are often the first folks to hear when a course is going poorly or when an instructor is perceived as weak. Conversely we are also quite likely to hear when an instructor is exceptional - and that is the case with John."

This was too much for the Chair, as it stood in the way of painting me as a "poor" teacher. I proved in front of the VLRB panel that she sought to purge Dean Corcoran's letter so that my colleagues and other faculty would never see it.

The Chair wrote in an email to Dean Falls, which I obtained through a public records request, that having the Corcoran letter in my dossier would be "awkward" for the department, mainly her, if the vote went against me. Since she had already written three extremely negative peer reviews, the Chair knew a letter from the highly respected Dean Corcoran would contradict her false characterizations of my teaching.

Dean Corcoran is "very competent" and "honest" as the Provost admitted under oath during my examination of him. And Dean Falls admitted during examination that she has interacted with thousands of students, including many from economics, so she knows the score.


STUDENTS DEMANDED MY REAPPOINTMENT - AND DENOUNCED UVM

Here is a sample of comments from over 700 signers, mostly students, of a Change.org petition demanding my reinstatement:  

"I took a number of insightful, thought-provoking classes from Professor Summa during my time at UVM. I not only enjoyed them, but also left each one energized and enthused to continue learning, ask questions and demand answers."  

  -- Jasper Smith, Portland, OR

"John Summa was an excellent professor, mentor and friend to me. His lectures we’re always intellectually challenging, and he was willing to go the extra mile for students who wanted to learn more."

  -- Joe Begley, Boston, MA

"John Summa is one of my favorite professors. he is an amazing teacher, very patient, and very helpful."  

  -- Alison Ambrosecchio, Stamford, CT

"I came to UVM with the hope that I would experience a diverse learning community where my preconceived notions and ideas could be challenged. Professor Summa encouraged me to question accepted economic theories, think beyond what I had previously learned, and helped create a classroom environment where no idea would be laughed away as being ‘too radical’. Silencing this kind of creative thought and preventing the spread of new ideas is not only against what I believe but seems to contradict the values shared by the University of Vermont. Professor Summa should have his contract renewed so others may be exposed to a learning environment where new and challenging ideas exist."

   -- Alan McKinnon, Burlington, VT

"This man is a phenomenal teacher and kept EVERYONE interested every class period. This is honestly a disgrace. Shame on you UVM."  

   --Jesse Schandler, Burlington, VT


HELP ME STOP THIS ATTACK ON ACADEMIC FREEDOM - STUDENTS HAVE THE RIGHT TO HEAR ALL POINTS OF VIEW

With top student ratings, the Chair had to resort to false claims about my teaching to persuade faculty to vote against me -- and to convince Dean Falls to go along with the purge. It worked, so far.

But we can still bring about a just outcome if I can bring the facts to the Justices of the Vermont Supreme Court and let them apply the arguments to these facts -- arguments and facts the Vermont Labor Relations Board refused to engage and evaluate despite having them in their possession.

I need your help to cover legal costs - including attorney and filing fees, Labor Board transcript costs, and copying costs. Actually, $4,500 is a small price to pay for defending academic freedom and for standing up to bullies who must be told "you cannot do this to exceptional teachers from whom students have the right to learn".

Thank you for your support!

Sincerely,

~ John Summa, Ph.D

(John is a 30-year veteran lecturer of economics, author, journalist, filmmaker and former nationally ranked professional freestyle skier)

 

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Update 9/10/2018....UVM President now claims responsive public documents "don't exist". Before filing my civil complaint in Superior Court, I am giving UVM one more chance with an absolutely air tight request so they cannot come to court and claim they were "diligent" in their search for requested records (of course, the records they chose to focus on, as the following "new" request makes clear)

Thanks for your continued support. See truncated new request below.


Dear Mr. Derr,

The definition of a “public record” is very broad and includes “any written or recorded information, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which is produced or acquired in the course of public agency business.” 1 V.S.A. § 317(b).

Under this definition, any paper or electronic document, including email (and attachments), computer files, or other digital document, image or recording produced or acquired by a municipality or a municipal officer in the course of municipal business is generally a public record and cannot be destroyed.

Furthermore, such information that fits into the above statutory definition is a public record even if it is sent from a personal email address, texted to a personal iPhone, or stored on a personal computer (Toensing v. The Attorney General of Vermont, 2017 VT 99).

