Dr. Feldman to Relinquish Chair As a Result of Incident at UC Davis

So, yesterday I posted that I had heard some news about the outcome of the investigation into Dr. Edward Feldman’s conduct a UC Davis. Specifically, Dr. Feldman had his veterinary medicine class polled about a pregnant student’s grade.

Today Scott Jaschik posted a statement from Dr. Feldman to UC Davis’s chancellor on Inside Higher Ed. He says:

I accept responsibility for my poor judgment in handling a student absence from my VMD 444 course this past winter quarter. This will acknowledge my acceptance of the sanctions you have proposed, which includes my compliance with your request that I step down as chair of my department. I deeply regret any offense or embarrassment I may have caused the student, the School of Veterinary Medicine, or UC Davis for this incident. Although I had the best interests of the student and the School of Veterinary Medicine at heart, I recognize now that some of my actions were inappropriate.

I’m also quoted in the piece and I wanted to take a moment and elaborate on my comments, because I am not sure my real feelings come through in a few quotes out of context.

While I am pleased with the outcome of the chancellor’s investigation, I am not necessarily pleased to see someone punished.  I’m not sure that I have well-defined beliefs about justice or punishment and I certainly have little appetite for retaliation.  I think that what is more important is to consider how future events will transpire.  I am pleased that the chancellor took this matter seriously and, as I expressed to Scott when he called me last night, I was pleasantly surprised.  I think that frequently these types of events are swept under the carpet and kept quiet and I am pleased that the chancellor took these matters seriously.    That strikes me as a step in the right direction.  Also, given his demonstration of poor judgment, I believe that it is in the faculty and students’ best interests to ask Dr. Feldman to relinquish his position of leadership within the department.

All that said, I think Dr. Feldman has the same right to privacy as his student had and I won’t pursue any further investigations into Dr. Feldman’s other sanctions.

The one thing I think is missing is action from the chancellor to prevent these incidents from happening in the future.  Very few of us receive formal training in management and human resources.   While UC Davis has formal policies to deal with pregnancy and childbirth, I wonder how well-educated the faculty are about them?  Will faculty be educated about these in the future?

What’s funny is that in the course about about 12 hours I went from feeling jaded, to hopeful, to jaded again.  I hadn’t given this incident much thought over the last few months because I figured that it would be like a flash in the pan.  We’d all talk about it, news media would get excited about it, and then we’d forget.  Little would be done.  Then last evening I felt hopeful and that maybe I had become overly pessimistic.  Then today I read the comments over at Inside Higher Ed. 

It didn’t take long for this one to appear….

…why does this article continue to focus on the disadvantage of female academics
and students that happen to be parents? The world has changed a lot from the
days of male professors and stay-at-home wives, and I, for one, have to admit
that being a male parent in a dual academic marriage is not that easy. Honestly,
I think that I have a more difficult time justifying my inability to participate
in some events, etc… based on my status as a parent than than my wife does.

Sigh.  Bingo.

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36 responses to “Dr. Feldman to Relinquish Chair As a Result of Incident at UC Davis

  1. I would have liked to see a more positive outcome, in terms of learning to change, learning that people make mistakes and can learn from them, etc., than just having Feldman leave the post altogether. He can do it!

  2. I am pleased to see that you report that UC Davis has policies regarding pregnancy and childbirth. BUT I would LIKE to hope they have general policies about procedures regarding ANY absence of students for personal reasons. In this respect, policies about pregnancy and childbirth become redundant, as they are just ‘one example’ of where students may need special consideration.
    In that respect, I add my voice to those saying that this one incident does not show that there is no indication that “these things will not happen in the future”.
    Now, having said that, UC Davis may WELL have these policies in place, they are just not discussed in this report.
    But if they do, there is no need for special policies for every possible contingent that students may encounter (as epitomised by the last quote in Isis post above).
    I join you in your long collective sigh.
    But I guess it is forward one baby step in the realisation that some ‘off the cuff’ individual policies need thinking through.

