As the David Pitts Story Burns Out of Control…

… it’s worth asking a question often posed when a professor dangerously implodes: Why didn’t anyone who knew or worked with him say or do anything? Did someone do something? If so, why was Pitts running a high-profile program at American University up to the moment of his arrest?

As in this sad recent case at Yale, the culminating implosion in the Pitts case was indeed a culmination, and it’s hard to believe no one at AU was remotely aware that Pitts might be a danger to himself and others. (Yale had put Samuel See on unpaid leave.) As his pyromania and drug theft spree around the Washington region (he is now being investigated for the fires at the Marriott Hotel during the APSA convention, which he attended) comes to an end with his arrest, and as interviewed AU students say the obvious (they’re scared that this man was until a few days ago teaching at their school), attention inevitably turns toward American University and its policies.

It is of course possible that Pitts was able to hide from everyone on campus what looks to have been a massive drug addiction and a perilously deteriorating mental state; but assuming some people noted disturbing behavior in him, the question is: What ought they to have done? UD is fully aware that when it comes to possibly unhinged people around you – especially people in positions of authority – your response typically has everything to do with denial and with vaguely hoping that someone else will say or do something.

The most frightening recent campus case of this syndrome involved Professor Amy Bishop, the mass murderer at the University of Alabama Huntsville. Quite a few people there report having been seriously creeped out by this woman (she turned out to have another murder, plus an attempted bombing, in her past), but no one seems to have tried to have her put on leave or whatever. They did indeed deny her tenure, but she decided to kill as many colleagues as she could before leaving.


David Pitts has been busy, in the last few days, in UD‘s neighborhoods, trying to burn down buildings full of people. If suspicions are correct, he began with a hotel building housing a large number of his fellow political scientists from all over the world. He then seems to have moved to a shopping mall steps from AU’s campus. One assumes he would eventually have gotten around to torching AU itself.

Well, we’ve dealt with faculty breakdowns on this blog before…

… and this certainly looks like another one – just down the street from UD.

The chair of the Department of Public Administration and Policy at American University has been arrested for breaking into a shopping mall and setting a fire there.

David Pitts was apparently found with “matches, lighters, gloves, a newspaper and black liquid substance. Plus, there was evidence of a small fire still visible.”



WHOA. Read some of his recent tweets.

This one in particular: August 29, from the Marriott Hotel, where all the people there for the annual American Political Science Association convention had to evacuate because of a fire.


More details of Pitts’ arrest here.


Could there be a link between the fire at the Washington Marriott that Pitts reports on via tweets – Pitts reports from the scene and seems to have attended the convention- and this more recent local fire?

Next week’s guest …

lecturer: Lee Joon-seok.

The Philosophy Department at the University of Colorado Boulder…

… is the focus of this address by the chancellor to that university’s community; his larger subject is a culture of sexual harassment and assault on campus. The significant history at CU Boulder has to do with the football team ten years ago, but these new allegations are broader than that, and seem to touch on all aspects of the campus.

So far the philosophy department has gotten a lot of attention.

The university has begun dismissal proceedings against one of the department’s tenured professors. He’s accused of retaliating against a female student who filed a sexual assault report with the university against a male philosophy grad student. The professor was the grad student’s mentor, and he decided to launch his own investigation of the incident.

[Professor David] Barnett, who is not the alleged sexual assailant, is accused of compiling a 38-page report painting the victim as “sexually promiscuous” and alleging she falsified the report of the assault, according to a notice of intent to sue CU filed by the victim last month.

The university has settled with the victim.

Dear Tom: Here’s what you need to understand.

Tom Izzo, the $3.4 million a year Michigan State basketball coach, is hurt and angry and confused. Why don’t MSU professors work with him on his players’ academic performance?

– After being in constant contact with professors in his early years at Michigan State as an assistant, Izzo said he now can’t initiate conversations with professors about his players’ academic performance.

