Before I go on to deal with particular allegations, I should like to make one other general comment about the Report, and that is the way in which a trivial or passing occurrence can assume a totally inflated and false significance with time. In the autumn of 1991, for example, a mature student (Asna Wise) telephoned me for a recommendation for Graduate School. I said yes (even though this was, I said, the first recommendation I had ever been asked for by telephone, but since I had given her a first class in her course during the summer I agreed). I inquired into the subject she intended to pursue. She said 'The Jew in Medieval Literature'. Not knowing much about that particular subject, I asked her to tell me about it, and she did - at length. I gave her the recommendation she wanted.
A year and a half later she submitted a complaint about my book The New World Order and the Throne of the antiChrist, saying that I was overly preoccupied with 'blood libel' and 'blood sacrifice' and she had noted this in our telephone conversation of the autumn of 1991 (I had never heard of 'blood libel' until she told me about it). The Chairman of the English Department (Professor Adamowski) asked me to comment on this, and despite the preposterousness of the request (I hardly remembered the telephone conversation) I took two days out of my busy schedule and very assiduously commented on what I had been asked to comment on. This was a confidential and rapidly-composed letter to my Chairman, but yet the 'blood libel' letter occupies slightly over a page in the 'Summary' now before me. Now, in your letter of March 30 to me, you, Mr. Provost, state:
You should be aware that these reports may lead to the imposition of discipline. In making my decision, I may also take into account documentation alreadyAgain I am troubled at how a rapid conversation on the telephone (and one is dealing with at least one hundred students in any one year) should have such far-reaching implications, and years later be used as a reason for, as you say, imposing 'discipline' - indeed, more than that, how a telephone call from a student in 1991 ago can threaten my continued presence at the University in 1994.
contained in your personnel file. For example: your letter dated 21 June 1993 in
response to a complaint by a student in your English 338 class [the student had
finished the course at least a couple of months before requesting the recommendation], Ms. Asna Wise, which in my opinion, was unprofessional, abusive and not in keeping with standards expected of a tenured professor at the University.
In dealing with this matter, I decided once again to look outside our University for an adjudication. I submitted the relevant documents to one of the pioneers of academic justice in Ireland, Professor Lorna Reynolds. Professor Reynolds gives her assessment the way a true academic should, analyzing the evidence, and reaching a very clear conclusion:
Ms. A. Wise
1. Ms. Wise's letter was written almost two years after the incident described and, according to herself,'pursuant'to a request from Professor Adamowski (who must, therefore, have asked her to put her complaint in writing). Why the delay in complaining? Did she volunteer, or was she 'hunted up'?
2. The substance of Ms. Wise's complaint consists of a recollection of a telephone conversation held nearly two years previously. Ms. Wise must be congratulated on either a remarkable memory or a vivid imagination.
3. I notice that she can subtly create an inaccurate impression. She mentions receiving a 'second' phone call from Professor O'Driscoll. But the first phone call was not initiated by him. It was in response to a phone call from her, requesting a recommendation.
4. She seems surprised that Professor O'Driscoll should seek to learn something from her. But surely this shows Professor O'Driscoll's openness to his students! And surely this is an enviable quality in a teacher. True teaching consists, not in filling empty vessels and receiving back what one has poured out but in stimulating the mind and imagination of other human beings, in evoking responses, so that an interchange takes place. That there are dangers involved in such a process is clear from Ms. Wise's reactions, but the confrontation of danger is part of the intellectual life.
5. Ms. Wise would have been equally surprised by my ignorance of the expression 'blood libel'. I wonder when it came into common usage. I have never heard it used, though of course I was aware of the medieval belief that the Jews are said to have massacred Christian children for ritualistic purposes.
6. How old is Ms. Wise? Towards the end of her letter where she talked of what she was taught at home, she sounds like a very young, naive person, but if she is the daughter of a holocaust parent, she cannot be so: she must be quite mature.
If Ms. Wise felt so strongly about Professor O'Driscoll's book and, of course, she is entitled to feel what she will - why did she not take the matter up herself with him, tackle him about it? There is something revolting about this creeping with complaints to superiors, as if a University were a boarding-school, or a seminary! Students are supposed to learn to take the rough with the smooth and so make themselves ready for the great wide world outside.
Again, this letter from David Layton follows a conversation with Professor Adamowski. Is this the usual procedure? That oral complaints are always confirmed in writing? Or were letters being invited to pile up evidence against Professor O'Driscoll? I have had many students, like David Layton, who take themselves more seriously than either their work or their 'talents' justify. Are Universities becoming adult nurseries? We all have to go through much more traumatic experiences than the reading of a book or portions of a book expressing ideas with which we do not agree. I find it pathetic that a strong young man of twenty-six should claim to have undergone 'disruption and distress', to have suffered 'wasted time and energy' as a result of such reading. If he felt so strongly, why did he attend the launch of Professor O'Driscoll's book? He could well have masked his disapprobation by staying away.
As for Professor Adamowski describing Professor O'Driscoll's action as 'imprudent' - yes, given the kind of student Layton turned out to be, Professor O'Driscoll might be called imprudent. But students were not always so delicately constituted and the great scholars and philosophers of the Middle Ages were followed from place to place by their students because these scholars discussed and expounded their own work. I need only mention Abelard in this respect.
To sum up, I do not feel that Professor O'Driscoll's conduct was unprofessional. It was perhaps too impulsive, too optimistic, too ready to believe that other people would share Professor O'Driscoll's pleasure in having made what he considered important discoveries relevant to the mess we find ourselves in today. I do not share his belief in either the truth or the value of these discoveries, but I hope we could have a civilized discussion about the matter.
I do not think Professor O'Driscoll abused his position. A person cannot be at once abusive and imprudent. An imprudent man is not a deliberating man - an abusive man is. As for behaviour fitting for a tenured professor, I dare say that varies with the time, the place, and the institution. In Ireland, eccentricity is tolerated more readily than in other places, but some eccentricity is not only allowed but expected in most academic institutions. I myself should have found it unendurable to be 'investigated' as you have so many times.