Media Criticism

May 12, 2006

Renata Adler is a well-known media critic. In fact, after decades of heralded work at The New Yorker, she turned her oft-acerbic pen to writing about the famed magazine and its internal turmoil during some of her time there. In 2000, amid much controversy, she published a memoir about the celebrated publication that drew considerable ire and concurrently burnt a few bridges.

Soon after the book was published, she was hired as a visiting professor at Boston University. When she started, she expected to be paid for her services within the University Professors Program, "an interdisciplinary program for gifted students," and to teach one or two courses in the journalism department, which is part of B.U.’s College of Communication. Much to her surprise, and dismay, she recently learned that she was an employee of the communications division.

Thereafter, she started observing -- while publishing and teaching, too, of course. In her eyes, classes always seemed far too crowded, although some in the department, including many students, don’t see this as a real problem. Tenure was practically a fallacy, with the rare instructor in the college obtaining it, since so many of the faculty members, like Adler, are working and prominent journalists, not of the Ph.D.-toting sort.

Adler had been especially curious why, in 2003, John J. Schulz was chosen to be the dean of the unwieldy communications college -- which contains journalism, public relations and communications divisions -- since he had, in 1999, been asked to step down as chairman of the department of mass communication, advertising and public relations after admitting that he had read a passage from a magazine in a course, sans proper attribution.

But she kept quiet. That is, until one day when Schulz attended a journalism department meeting unexpectedly and ended up berating a professor for asking a simple question, according to faculty members who were at the meeting.

Acquaintances say that was the day Adler decided it was time to make waves. She had only one year left on her contract and she had better opportunities yet to come (perhaps at Yale, according to those who know her well). Since only one member of the staff has tenure, Adler was not surprised that no one had spoken out thus far.

On Thursday, an iceberg tip of her observations hit the pages of The Boston Globe. The publication reported that Adler had recently begun raising questions about the résumé of Schulz, in e-mails she sent to the dean and several other professors.

After a thorough investigation by the newspaper, Schulz made a couple of confessions and statements that have now roiled some faculty members and students. He admitted to the Globe that he misstated information on his academic résumé when he wrote that he was one of only two Oxford doctoral students to win approval of their dissertations in social studies in 1981. Oxford's social studies faculty actually awarded 30 such degrees in 1980-81 and 41 in 1981-82, according to the Globe.

Schulz’s résumé, the Globe found, also said he was among 19 students who presented dissertations during the period when he earned his doctorate from the English university. The dean told the newspaper that he had meant to write that he was one of only two or three out of perhaps 12 to get the degree in his particular field, international relations, a part of social studies. He told the newspaper that the number 19 was a typo.

The Globe also uncovered an instance in the university’s student-run Daily Free Press in which Schulz indicated that he has written “several books,” when, in fact, he hasn’t published any to date. The Globe reporter, Marcella Bombardieri, interviewed the student reporter who wrote that article, and the student indicated that he had received the information from Schulz, although he was uncertain that Schulz had made the particular claim.

Regarding the student newspaper, Schulz told the Globe, “You have to understand I've never taken the student paper very seriously -- these are kids.”

Schulz said Thursday that he would not elaborate further for this article on the issues raised in the newspaper's report. In the article, he said that Adler was on a campaign of ''character assassination," and he said in an interview Thursday that it has been a tiring situation. Schulz also said that several faculty members have rallied around him.

One such professor, William Lord, a B.U. professor of journalism, wrote an e-mail to the Globe before the article was published, saying that “[a] very small group of COM faculty members wishes to use you in a desperate act of character assassination which will end up benefiting them while harming the reputation of our dean and that of the college.”

While Lord and others have expressed confidence in Schulz’s leadership, a growing number of faculty members have grown uneasy with his leadership. Many said that they feared retribution if they were to speak out against him for this article.

Some have spoken out, and they think that Schulz’s admissions warrant further investigation -- and perhaps administrative action.

“Had Renata Adler not had Schulz in her sights, I don’t think all this would have surfaced,” said Robert Zelnick, chair of the journalism department. He is especially concerned that Schulz’s biography on the communications department's Web site is misleading. The bio indicates that as a reporter for Voice of America, he covered ''the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1987-89)," which led some to believe that he had reported from within the country. However, Schulz admitted to the newspaper that he has never reported from Afghanistan.

“I find that troublesome,” said Zelnick, who indicated that he has been friends with Schulz for years. “It’s important that the faculty express itself on this.” He expects that faculty members in the journalism department will discuss these issues in the coming days and decide whether they will make a complaint to the administration.

According to a university spokesman, no formal requests had been made as of Thursday for an administrative investigation.

Other journalism students and professors have raised concerns about Schulz’s statement regarding the student newspaper.

“It’s surprising and disheartening,” Neal Simpson, editor of The Daily Free Press, said Thursday. “He took us seriously when we investigated these issues.”

“This is my boss,” added one professor, who wished to remain anonymous. “But he shouldn’t have said that about the student newspaper. It is a professionally run paper. We value accuracy in reporting and so do our students.”

The same journalism professor also said that Adler should be admired for taking a stand. “Like it or not, she is a superb reporter and she goes after what she perceives to be misuse of power,” said the professor. “It’s not a personal grudge. People often try to compromise whistle blowers in some way.”

Adler did not wish to comment for this article because she said that this situation shouldn’t be about her. But she did say that there’s more investigating to be done.

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