Three documents--Dessler's demand letter; Dessler's lawsuit; Solly's Flat Hat piece--tell the important story
These three documents establish the nature and severity of the faculty rights crisis at W&M and jointly reveal an identical crisis of student rights unfolding at the same time, for the same reasons.
The documentation referenced here reveals, first and foremost, a campaign of unrelenting abuse and harassment, including the use of violence, to destroy the reputation and standing of a faculty member at an American university. The injustices and injuries suffered by this faculty member were components of an aggressive campaign of personal destruction, implemented with the aim of shattering the professor's professional and social life and driving him out of the university community. These documents show, second, the systematic and wide-ranging mistreatment of students at the same university in stories that parallel the professor's account.
The documents in question are (i) the faculty member's "demand letter" preceding his lawsuit, which tells a story connecting faculty and student experiences; (ii) the faculty member's lawsuit, which breaks down the five sets of actions meant to silence the professor, destroy his reputation, and alienate him from colleagues and students on campus; (iii) four articles published by the university's student newspaper the month after the lawsuit was announced.
In early 2017, a media observer wrote of the professor's case that it was "the most egregious, blatant, obvious and weird attempt to discredit and silence a human being that I have ever witnessed." It was about this time that the professor, who was working to improve student mental health care at his school, received from a local psychiatrist information that led him to conclude that the policies used against him, and intended to destroy his standing at the university, were almost certainly used against the student population as well, and were possibly widespread there. Because this faculty member was at the time cut off from students and forbidden by terms of bond from contacting them, he spent the last half of 2017 helping prepare a lawsuit that would signal the students on campus of his discovery. The main claim of the lawsuit he filed in late December 2017 drew from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits retaliation against individuals who oppose discrimination against protected groups. In the fall of 2015, the professor had started the nation's first faculty-led student mental health initiative at a university, and he was forced off campus without warning or notice the next month. The lawsuit suggested that his removal from campus, and the actions taken against him in the two years that followed, which included five false criminal arrests, represented an effort by the College to stop him from speaking out on behalf of student mental health care at his school. Local papers reported the filing of the lawsuit in early January 2018. The next month, the university's student newspaper published a four-part, eight-article, 8800-word essay that considered the professor's 2015 mental health initiative, his five arrests and 77 days in jail, the employment policies of the College that led to his termination, and the mental health climate on campus.
These events took place at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. Additional documentation describes the workings of an arbitrary administrative power that operated unpredictably and without check at this professor's university from about 2008 to 2018. This power, coordinated with corruption in the county criminal justice system, targeted dozens of students, staff, and faculty at the College. It destroyed many lives and careers, functioning in a way that kept hidden its operators, discrediting those who were targeted, and intimidating those who knew they could be next. By suppressing free speech, denying due process, and issuing no-trespass orders backed by the threat of arrest, the arbitrary administrative power used against individuals in the W&M community was able to remain invisible. It was the publication of the professor's case, followed by student newspaper stories, supplemented with further research by the faculty member, that revealed both the many types of campus abuse cases (in narratives of expulsion, suspension, dismissal, and arrest) and their common structure and logic.
In almost all cases, university policies advanced false and defamatory claims about innocent individuals with the aim of ostracizing them: the point was to permanently remove the targeted individuals from the university community by inventing false and destructive charges or accusations against them and banning them from campus, thus denying them any opportunity to speak in their own defense or seek help from anyone at the university. The accusations were designed to destroy the victims' reputations or undermine their standing in a way that would make inconceivable any plans they might wish to make to return to William & Mary. Bans on contact with people at the university, coupled with a no-trespass order applied to the campus, each enforced by the threat of arrest, eliminated the possibility of due process or redress through university procedures. The College's overwhelming institutional power in both local and federal courts in Virginia, which no other university in the United States can rival, owing to William & Mary's unique charter and history, makes the school invulnerable to legal challenge. Because the policies of ostracism were destructive of social reputation generally, not just at the school, they burdened victims with ruinous personal narratives that could only limit their life chances well into the future, regardless of where they went.
The narrative structure typically used to understand cases of administrative abuse at American universities, which is focused on violations of the law and the deprivation of rights, can of course be used in the William & Mary cases. Both the demand letter and the lawsuit from the faculty member posted below advance just a story. However, in the William & Mary cases, the destructive actions of the school were utterly irrational--they advanced no goal of the university and served no purpose of any individual or unit within it. To understand these stories thus requires that one assume a university actor with a purely destructive goal, taking action without regard for the interests of the university. To write such an account, one must search for coherence in such things as the logic of ostracism that gives the university's policies their meaning, or the effects these policies have on the victim, which will usually be best understood not in conventional terms (e.g., monetary loss or injury), but as involving something akin to identity change (e.g., being marginalized by criminalization through false arrest). One might also usefully focus on the actions and statements the school advances to keep from being understood as pursuing just such policies, trying instead to keep everyone focused on a conventional legal narrative alleging misconduct by the victim.
In addition to being irrational, most ostracism policies are also savage, sometimes incomprehensibly so, intended to impose maximum psychological suffering on the individual. Historical research indicates that these policies have antecedents in Tidewater Virginia dating back as far as the period of martial law in Jamestown from 1610-1618. Seventeenth-century Tidewater history, it turns out, both accounts for the bizarre character of W&M's policies of ostracism and explains why no other American university could possibly have to deal with them. The discovery of an ancient logic of arbitrary administrative power with deep roots in Virginia history has permitted university officials to put an end to its operation at William & Mary.