“If I see them on the street or at the grocery store, otherwise I’m afraid to,” Izzo said. “That sounds a little ridiculous and a little venom to it, but I’m telling you the truth. I do not like the way we’ve done it, personally.”

The reason for the separation between coaches and professors is that administrators fear coaches will apply pressure to make their players eligible. Izzo said that fear is unfounded.

“I just can’t see myself doing it, strong-arming a prof, number one, or a prof taking my strong-arm number two. I just don’t understand that,” Izzo said.

One of the reasons Izzo is confused is that there’s really no difference between him and any other MSU professor:

“I am an educator, my degree’s in education,” Izzo said. “And so that bothers me that we do not get the opportunity, because I’m a professor in my own right too, I’m a teacher in my own right too.”

Why then when an MSU professor sees Izzo does she skadizzo? Why won’t she, like the Air Force Academy professors we’ve been reading about lately, “hook up” with him?

[T]he Department of Management, which teaches management courses, would “hook-up” athletes – slang for giving athletes advantages in class.

Why won’t professors at MSU play ball?

Well, Tom, let’s consider.

I know it’s petty of her, but Professor I Don’t Brake for Izzo has trouble seeing you as another faculty member. It’s not about snobbery, Tom; it’s about the disparity between your salaries. Talk about income inequality! She can’t help wondering, while you’re bending her ear at the Kroger, why one of the teachers at her school earns fifteen trillion or so more than she does… Than anyone she knows or ever has known or ever will know does… It makes her nervous around him. He must be very important.

And that’s Point Two, Tom. To you, it’s a simple neighborly chat at the grocery; to her, it’s a command performance with the actual president of the university. The actual governor of the state! She knows your salary mops the floor with the titular president’s salary, and with the governor’s salary. She knows that’s because few people on campus – and certainly in the state – give a shit about anything but sports. It’s all there in the numbers. Why should she risk everything in talking to someone of your stature and power? She’d feel compelled to do anything you asked her with a student – pretty much anything at all – because of your state-wide, not just university-wide, influence. (Do you have the highest public salary in the state? She’s sure you’re way up there…)

Okay, and here’s another reason you’re unpopular with faculty, Tom. Every morning professors at your school get up and read about really sickening and endless and humiliating athletics scandals at Penn State and Chapel Hill and the Air Force Academy and all. It’s not so much that your faculty is immediately afraid of the same thing happening at MSU; rather there’s a basic continuous disgust that’s been generated by all of the stories. You are closely associated with the world (university and professional) generating the disgust, and I’m sorry but that makes you kind of gross to be around. It’s not your fault! UD understands. But it’s your world. UD recommends you send a scout out before you enter public spaces – someone to issue trigger warnings so that people liable to experience the disgust/evasion response can exit the area.

Hard to think of a more clearly targeted killing than Dan Markel’s.

He was pulling into his driveway while talking on his cell phone. He remarked to the person he was talking to that someone was in his driveway.

The killer was waiting for Markel outside his home in Tallahassee’s Betton Hills section, a source told ABC News, and followed Markel into the garage, shooting him in the side of the head through the window of his car.

This case is getting enormous national attention, which possibly means it will be solved as tips from all sorts of people come in.

It was an ambush, using exactly the same technique as this recent ambush. Hélène Pastor was the victim of a hitman hired by family members.

UD thanks a Florida State University reader…

… for this most recent update of the Dan Markel murder. It confirms what UD has been feeling as she reads accounts of Markel’s death — that this sounds like a targeted, not at all random killing.

“The initial investigation has provided no indication that this case is connected to a burglary or robbery and investigators are assuring residents there is no evidence this was a random act,” a police press release says. “Neighbourhood residents should continue to be vigilant but it appears at this time that Mr. Markel was the intended victim in this incident.”

The only thing that stands out in what UD has so far read about Markel’s life is that he had been going through an ugly, protracted divorce.


