He’s ‘completely shocked’ his nemesis is in charge now
A department chair who allegedly tampered with emails and lied under oath so a Christian professor wouldn’t get promoted is now in charge of who gets promoted across the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.
Mike Adams, a former atheist who converted seven years after his hire by UNCW, is protesting the promotion of Kimberly Cook to the chair of the tenure and reappointment committee.
“This means she now has final say over every tenure and promotion decision despite the fact that she cost the university $760,000 in back pay and legal fees in my case,” Adams told The College Fix in an email, referring to the court’s original judgment. “In fact, she’s the only professor ever to have been sued successfully for promotion discrimination.”
A court awarded Adams $50,000 in back pay and a promotion to full professor in 2014 after finding UNCW denied the criminology professor a promotion because he had actively promoted his conservative Christian values. The legal battle took seven years.
Christina Schechtman, media relations specialist for the university, told The Fix that the administration plays no role in who chairs the committee. It’s up to the Faculty Senate – and the president of that body challenged Adams’ characterization of Cook’s role in his denied promotion.
Cook was never found guilty of promotion discrimination, Nathaniel Grove told The Fix in an email: “No individual liability or fault was attributed to Dr. Cook.”
The new tenure committee chair herself is not talking, but it’s not clear whether that’s her choice to make.
The Fix emailed and called Cook multiple times starting Friday, asking her to respond to Adams’ argument that her role in his denied promotion make it inappropriate for her to review tenure and reappointment for the whole university.
The Fix received a response Wednesday from Cook’s email address, but it was signed by the Department of Sociology and Criminology. “Dr. Cook is unavailable for calls or emails,” the email read.
‘It is in their best interest to avoid future legal liability’
Cook’s elevation has opened the floodgates to relitigate one of the most embarrassing episodes in UNCW’s recent history, and opened a debate about whether she could expose the university to new litigation.
Adams’ 2007 lawsuit said the university started treating him differently after his conversion to Christianity in 2000, which was accompanied by a column on conservative Townhall.com.
He had earned “strong teaching evaluations, received two faculty awards” and published several articles, yet his new outspokenness led to “intrusive investigations, baseless accusations” and denied promotion in spite of his superior “scholarly output,” his lawyers said then.
Adams (left) found out that Cook was the new tenure committee chair when a person, whom he would not name, reached out to him about “a case possibly involving discrimination and promotion” at the “level of the tenure and promotion committee.”
He was “completely shocked” when the person told him it was Cook. “The only professor at our University who has ever been sued for discrimination has actually been put in charge of the committee who decides who gets promoted,” Adams told The Fix in a phone call.
He plans on sending a letter to the Office of General Counsel and Chancellor Jose Sartarelli “demanding she be removed from the position.” If that doesn’t work, he’ll petition the Board of Trustees and then the UNC System Board of Governors, Adams said.
Adams believes Cook’s new position will make her a legitimate target for another promotion discrimination lawsuit. He hopes the planned letter will convince the university “it is in their best interest to avoid future legal liability” by removing Cook from the committee.
He’s baffled why Cook accepted the appointment in the first place, considering she could be hit with punitive damages if another professor successfully sues. “It is hard for me to be shocked today by what happens on college campuses, but I’m just dumbfounded,” Adams told The Fix.
Supporter says she’ll ‘carry out her duties equitably’
There’s nothing surprising about Cook’s elevation to committee chair, according to Grove, the president of the Faculty Senate.
Faculty members, who number around a thousand, elected her to the committee because she is a “valuable member of the UNCW faculty and well-respected by the vast majority of her peers.”
Grove voted for Cook (right) because he “found her to be a dedicated colleague, and I knew she would take her position as a member of the committee seriously” and “carry out her duties equitably.” (The elected members of the committee choose the chair.)
He has “no plans” of asking her to step down: “I am very comfortable with her serving on this important committee.”
Grove noted that Adams named several officials, not just his former department chair Cook, in his lawsuit, including the “former provost, the former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences … and a number of the senior faculty of his department.”
He emphasized that UNCW did not appeal the verdict and settled the claim: “In the settlement, there was no admission of liability or fault.”
Professor with ‘radical politics’ can ‘basically do whatever the hell you want’
Adams clarified that the $760,000 award was indeed ordered by the court but that the university negotiated down the amount to $665,000 in subsequent settlement talks.
And Cook, the primary defendant, was indeed found individually liable by the jury, Adams said.
She lied about why he was not promoted, allegedly saying “the departmental committee had determined that [Adams] was deficient in every area of teaching, research and service” when the committee had only questioned his research, Adams told The Fix.
Cook refused to settle out of court, he said, so his counsel showed the jury evidence that Cook “tampered with some of the email evaluations that the faculty had made of my performance.”
Adams claims she took out parts of the emails that praised him, left in all the negative comments and changed the meaning of some of the emails. It got worse at the trial, according to Adams, because she lied under oath several times.
In the end, Cook lost the trial and “was found liable in a discrimination case for discriminating on the basis of my political views and for violating the First Amendment,” Adams told The Fix.
He credits Cook’s status as a “devout Marxist and feminist” for her allegedly preferential treatment. Cook’s faculty page says she “learned about alienation (a Marxian concept)” early in her career, and about the “patriarchy and sexism (important feminist concepts).” One of her specialty areas is “Feminist Perspectives on Justice.”
The lesson that Adams took away is that if a professor has “radical politics in the university system, then you can basically do whatever the hell you want.”
CORRECTION: The original article misspelled the name of the Faculty Senate president. His name is Nathaniel Grove. The article has been fixed.
IMAGES: UNC Wilmington