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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Jim Gundlach: Kudos for a Whistleblower

Retired Auburn University professor Jim Gundlach is a courageous fellow. He has taken on college football and Republican politicians--in Alabama, of all places. That's like going to Mecca and raising questions about the Prophet Muhammad.

Speaking truth to power has caused Gundlach all kinds of headaches. Auburn administrators, he says, made his life so miserable that he chose to retire when he did not really want to.

But Gundlach is receiving some much-deserved recognition. Today in Memphis, he receives the Drake Group's 2008 Robert Maynard Hutchins Award. The award goes to a person who the group believes shows courage in standing up for academic integrity in the face of commercialized college sports. The Drake Group consists of past and present faculty members and athletics department employees who are trying to reform big-time college athletics.

In July 2006, Gundlach revealed to The New York Times that a disproportionate number of athletes at Auburn received high grades for independent study courses that required little or no work. As a result of Gundlach's revelations, Auburn announced limits on the number of students whose independent study can be supervised by a single professor. And the professor in question, Thomas Petee, was removed as department chairman.

By making these moves, Auburn seemed to be acknowledging there was a problem. But that didn't keep administrators from giving Gundlach a hard time:

These days, Gundlach says, he misses working with students. He does some data consulting work but laments he spends too much time with his dogs and not enough with people.

He retired last May, he said, as a result of Auburn administrators "making my life miserable" after his data and comments became public.

"I just reached the point where I couldn't stand to be around the place anymore," he said. "And I felt a whole lot better very quickly after I left. I started sleeping regularly again."

The award from the Drake Group has nothing to with Gundlach's other courageous act--his academic paper showing that Alabama's 2002 gubernatorial election almost certainly was stolen by Republican operatives, giving Bob Riley a narrow victory over Don Siegelman, who had appeared to be the winner on the night of the election. Gundlach's paper showed that changing vote totals in Baldwin County, a Republican stronghold, almost had to be the result of intentional electronic manipulation of data and could not have been caused by a computer "glitch" as election officials claimed.

I would bet that Gundlach's paper on the 2002 election had a lot to do with the harassment he received from Auburn administrators. Due to his position as governor, Bob Riley also serves as president of the Auburn Board of Trustees. My understanding that the governor's role on such boards is usually ceremonial. But could Riley have used his influence to lead a harassment campaign against Gundlach? I don't think there's any question about it. Certainly wouldn't want someone to practice academic freedom at our state's largest university.

1 comment:

James Greek said...

He is my hero!