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Herb Richardson, Please Don’t Sue Us

Herb Richardson, helluva guy

Herb Richardson, helluva guy

We want to thank Professor David Touretzky of Carnegie Mellon University, who sent us down this rabbit hole a few days ago.

He pointed us to a news item that has grabbed considerable attention in the academic world, although Gawker thinks it can’t be any more boring.

Here’s the thumbnail: An academic librarian at McMaster University in Ontario named David Askey is being sued for millions because in 2010, when he was still a tenured associate professor at Kansas State University, he wrote a blog post criticizing the quality of books put out by an academic publisher, Edwin Mellen Press.

Who cares, Gawker asks. Well, we think you might care after you hear more about Edwin Mellen Press, about the odd way Scientology is involved, and about a guy named Herbert Richardson.

A note about the care we’re taking in this blog post: Herb has proved to be a somewhat litigious person, and we really can’t take any chances. So any time we can find something positive! to say about Herb, we’re going to grab it.

For example, we were thrilled to learn that Herb was once the subject of a book that championed his cause after he was removed from his job at the University of Toronto in 1994. Why was he sacked? No doubt because he was simply too awesome. In fact, the title of the book about him seems to suggest that’s the case… The Envy of Excellence: Administrative Mobbing of High Achieving Professors. (Two other professors were also profiled.)

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So it was envy of Herb’s excellence that motivated the pointy-headed bastards over at U of Toronto’s St. Michael’s College to give him the boot. Well, thank goodness Herb received some recognition in Envy of Excellence, which was written by Kenneth Westhues and was published by Edwin Mellen Press. Which Herb owns.

Hey, why not? After all, who else is going to stick up for you besides yourself, right? In fact, Herb also published another version of Westhues’s book that contained only Herb’s part of the original story, calling it Academic Mobbing at the University of Toronto. (You can get a copy for yourself for only $119.95 at Edwin Mellen.) Anyway, we found even further validation of Herb in a review of the book that provided quite a bit of background on the controversy…

Academic Mobbing reads like a “who-dunnit,” or rather, a “what-dunnit,” because it is only on page 231 that we learn what Richardson is convicted of. In the eight-year build up, allegations included bad teaching, abuse of students, administrative neglect, plagiarism, scholarly misrepresentation, disloyalty to Catholic teaching (!), mis-using a four-month medical leave, and failing to disclose his activities in “Mellen Enterprises” ? the Edwin Mellen Press (which his opponents labeled a “vanity press,” and, it must be noted, published Academic Mobbing), and Mellen University (which, perhaps because it is chartered in the West Indies, accusers labeled a “diploma mill”).

Prof. Richardson’s biography is fascinating. Born in 1932 in Baltimore, Maryland, he was reared in Lakewood, Ohio, in a downwardly mobile but politically liberal WASP family. Forbidden by his father from joining any “Whites only” fraternity, Richardson became part of a racially mixed group of pre-theology students at Baldwin-Wallace College, outside of Cleveland. In 1955 he did graduate work at Boston University with Martin Luther King, Jr. as classmate. From 1956-62 he completed a doctorate at Harvard University Divinity School where he also served as Assistant Professor from 1962 to 1968.

In 1968, Richardson became the first Protestant theologian appointed to the Roman Catholic faculty of St. Michael’s during the ecumenical euphoria with which he identified. Achievement-oriented, self-confident, hard-working, free-thinking, and entrepreneurial, Westhues suggests Richardson’s quintessentially American, Protestant, liberal personality was sure to create friction eventually.

According to Westhues, the trigger for the “mobbing” was theological differences. An example was Richardson’s 1971 book on sexuality and women’s issues, Nun, Witch, Playmate: The Americanization of Sex (Harper & Row). Then there was Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, tagged by opponents as a “cult” which Richardson defended from 1976 to 1985, even testifying before the U.S. Senate on the legitimacy of religious conversion. More problematic was his 1974 founding of the Edwin Mellen Press in Lewiston, New York, building it into a 3 million dollar a year publishing house, with four thousand titles by 2001.

The reviewer goes on to describe what trumped-up nonsense the university finally used to remove Herb…

The charges sustained against Richardson centered on his non-disclosure of information about Mellen Press and Mellen University, alleged conflicts of interest, and the embarrassment caused, plus the charge of abusing a medical leave. Westhues succeeds admirably in his brief for Richardson’s defense and also in documenting the mobbing phenomenon, although I thought he tap-danced around the creation of Mellen University, saying he found it less interesting to discuss. While I know of colleagues who have (very legitimately) started publishing houses and other businesses, I know of none who have started another university! SAFS members will enjoy this book. Worthy of a screenplay, it will serve as an excellent source book for many years to come.