  3. californian

    I don’t think that Dr Feldman left “the post altogether”. Please, correct me if I misunderstood it. He stepped down from his position as Departmental Chair and will continue to be a Professor. I applaud the UC authorities for asking him to do so. I would have preferred that he had resigned before anyone asking him to do so.
    To have the courage and humility to say: ” I am truly sorry for my mistake and think it is in the best interest of the academic community that I step down from my leadership position” would have been a bona fide indicator that we are taking the first step in “learning to change”. Then it would have been up to the University and/or academic community to accept the resignation or propose an alternative way for learning from the mistake.
    None of us is immune to poor judgment and by setting the right precedent we are writing the book that can guide us through similar or different situations in academia.

  4. Well, let’s pretend that UC Davis upper level admin had an ideal response. What would that look like?
    Well, drafting policies to prevent this from happening again, yes. But are all policies created equal? If I had my duthers, the policy would be drafted with significant faculty, students, and administrator input. You need buy-in from all stakeholders to get this kind of thing to work optimally. And meetings involving faculty can, err, take some time (as anyone who has ever tried to schedule a committee meeting knows).
    So, even if the ideal thing happened, it might very well be there isn’t a policy to show yet.

  5. Funky Fresh

    It’s cute that students always think they should have a voice.

  6. “Honestly, I think that I have a more difficult time justifying my inability to participate in some events, etc… based on my status as a parent than than my wife does.”
    – For this person, what he says may be true. The US, by comparison to many countries of similar standing, is a rough place for parents in accademia overall. So what’s wrong with this!?

  7. @ Funky Fresh #5 – it is not that the students think they should have a voice, but that there may actually be a more workable policy developed if ‘someone’ listens to what the students actually need.
    By being paternalistic, it may well be that more complex arrangements are mandated – when all the student wants is the chance to do the damn quiz one week later.
    I was sick at the very end of my course. I was given the whole summer to catch up. I DIDN’T WANT THE WHOLE DAMN SUMMER – I wanted to be out of there asap and have my summer vacation. All I needed was 2 extra weeks. We discussed it, I did it, and the staff put themselves out to grade my work (and I did very well indeed).
    So negotiating individually with students may sometimes actually give a ‘harder’ policy than if some people in admin do a top-down evaluation and think they know what is needed.

  8. What struck me as odd about this from the beginning was that this school had arrived at 2011 with no policies or traditions to accommodate this student.
    My daughter’s professional school allows each student up to one year’s leave from the program. They are allowed to rejoin approximately where they left off, and pay some type of admin fee while absent. The belief is that they have invested substantially in choosing and educating these young people and do not want to lose them part way through the program.
    Obviously, some students take parental leave. I know of one who took several months to nurse a parent through a final illness. My own daughter was off six months recovering from a serious accident.
    At no time was her status as a future graduate in any doubt. Some accommodations were made to integrate her back into the program. Even on leave, she was encouraged to participate in “class events” – more social than academic.
    Best possible outcome – This school comes up with a workable policy to address the needs of any student, male or female, who is unable to participate fully in the program. And they name it after Feldman.

  9. “I am not sure my real feelings come through in a few quotes out of context.”
    Can we agree that these are some of the most hilariously ironic words ever written? The original story on this blog was almost entirely fabricated from quotes out of context (and placed in radically false context by the author).

  10. Really LOL? The disciplinary action would rather seem to confirm that Isis’ original account was pretty accurate.

  11. “I deeply regret any offense or embarrassment I may have caused”. May have caused? As if there were any question about that. Dr. Feldman is not sorry he did it, he’s just sorry about the reaction to it.

  12. Kudzu #11:

    “I deeply regret any offense or embarrassment I may have caused”. May have caused? As if there were any question about that. Dr. Feldman is not sorry he did it, he’s just sorry about the reaction to it.

    Dr. Feldman employed a perfectly ordinary phrase for expressing an apology in a formal letter. It is completely incorrect to infer that this phrase implies he doesn’t regret his actions. I don’t know what Dr. Feldman regrets nor how much he regets it, but any competent English speaker knows that you cannot make your insulting and almost defamatory inference from such weak evidence of absence in a stock phrase.
    Using the same form of analysis, should readers infer that you’re an idiot because your post does not explicitly state “I am not an idiot”?

