Professor Lou Buttino documents in a Martin Center column his disturbing encounter with the university’s bureaucracy in connection with a dispute with a fellow faculty member.

In my 45 years of teaching I have never filed an academic complaint against another faculty member—nor has one ever been filed against me. I have long believed that this demonstrates the overwhelming integrity of the teaching profession.

But in 2012, as a professor and former chair in film studies at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, I became involved in a bitter controversy. It was the consequence of a process alternately so Byzantine, so nonchalant, so ineffective—meaningless, even—that my faith in the academy has been shaken. …

… Violations of UNCW’s ethics policies were evident. I wrote the committee, explaining that I had partnered on the proposal and asked that they delay before making a decision. The violations included intellectual dishonesty, failure to report information accurately and thoroughly, and failure to abide by the highest standards of integrity. The committee agreed to table the matter.

This was serious. According to UNCW’s ethics policy, “any member of the university community found in violation of this [ethics policy] shall be subject to disciplinary action…including a reprimand, suspension without pay, and dismissal for employees depending on the nature and severity of the violation.”

To address these types of problems, UNCW has a Faculty Professional Relations Committee (FPRC), which handles disputes between faculty. As I was gathering evidence for my case, my colleague filed a grievance against me. She claimed I had libeled her. However, my complaint included documented proof of her ethics violations.

The faculty at large elects members to the FPRC. No particular training or experience in legal matters is required—nor did I find that members seek such advice when appropriate. There is nothing in writing about the actual process. We learned details just before the hearing began. Changes would still take place after the process started. An example: General Counsel told me I would be able to question others, including my colleague. After the process began, I learned this was not allowed.