How ironic that Sentencing Day for defrocked faculty member Bernard Moore nearly fell on President Falk’s Induction Day. As the College turned up the dial on pomp and tradition to mark the start of a new chapter in its history, an episode it has ducked for almost a year reared its ugly head.
I’m truly sorry that President Falk must share headlines this week with a felon who, it turns out, had no college degrees. I’m not sorry, though, that this matter has been shoved again in front of the College I truly do love. Maybe the administration and faculty will finally explain the fiasco and lead the nation, as Williams is prone to do, in a review of how college faculty are hired and evaluated.
Williams dodged a bullet. Moore apparently had a decades-long history of crime and incarceration. His past seems to have roared back into his present while at Williams. Fortunately, that past was relatively benign – financial and identity fraud – and not child molestation, domestic violence or armed robbery. Otherwise, he might have wound up in the Thompson Chapel Bell Tower with a rifle.
I yearn to dismiss Moore’s hiring by Williams as a fluke. After all, Moore simultaneously fooled Yale University, Congressman Danny Davis, the Congressional Black Caucus and various creditors to the tune of almost $1 million. But Williams hired him twice – first in 2008 for one year, then in 2009 for three years! And in that first year Moore set new, jaw-dropping marks for classroom incompetency.
Once Moore was dismissed, student criticisms poured onto the Internet; EphBlog, in particular, played host to a number of these in “Students on Moore.”
Even though no students had complained to the administration (Moore reportedly gave everyone A’s), it defies belief that such ineptitude could go undetected by Williams. As much as I want to cover for my alma mater, it’s this egregious breakdown that I cannot make excuses for. And taken in context, one has to ask whether the system is defective at its core. How rigorous is initial screening? Why are there no criminal background checks?
It’s imperative that Williams issue a report for three reasons. First, the Moore fiasco violates an implicit pact the College makes with every parent who delivers a child to its care. President Falk reiterated this pact when he told an assembly of 2014 parents, “Thank you for giving us your children.” His overall remarks conveyed a sense of, “It’s okay, we’ve got your back and your child’s.” Parents and students deserve an explanation and an apology.
Second, the entire “Williams family” deserves to learn about this sensational matter directly from the College, not second-hand or from the media. In my duties as co-class president, I’ve broached it with about ten classmates. None knew about it, and all were concerned, shocked or angered – or all three.
The entire Williams family’s opinion should be solicited and respected, just like its dollars are. As uncomfortable as this might be, the College that so reveres deceased Professor Bob Gaudino can do no less. Gaudino believed that profound learning and growth occur in uncomfortable situations. I’m absolutely convinced that the Williams family will support an open administration no matter what the findings. After all, people and institutions are far from perfect.
Third, this is an opportunity for Williams to lead. The Williams I thought I knew would feel duty-bound to initiate a review of faculty hiring and evaluation nationwide. If Williams and Yale were duped, how many Bernard Moores are in classrooms at other colleges? A report on the Moore fiasco would be a prerequisite to initiating a wider review.
So why has the administration done none of the above? I don’t know: I’ve contacted alumni relations and human resources to no avail, and I’ve written to my two trustee classmates. One never responded. The other called me on the fly between trustee events in June and avoided the topic.
I tried to review minutes of recent trustee meetings. Forget that – they’re sealed for 50 years, and the meetings are closed. The call of Lawrence Levien [’68] for an independent counsel to investigate just might make sense after all (“Restoring academic integrity,” Dec. 9, 2009).
“It’s hubris,” a Williams staff person told me. “Williams believes it can do no wrong.” Come to think of it, I can’t recall the last time the Williams administration or faculty admitted a mistake and apologized. If I’ve overlooked something, please tell me.
Williams is at its best when the entire Williams family tackles big problems and challenges. The Bernard Moore matter may be both a big problem and a big challenge. In this matter especially, I fear the administration and faculty alone are not capable of being big enough to admit a mistake and say “I’m sorry.”