Therefore, I am responding to your email from August 27 where you claim that "records requested [in my August 10, 2018 public records request] do not exist”, a conclusion you claim was reached after “conducting a diligent search” and which President Sullivan, under appeal, claims is true. Yet, UVM’s response is focused on only one or two documents requested, thus imposing a narrow and literal interpretation on my request despite my clarification of the nature of the documents sought.

Therefore, so there is no confusion, I am now submitting to you a “new” public records request (since you prefer until now to respond to a very narrow interpretation of my previous request). As noted to you previously, substantial proof exists that there are responsive records in your possession that pertain to the Provost’s memo of 9/23/2014 (here again attached; “Evaluation of Teaching Performance” and submitted to you previously) regarding new "models" and new or plans for new college-wide "guidelines" for evaluating faculty in and outside the Dept of Economics annually and in RPT.

Given the above, you have made it necessary to request ALL of the following pursuant to my rights under Vermont’s Public Records Act: These all fit the definition of public records, as outlined above, and thus cannot be destroyed, pursuant to the VT Pubic Records Act.

1. All electronic and hard copy communications and documents pertaining or related to Provost Rosowsky’s memo dated 9/23/2014 (see attached COD.Evaluations.9.23.14_Provost_New Eval Approach.pdf (1,057K).

a) This request includes any public records related or pertaining to Provosts memo dated 9/23/2014 located on UVM servers or private email servers from or to Provost Rosowsky and all deans and faculty (including chairs and directors).

b) This request includes all attachments related or pertaining to Provost memo dated 9/23/2014 located on UVM servers or private email servers from or to Provost Rosowsky.

c) This request includes all attachments related or pertaining to Provost memo dated 9/23/2014 to/from any UVM or private email communications between Chair Solnick and Dean Antonio Cepeda-Benito or Dean William Falls or other faculty/persons.

i.) Search terms to be used for electronic and other digital media:

“Annual evaluation”
“Annual evaluation guidelines”
“Performance evaluation”
“Faculty evaluation”
“Peer assessment”
“Faculty assessment”
“Faculty evaluation guidelines”
"Teaching evaluation guidelines in economics"
"Faculty evaluation guidelines in economics"

2. All official or informal notes/documents and approved or unapproved plans related to annual evaluations and teaching evaluations that were created in response to Provost Rosowsky’s memo dated 9/23/2014, or in response to instructions provided by deans to chairs, chairs to deans/directors, and deans/chairs pursuant to Provost Rosowsky’s memo of 9/23/2014.

a). This request includes all hard-copy documents and electronic media associated with, or referenced by, the following Google search listings:

i.) www.uvm.edu/cas/forchairs/handbook/?Page=workload.html
Apr 30, 2015 - Name; Rank; Appointment Type (normally 9-months for CAS faculty) ... in the chairs' meetings in April to discuss annual faculty evaluations.

Note: When the above link is clicked the following message appears:
“Access forbidden! You don't have permission to access the requested object. It is either read-protected or not readable by the server. If you think this is a server error, please contact the webmaster, and refer to request W5ZYEITGZSgAADQeR7IAAAA5.
Error 403 www.uvm.edu Apache/2.4.6 (Unix)”

ii.) www.uvm.edu/cas/forfaculty/?Page=casstrat_facperf.html&SM=newinitsub.html
Jun 5, 2015 - The Guide does not attempt to represent the only pathway to the review and revision of performance evaluation guidelines. There may be other ...

Note: When the above link is clicked the following message appears: Login to sharepoint.uvm.edu:443

iii.) www.uvm.edu/cas/forchairs/handbook/?Page=annual_perf_reviews.html
(faculty member's annual activity form, faculty member's CV, Chair's ...

Note: When the above link is clicked the following message appears:
“Access forbidden! You don't have permission to access the requested object. It is either read-protected or not readable by the server. If you think this is a server error, please contact the webmaster, and refer to request W5ZYEITGZSgAADQeR7IAAAA5.
Error 403 www.uvm.edu Apache/2.4.6 (Unix)”

iv.) www.uvm.edu/cas/forfaculty/casstrat_files/reg_annual_perf.pdf
Table of Contents. A Guide to Review and Revise Annual Faculty Evaluation Guidelines ... CAS Governing Principles to Assess Teaching .