Update: Details on the divorce and litigation here.

A law professor at Florida State University…

… is gunned down in his house, apparently by an intruder. His community of students, colleagues and bloggers remembers him here.


From Dan Markel’s review of Deborah Lipstadt’s book, History on Trial:

From the outset, Lipstadt makes plain that various aspects of the Holocaust are the subject of legitimate and competing historical interpretations, and that it was not her goal, either in scholarship or at the trial, to shut down rivalling understandings…

[I]t turns out that this reminder was vitally important, because certain well-known historians improperly chastised Lipstadt about the purported “chilling effect” inflicted by her hard-fought victory [over David Irving].

Their concern is arrant tripe.


This update suggests Markel was murdered “after opening the door of his home, though whether as part of a robbery or something else is unclear.”

In memoriam, UD took down from a shelf in her living room this evening…

Rediscovering Fuller: Essays on Implicit Law and Institutional Design, one of whose editors died on Flight 17. In his introduction to the book on Lon Fuller (Mr UD is one of the contributors), Willem J. Witteveen writes

[Lon Fuller] raised issues that are highly relevant to our own times – think, for instance, of the difficulties involved in designing institutions which are acutely felt in Eastern Europe; or, to mention another example, the difficulty of saying just what moral stance is appropriate and fitting for jurists who perform a social role as legislators or adjudicators, questions which are issues of contemporary debate in the Netherlands and the United States respectively… Especially at a time when too much attention in legal theory is addressed to problems of interpretation of law – to the point of assuming that all of law is in some way interpretation – Fuller deserves to be read for his pioneering work on legislation, the social basis of law, institutional design, and the moral responsibilities of lawyers.

Last year, it was a professor of physics at …

Columbia University.

This year, it was a Leeds University professor.

Let us see if we can make some headway into the mystery of why, occasionally, male professors teaching large lecture courses strip in front of their classes.

In both cases, it was part of a lesson plan. The physicist intended to shake his students out of conventional thinking as they entered the bizarre realm of physics. The events management guy meant to show his lecture hall what a boffo sales presentation looks like.

In both cases, the lesson plan failed. Certainly both instructors riveted their students; but the students seem – judging by their reactions – not to have been riveted on physics or business, but rather on psychology. As in the psychology of a professor who takes his clothes off (except for his shorts) and then does other strange things (assuming the fetal position; shaving) in front of large numbers of people.

So … Nervous breakdown? No. UD has covered a few cases of professors having nervous breakdowns or other sorts of mental collapses in front of their classes, and while they may indeed involve removal of clothing, they’re not like this. In the case of breakdowns, students tend to be immediately distressed, frightened, and on the phone to 911.

UD instead inclines toward Male Midlife Narcissistic Disorder. You’re restless, under-appreciated… There’s this ready-made irresistible crowd of eyes…

Heroes, Heroines, and Heroin

America’s adorable, folksy, opioid epidemic now has Chicago and other locales suing drug-makers for lying about the dangers of pain pills. More municipal lawsuits are on the way.

“For years, big pharma has deceived the public about the true risks and benefits of highly potent and highly addictive painkillers in order to expand their customer base and increase their bottom line,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement today. “It’s time for these companies to end these irresponsible practices and be held accountable.”


What’s this got to do with a blog called University Diaries?

Without the pharma-sponsored labwork of university professors all over this country, this epidemic would never have worked out so well. You can’t put a price on being able to draw on the scientific integrity of universities when it comes to convincing a whole nation that it should be taking OxyContin. Without the close industry relationships forged by, for instance, the University of Washington’s Dennis Turk (updated information about Turk here; scroll down), you simply wouldn’t get the necessary information out there that you need to get out there (“100 million [Americans] … suffer from chronic pain”) (it’s true!) …

“To avoid confusion: this [lawsuit] is separate from [Peter Ludlow's] counter-suit against the undergraduate student that filed suit against him (in Illinois state court) and that brought a Federal suit against Northwestern alleging that the university mishandled her complaint against him.”