  13. Canadian Brain

    Sam (#12):
    You are right that its impossible to look into someone heart to judge them when they are issuing a letter of apology. That being said, using the word “may” is a very common way (I do it myself) of a person implying that they still think they are right. Real remorse doesn’t use squishy words like that.

  14. BBBShrewHarpy

    I, too, am pleased this wasn’t swept under the carpet. Aside from the issue of this in-class vote about the fate of a student’s occurring because of her situation as a pregnant woman/new mother, isn’t the fact that a class was able to vote on the grade attributed to a fellow student in the first place completely objectionable? Has UC Davis promised to take steps that would make this an offense in the future?

  15. @Funky Fresh- On the one hand, this whole problem could have been avoided if Dr. Feldman didn’t try to give the students a ‘voice’. On the other hand, if you don’t have transparent processes that at least appear to be open to input from everyone, what you get isn’t faculty making wise decisions and students not needing a voice… you get a debacle of faculty abdicating their responsibilities and students being discriminated against. Yay.

  16. I have to agree with @REG #8, it seems implausable that there was not written policy for leave of absence, whether for child bearing, illness, family issues, etc. At least now they may have something in writing that protects all students.

  17. Oh the irony. My understanding of chair positions at UC Davis is that they are not highly coveted and they don’t have a lot of power. Thus- my cynical self says that this guy just got out of doing a job that he probably didn’t want anyway- as a save face for bad deeds done.

  18. pseudonymous

    “this guy just got out of doing a job that he probably didn’t want anyway”. Well, if that is the case there is an additional powerful reason for him getting out. Even if, as you say, Chairs at UC Davis don’t have a lot of power, these positions are viewed as an academic honor and should be testimonial.

  19. vetstudent

    As a student of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, I feel that the events that have transpired since Isis’ blog came out have been a travesty for everyone involved. I feel it is imperative to state here that Dr Feldman’s apology is sincere and heartfelt, and that he had only the best intentions at heart. He never acted out of malice, and certainly was not motivated by misogyny. His decision was a clumsy and poorly thought out way to handle absentee policy. However, the same error would have occurred regardless of the reason for the student’s absence.
    As a woman in modern society, I applaud Isis’ attempts to combat discrimination based upon gender. In this incidence, however, I fear that she has done more harm than good by targeting someone who is not guilty. Isis’ statements in her January column implied that his motives were based upon disrespect for both the woman and her situation, something I truly believe to be false. I have yet to meet anyone (students, faculty, or staff) involved in our veterinary school who would ever call him misogynistic, or accuse him of having anything but the utmost respect for the women in our profession.
    The students of this institution are both fortunate and extremely grateful that Dr Feldman, one of the most talented experts in the field of endocrinology, will be allowed to continue to teach us and prepare us for our careers.

  20. “I certainly have little appetite for retaliation.”
    Really? because creating this image: “In my mind I imagined Dr. Feldman swaggering in to class one day, frowning, and saying… ‘Alright, kids. We got a dilemma. Jolene done gone and got herself knocked up. What are we gone do about it, now?’” sure seems like retaliation.
    As does the excerpt from under one of your pictures in the original blog: “What should we do with that pesky knocked up student, Rover? Just give her a ‘C’?”
    As does the (incorrect) assertion (multiple times) that the students WILL determine the woman’s grade. Getting other students’ INPUT on holding the woman in their class to different standards should be a good thing.
    Shame on you for posting something so biased in the first place.

  21. The comments are more telling than the post.
    @18- I think we have a difference of opinion about chairmanship- some may view it as an ‘academic honor’… I view it as a necessary job that someone unfortunately must do- a job which may or may not be desirable.
    @19- The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Listen to yourself. Re-read what you wrote. My goodness. Put down your defensiveness for one moment and think about what this faculty member’s unfortunate actions conveyed to all of you students… I hope we have all learned an important lesson here. It is never appropriate for a class to be asked to decide, weigh in on, or otherwise judge a fellow student on what grade he/she will receive.
    @20 ‘Getting other students’ INPUT on holding the woman in their class to different standards should be a good thing.’ Can I puke on your shoes? Read what I wrote to @19.
    I’m going to repeat this just a single time. As a faculty member, if I have questions about fairness, grading, how to handle a particularly non-standard situation with a student- I SHOULD BE ASKING MY COLLEAGUES AND THE LEADERSHIP OF MY UNIT OR COLLEGE, AND I SHOULD BE FOLLOWING ESTABLISHED POLICIES. Nowhere in there does getting other students input have any place at all.
    Yikes. Just Yikes.