Note: When the above link is clicked the following message appears:
“Access forbidden! You don't have permission to access the requested object. It is either read-protected or not readable by the server. If you think this is a server error, please contact the webmaster, and refer to request W5ZYEITGZSgAADQeR7IAAAA5.
Error 403 www.uvm.edu Apache/2.4.6 (Unix)”

v.) PAGE NOT FOUND
The requested page " https://www.uvm.edu/cas/public_files/cas_teaching_effectiveness.pdf" could not be found.

Note: Link was found at http://www.uvm.edu/provost/?Page=teachingevaluationplans.html
“School/College Plans for the Evaluation of Teaching Performance”


3. All deans’ and directors’ digital and hard copy document submissions to Provost Rosowsky of teaching evaluation practices pursuant to his request in his memo of 9/23/2014 and other communications from the Provost to the Board of Trustees (see attached report dated May 15, 2015 sent to the Educational Policy and Institutional Resources Committee; see Provost's Report May 2015.pdf (299K) ) and memo to the UVM academic community (see attached memo dated February 2015: “Light on the Hill”; see Provost update- Across the Green Feb 2015.pdf (313K)).


Full text has been truncated due to space contrasts of 7500 words.
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Here is a second email to UVM President Sullivan exposing the apparent deception. With a few searches on UVM's own website, I came across many relevant documents requested pursuant to the Vermont Public Records Act . Yet UVM could not locate these?

The following email was sent on August 30 to assist UVM in locating public records material to my case for wrongful denial of reappointment and related alleged charges of violating my contract rights.

Note that the Provost's own webpage has links to the requested documents but those are dead links with pdf files named in the url. What happened to the pdf files previously linked? I await an answer from the Prez,, who is clearly now caught between a rock (giving up the documents) and a hard place (lawsuit if denying production of the requested documents). Civil complaint is ready to be served!

Thank you for you continued support.

John Summa

PS, please note that any referenced documents are not attached here and will be posted at my blog deadendeconomics.com soon.

Dear President Sullivan,

To help you with your review of my appeal (see previous email sent today), I would like to follow-up my last email with the following link to UVM's Office of the Provost:
http://www.uvm.edu/provost/?Page=teachingevaluationplans.html

You will note that the page contains links to: "School/College Plans for the Evaluation of Teaching Performance"

These were the plans (models) ordered by Provost Rosowsky in 2014 (see memo sent in previous email), which he updated in a later memo to the UVM community in Feb. 2015 by stating that the. plans would "be fully vetted and posted online by the end of the semester [Spring 2015]". However, as you can see using the link above, the CAS link to the relevant document when clicked states that "the requested page "/cas/public_files/cas_teaching_effectiveness.pdf" could not be found."

Other links are not dead. What happened to CAS? Where is the new plan? They were ordered by the Provost.

The Provost also informed the Board of Trustees of these new plans (models) in his May 2015 report to the Board. See attached emails for both his February memo and May 2015 report to the Board of Trustees, where he touts these new models.

This should help you assess my appeal.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

John Summa

cc: Ritchie Berger, Gary Dear
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Latest on my case...

In a bit of a sideshow, UVM is withholding public records pertinent to my case and this is now under appeal to the President of UVM, Thomas Sullivan. He has until Friday to answer pursuant to Vermont's Public Records Act or face being served by the the Chittenden County Sheriff with a summons to appear in court to answer charges of violating the law. I have already provided the proof that the requested documents exist (they were created under orders of the Provost in 2015). These documents have strangely gone missing, or in the words of UVM's Vice President of executive operations, he was "unable to locate" records relevant to my request.
Unfortunately, I have many of these documents already, so they do exist because some were provided to me by my sources, and thus UVM admin is misleading me (or not aware of what their deans are doing, or not doing). Meanwhile, they are already in violation of Vermont's Public Records Act because they did not answer my public records request within the allotted time under the law.

Below is a sampling of the stonewalling I face in this related public records fight that will end up in Superior Court next Monday unless UVM produces (there are no attachments here that are referenced below, but they will be posted at my blog deadendeconomics.com soon).

Thank you for your continued support.

John Summa

PS, See below for appeal to the UVM Prez who must reply by Friday (I will update the developments over the weekend).