So Herb got screwed simply because he had the entrepreneurial spirit to start a publishing house and an off-shore university. Where’s the justice?

Luckily, there were people like this reviewer to cheer on Herb and see his side of things. The person who wrote this review? Oh, sadly, he died last year. And since he’s dead, we don’t have to worry about him suing us. So we can tell you that his name was J. Philippe Rushton, and don’t get us started on what a race-baiting dipshit he was.

But hey, Herb at least had someone sticking up for him.

It was right around the same time of his university kerfuffle that Herb filed a lawsuit against the turtleneck-wearing smartypants editors over at Lingua Franca. The magazine went out of business in 2001, but there’s still an archive of sorts that contains this short summary of the incident…

Warren St. John deems Edwin Mellen Press a vanity publisher capitalizing on the desperation of credential-hungry academics. St. John also finds that the Press’s offshore adjunct, Mellen University, is little more than a diploma mill. After the exposé, Mellen chief Herbert Richardson, a former University of Toronto religion professor, accuses LF of libel and sues for $15 million. He loses. In September 1994, St. Michael’s College, where Richardson holds tenure, dismisses him for “gross misconduct.”

For Herb’s side of things, you could read his lawyer’s book on the lawsuit, published by, you guessed it, Edwin Mellen Press. A bargain at $119.95 for 116 pages.

Besides starting a publishing house, and (at least for a while) his own university, Herb also, as Rushton’s review indicated, helped out the Rev. Moon with some glowing reviews of the Unification Church. And wouldn’t you know it, Herb also gave a helping hand to the Church of Scientology. Just take a look at his praise for Scientology and its practices…

The ethical doctrines of the Church of Scientology emphasize issues common to all religions, e.g., the value of chastity before and fidelity within marriage, and the importance of social justice. There is, however, a tendency in Scientology’s ethics to place special emphasis on actions which maintain or develop reason and freedom against whatever would injure or interfere with them by creating engrams. In Scientology, acts which harm the capacity of a human being to act in a spiritual way are especially to be avoided.

Hey, Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw ought to be studying this stuff! Herb has a way with words.

OK, so fast-forward to September 22, 2010, and K-State professor David Askey, on his blog, characterizes Herb’s publishing house in not so glowing terms…

Yes, they occasionally publish a worthy title. No, they are not technically a vanity publisher, since apparently they earn enough from libraries with their egregiously high prices to avoid asking for subsidies from authors. But at the end of the day, so much of what they publish is simply second-class scholarship (and that is being kind in some cases), and in a time when libraries cannot purchase so much of the first-class scholarship, there is simply no reason to support such ventures.

Ouch! Harsh, yes, but Askey did his best, in the comments, to engage with readers in an intelligent discussion. Some of his commenters, for example, were academics who had been published by Edwin Mellen Press — some were glad that they had worked with Herb, some not so much.

One commenter, however, was nastier than the others, and made a reference to Herb’s getting kicked out of Toronto U., and also accused him of being in a little too tight with Scientology.

Well, that was just a bridge too far. Herb, feeling singed, filed a lawsuit against Askey, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reports

The first lawsuit, filed by the publisher’s founder rather than the press, alleges that Mr. Askey is liable not just for criticizing the publisher’s output, a task Mr. Askey said is his job as a librarian, but also for making personal comments about Mr. Richardson, a task that is probably outside a librarian’s job description.

In a copy of the statement of claim obtained by The Chronicle, Mr. Richardson specifically states that “the defendant” accused him of being a “fascist and evangelical Scientologist.” But an archived copy of the original Web site, preserved by the Internet Archive, shows that the statement in question was actually posted in the comments section of the blog by a reader, not by Mr. Askey.

OK, so maybe Herb, who is awesome, hadn’t had time in his busy schedule to read Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which protects publishers from being sued over what commenters say. Or maybe he had — which is why he filed suit in Canada, not the United States. And after suing Askey for $1 million, Herb filed a second lawsuit for $3 million against Askey and his present employer, McMaster University, even though Askey hadn’t yet started his job at McMaster in 2010 when he wrote the blog post.

Academics around the country, obviously envious of Herb’s excellence, have denounced the lawsuits. Says the Chronicle, “Since the case came to light last week, librarians, professors, and academic associations have rallied online, characterizing the lawsuit as an assault against academic freedom.”

Everyone’s ganging up on Herb!

Maybe it’s time he cashed in those chips with the Moonies and with David Miscavige?

Anyway, given how things went with Askey’s blog, we’re going to ask our highly intelligent commenting community to help us out and in your remarks remember to…

1. Explain how awesome Herb is.

2. Choose your favorite Edwin Mellen Press title, and tell us why it appeals to you.

We thank you for your positivity!

————-

Posted by Tony Ortega on February 20, 2013 at 07:00

 

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