Northern Arizona Won't Interview Former Army Psychologist With Ties to Abu Ghraib

January 29, 2014

Larry James, a former Army psychologist and associate vice president for military affairs at Wright State University, won't be invited to campus to interview for a position at Northern Arizona University, a spokesman said late Tuesday. The announcement came after a week of protest from students and faculty over the fact that James was in the running to become the new dean of the College Social and behavioral sciences. Protesters raised concerns about his role as a process evaluator for interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq War and at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Many of their concerns came from James's own book, Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib. In that book, and in various interviews, including one last year with Inside Higher Ed, James says he witnessed abusive behaviors by both prisoners and U.S. military personnel, but that he worked to make the situation better. James was assigned to the prison only after the initial revelations about the abuses at Abu Ghraib and his job was to assess and recommend procedures to prevent future abuses. But some critics said his association with the prison is enough to make his appointment to an academic post inappropriate, and others challenged his explanation and the findings of several independent investigations that James was not party to the abuses at Abu Ghraib. They point to a 2010 complaint filed with the Ohio State Board of Psychology by the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School alleging that human rights violations continued after James arrived.

Protesters called for university to block James from coming to campus to interview. In an open letter to students and faculty posted on the university website this week, Laura Huenneke, provost, and Dan Kain, vice provost for academic personnel at Northern Arizona said: "Sadly, some individuals (including students) are seeking to prevent his interview and visit. Intimidating flyers are being posted anonymously, and messages have been flying around campus urging people to 'check out' the person via Google or other quick web searches. This behavior is inconsistent with the university’s commitment to civil discourse and fair evaluation of individuals. Indeed, our search process has consistently instructed committee members NOT to search the Internet to learn about candidates, both because of the inaccuracies promulgated on the web and because of the potential for discrimination. Our process is built around our deep respect for giving everyone a fair chance in the hiring process."

In response, Romand Coles, professor of community, culture and environment, posted his own letter, saying: "The concern for evidence-based investigation, accurate representation of what we know, and our best efforts at reasoned deliberation are values I too hold to be absolutely vital to the scholarly enterprise and democratic discourse. Yet based on these standards I come to a very different conclusion about the character of the conversation and work that has been conducted around this search thus far."

On Tuesday, a spokesman said via email: "Dr. James’ leadership skills and record of accomplishments in higher education made him a strong candidate for this position. In searching for a dean, NAU's goals include finding the right match between a candidate’s skills and the college’s needs. After extensive discussions on campus, Dr. James’ candidacy will not be pursued and he will not be visiting campus."

James also sparked student protests and raised faculty concerns last year during his candidacy for division executive director in the College of Education at the University of Missouri at Columbia. He did not get the job, but neither did the other finalist. The post went unfilled.

James did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Coles did not offer additional comment.

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