August 30, 2018 appeal to UVM's President:

Dear President Sullivan,

I am writing to formally appeal UVM's response to my public records request of August 10, 2018 (see forwarded emails). Mr. Gary Derr claims to have conducted "a diligent search" yet was "unable to locate" any records responsive to my request. I respectfully don't agree, and am appealing his answer to you. The following facts should help you in making your decision about my appeal:

1. The Provost wrote in a memo (provided as an attachment here), the following, related to revised teaching evaluation guidelines (“model”):

a) “Once it has been approved by the Provost, deans are responsible for implementing the model within their college/school. The procedures will be posted and communicated to all instructional faculty in the college/school prior to implementation….” (See attached memo).

b) “In the meantime, in the charge below I am asking that each dean having responsibility for instructional faculty undertake discussions at the appropriate levels to consider how best to meet the dual needs of (1) providing robust information on which to base performance reviews of teaching and (2) providing timely and useful feedback to instructional faculty to enable them to be the best possible teachers they can be.” (See attached memo).

2. The deadline for providing the proposed “model” referenced above to the Provost by all Deans was December 1, 2014. (See attached memo)

3. Pursuant to the Provost’s directive, and following instructions provided by the Dean to unit heads, on March 18, 2015 I was provided with a draft of teacher evaluation guidelines “shaped” by the Chair of the Department of Economics, Sara Solnick, who was preparing to send it to the Dean for review following faculty discussion. (See attached email)

4. No communication was subsequently provided to me regarding these revised guidelines (the “model”) ordered to be implemented in early 2015 by the Provost, a “charge” delivered to all deans of UVM in late 2014. Even if UVM deems these documents as not relevant to evaluating lecturers in the Department of Economics, I'm requesting them and all related communication anyway, pursuant to my rights under Vermont's Public Records Act.

5. Substantial proof of the existence of the responsive records was provided by me to UVM on August 10, 2018:

a) Provost memo to UVM deans ordering the creation of the responsive records (see attached memo);

b) Chair of the Department of Economics electronic mail to Dean William Falls (see attached email) acknowledging the creation of a draft related to the Provost’s order ("from on high") to revise teaching evaluation guidelines;


6. The documents provided to you as attachments here make clear that UVM’s Provost directed all deans to “post” and implement new teaching evaluation models and related procedures and communicate them to all UVM faculty prior to implementation, indicating a specific deadline of December 1, 2014. (See attached memo)

a) To claim that such records don’t exist would mean UVM’s deans violated the Provost’s orders (“charge”) and directive, or that the records (including records of the "models") were destroyed, which is a violation of Vermont's Public Records Act.

7. Given the proof provided above, pursuant to 1 V.S.A. § 319, I have a right to petition in Superior Court for a review of the defendant’s failure to respond in a timely manner and related actions claiming that the requested records do not exist.

8. To help locate the responsive records, I expand the public records request to now include all hard-copy and electronic communication between Provost Rosowsky and his deans and all deans and their department/unit heads regarding this matter. The "models" should be filed in the Provost's office and all deans should be in possession of pertinent records (emails and hard-copy notes, documents, etc) related to the creation of the evaluation models ordered by Provost Rosowsky in 2014.

9. I was never provided with these new guidelines (models) in 2015 or 2016, but Provost Rosososky ordered that all "Instructional faculty" be informed of these new models of evaluation.

I have copied UVM's lawyer, Ritchie Berger, who has requested that I contact him to help him locate one particular record pertaining to the Department of Economics "final" teaching evaluation guidelines. To be clear, however, I am looking for all public records related to the Provost's memo of 2014.

Perhaps the information provided here to you (and Mr. Berger) will help find the responsive records, some of which I already have in my possession (Including the draft of the teaching guidelines referenced in Chair Solnick's attached email to Dean Falls).

Pursuant to Vermont's Public Records Act, you have five (5) business days to reply to my appeal.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

John Summa
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One of the issues to be raised on appeal at VT's Supreme Court is related to the VT Labor Relations Board Chair (Richard W. Park), who manipulated the facts in favor of UVM. I motioned to have him recuse himself because of his cozy relationship with UVM, but he simply denied the motion and there is no legal remedy for this abuse of power. Here is my post about the motion. It is under appeal thanks to your support: https://www.deadendeconomics.com/vlrb-fudge-factory-goes-into-production-again-just-omit-facts-when-it-suits-them/
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