  22. vetstudent

    I believe I called his actions “clumsy and poorly thought out”. I was hoping that would indicate that I thought he handled the situation poorly. Ideally, he would have worked out something just with that student. If he felt it needed to be a class decision, then it was a mistake to let the class presidents write the email that was sent out. Dr Feldman should have written it himself, and it should have said that he needed our help establishing a general absentee policy for quizzes (and in no way pinpoint a particular person as the reason). I can’t blame him for how it was worded, however, as he didn’t write it.
    I maintain that he had no negative intent when he decided he wanted to poll the class on how to deal with an absent student. Furthermore, I refute the implication that he is a misogynist. That is really all I had to say, sorry it so offended you.
    By the way, since I am sitting in the middle of the 130 of us who received that email, I know what effect it had on us. It was not nearly so negative as the effects of this blog.

  23. I love how all of Dr. Feldman’s students are defending him. Since they are not faculty, they clearly have no idea of what is expected of faculty. They cannot seem to realize that Dr. Feldman’s actions – regardless of what HIS STUDENTS think of them, were wrong, and in violation an already-established school policy, and the law. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it, how it affected you personally, or what you think his intent was. He screwed up, big-time.
    “vetstudent”@19, said, “I have yet to meet anyone (students, faculty, or staff) involved in our veterinary school who would ever call him misogynistic, or accuse him of having anything but the utmost respect for the women in our profession.”
    That’s interesting you say that, because there’s a male faculty member at my institution who attended vet school at UC Davis, and knows Dr. Feldman. He said that he was unfortunately not at all surprised at what Dr. Feldman did (because it was consistent with what he knew of him), and thought it was pretty appalling thing to do. Perhaps he has this opinion of Dr. Feldman because this man is a professor, and therefore has some idea of what professional conduct for a professor is. And that he knows that Dr. Feldman, and was disappointed, but not surprised at his unprofessionalism.
    I know it must wound you all that your beloved professor did this, but he screwed up and he knew better than to do what he did, no matter how much you like him.

  24. Vetstudent:

    I maintain that he had no negative intent when he decided he wanted to poll the class on how to deal with an absent student.

    You are missing the point. It does not matter that his intentions were not malicious. What matters is that he sent an email out that contained personal information about a student in violation of the law. As a professor, he should have been familiar with the policies and should have known that what he was doing was wrong.

  25. @ 22
    Thanks for clarifying the situation from your point of view. I happen to agree with some of what you say about the perceived ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’.
    However, if (at least) some of the other class members thought as you did (as you implicate they did), and if you respect Dr Feldman as you also indicate you and your class members do, then why did the class not respond the way you did in the posting at #21?
    Or did the class already respond in this way?
    Regarding the overall situation: I have absolutely no problem with a class giving input about generalised policies (and where I used to work, we could NOT change the written guidelines in our own course WITHOUT discussing it with the students). However, I DO have a problem with class members being able to vote to ‘fail’ a fellow student on the basis of an anonymous survey sent out by email; and I DO have a problem with one individual’s “case” being shown to, and considered by, other students.
    What if the students HAD (or DID) vote to fail the student?????? That would have been of immense harm to her.
    This would surely have caused more harm than Isis bringing the matter to light (since it is already in the public arena because of the circulated emails).
    Airing things usually helps to cleanse them, in the end.

  26. I fear that she has done more harm than good by targeting someone who is not guilty
    He shared personal medical information about a student with her colleagues without her permission. He may have done this from the kindest possible motives, but that is absolutely not an appropriate thing to do, ever.
    Accidental violations of privacy are still violations of privacy, and consequences aren’t punishment. Isis’s point never seemed to me to be “Dr. Feldman is a Bad Man who must be punished,” but rather “This action is so completely not okay that the university needs to talk about it.”
    Even if Dr. Feldman is the kindest, most generous human who ever lived–and he may well be!–what he did was unacceptable. Stepping down from a department chairmanship isn’t a life-changing consequence, even though I agree with Isis that it seems like a rather draconian step by the university administration.
    Wonderful people can do inappropriate things. Not calling them on those things doesn’t help anyone.