Got that?

Why do people hate professors?

Michael O. West, who was on the UNC faculty with [Julius] Nyang’oro for six years until 2002 and still considers him a friend, said he has often wondered why his former colleague has said nothing in his defense for years. Nyang’oro could face up to 10 months in prison if convicted.

“He is a man of patience and forbearance. Long-suffering is his strong suit,” said West, now a professor at Binghamton University in New York.

People hate professors because a professor will describe a fellow professor who spent years offering bogus courses that never met, and getting paid close to two hundred thousand dollars a year in exchange for this activity, as long-suffering.

Italians are All Jews, Lenny Bruce Famously Said.

And in a similar way, professors are all – er, let me get the language right –

“liberal[s] [who] sit in the rarified environs of academia in the ivory towers of a college campus with no accountability and no consequence … [and who] throw stones at those of us who are working every day to make a difference.”

It doesn’t matter to Eric Cantor that the guy he’s talking about is his tea party challenger, a man who has won endorsement from a raft of reactionaries. It doesn’t matter to Eric Cantor that David Brat works every day, at the marvelously titled BB&T Moral Foundations of Capitalism Program, to make a difference. It doesn’t matter to Eric Cantor that Brat’s very list of alma maters fairly reeks of God and country:

Hope College
Princeton Theological Seminary
American University

Cantor, famous for his you’re just jealous analysis of income inequality in America (scroll down), is letting his own propensity to envy slip through here, I’m afraid. Unpack his attack on useless liberal Brat and you discover a hard-bitten man of the people (given their respective positions on the ideological spectrum, I think you’d have to say a hard-bitten man of the left) resenting a “rarified” leisure class that leans back in its ivory loungers and pitches missiles at the working class (“those of us who are working every day”).

Could’ve been written by Marat.

Congratulations, Suckers.

[T]he system is not sustainable in its present form. The graduation into a shrunken legal sector of students with hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt, nondischargeable in bankruptcy, cannot continue.

Antonin Scalia, commencement address to the graduating class of William and Mary Law School.

Although he cites friend-of-this-blog Paul Campos, Scalia seems not to have read him (or the hilarious Brian Tamanaha) on law professors and their feelings about their salaries. Because Scalia says this:

[T]he vast majority of law schools will have to lower tuition. That probably means smaller law school faculties though not necessarily one third smaller. That would be no huge disaster. Harvard Law School, in the year I graduated, had a faculty of 56 professors, 9 teaching fellows, and 4 lecturers; it now has a faculty of 119 professors, 53 visiting professors, and 115 lecturers in law. A total of 69 then and 287 now. And cutting back on law school tuition surely means higher teaching loads. That also would not be the end of the world. When I got out of law school, the average teaching load was almost 8 hours per week. Currently it is about half that. And last but not least, professorial salaries may have to be reduced, or at least stop rising. Again, not the end of the world.

On that last point, here are the words of Kent Syverud, chair of the council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar:

“The painful truth is that the problem with costs is that law professors and deans are paid too much relative to the amount of work they do… The whole problem of costs would go away tomorrow if our salaries were halved.”


So here’s the deal, as ol’ UD sees it. Harvard will continue to inflate its law faculty to infinity, because Harvard has a close to forty billion dollar endowment and can do anything. Let’s not use Harvard as an example of anything. Other law schools, even respectable ones, will go the cheesy for-profit online route (they will contract with a company to exploit their university’s name and offer third-rate law degrees by correspondence) before they start cutting classroom faculty or increasing work load.

Yes, this approach will degrade their university, and its law program, yet further. But in the short term it will protect that most unusual of graduate faculties – faculties which graduate many unemployable, deeply indebted attorneys, but faculties that continue to be paid in the hundreds of thousands for teaching three or four courses a year.

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