  27. I mean, seriously, saying “This is a nice person and they meant no harm, therefore I am not going to register my concerns about their inappropriate actions” is not a good way to be an active part of a profession.

  28. Such a lot of sturm und drang about what should be nothing!
    I am a student at a different veterinary school. We have an extremely strict and also very clear absentee policy – a student may occasionally miss an exam for personal emergency reasons (and this has happened a few times with no blowback at all from the rest of the class), but it must get made up within a defined time frame. Actual falling behind would not be tolerated; if students need personal time, they are allowed personal time in increments of one year. Taking time off for a medical or family reason ends up looking EXACTLY like what happens if an exam is failed, or if a dual-degree student spends a year pursuing a concurrent PhD or MS/MPH: the student joins the next year’s class at the appropriate time.
    One of my classmates is pregnant. Veterinary students know more than your average layperson about timing and managing reproduction, so one assumes that a pregnancy in a vet student is intentional and as such is carefully timed. My pregnant colleague is not currently planning on taking any time off. In other years, women have chosen to delay completion of their degree by a year to accommodate motherhood, or have finished their degrees on time.
    In my opinion it is foolish for faculty at Davis to be thinking of it as a problem that needs to be solved, and a sign of weakness in the administration of their program.
    And if it was humiliating for this woman to have her pregnancy discussed by the class, Isis, how much more so to have it discussed by you?

  29. @ Thisbe, yes I agree it shouldn’t have ever happened. That is EXACTLY why it WAS a problem – because it did happen.
    The one point I disagree is that there is a big difference between being ‘outed’ in front of your classmates, where people know you personally and an anonymous blog where ‘it could have been anyone’. I certainly do not know the student or any of the students; and most readers of this blog do not. And she does not know me. For me (and most readers, I would assume), this is an exercise in discussing the updating of policies that do not (yet) conform to those in your own department.
    That is all, it is not exposing an individual since we do not know who she is, and will never know.

  30. Why don’t some of you people understand that a woman can become pregnant even while using birth control? I think she should be accommodated whether she became pregnant accidentally or intentionally. But for crying out loud, birth control is not 100% effective! If she became pregnant accidentally, she should not be forced to have an abortion just because she’s in vet school. Geez.

  31. Isis the Scientist

    Because isn’t it easier for us to think that if age becomes pregnant she must just be a careless whore and it is, thus, her fault?

  32. Olden days vet

    @Icee (#30): Yeah, jeez, vet students learn how to use a bucket of water for population control, so why can’t they apply that to their personal life too?

  33. What? I don’t get the bucket of water thing.

  34. Icee – I think it’s a reference to drowning unwanted kittens. I don’t know what it has to do with anything, though.

  35. I’m starting to lose the thread too. The fact that someone was pregnant is just the back story – the reasons for and against are TOTALLY IRRELEVANT. I thought the issue was more general – about how someone in authority abused that authority to ‘out’ personal details in a way that ‘could have’ been better handled, and handled in a way that improved conditions for all those who had an unexpected (or expected) absence from a test.
    What has THAT do to with birth control?

  36. Olden days vet

    Yeah, I was specifically mocking the person who said “One of my classmates is pregnant. Veterinary students know more than your average layperson about timing and managing reproduction, so one assumes that a pregnancy in a vet student is intentional and as such is carefully timed.”
    Because, of course, accidental pregnancy NEVER happens. Nope. Not if you’re a vet student, anyway, who understands biology. Learning and knowledge are impenetrable shields against misfortune and the whims of probability! Don’t we all know that?
    Anyway, that comment just blew me away with its smugness, so I replied with an insult towards the professionalism of the vet student who posted it. Because in all seriousness, assuming that 100% of pregnancies are planned — even among educated people — is sheer foolishness.
    Plus, taking that attitude to its logical conclusion basically results in “Welp, you can either abort or lose a year of school! Sucks for you!” That’s far worse than “Welp, we can’t afford to feed these cats, and spaying hasn’t been invented yet, so time to get a sack and head down to the river.”

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