Thursday, January 10, 2008

Will the Real Susan O'Malley Please Stand Up?

Susan O’Malley’s recent complaint reveals a very different Susan O’Malley than many around CUNY have encountered in the last decade. Sometimes, it seems as if O’Malley’s chief problem is with the historical record rather than with Sharad Karkhanis. But, of course, it’s not possible for her to obtain $2 million from the historical record.

The complaint: “SUSAN O’MALLEY has always conducted her professional duties with dignity and grace.”

The record: How, then, to explain O’Malley’s unfounded allegations against a CUNY trustee? Reported Inside Higher Ed, “Susan O’Malley, a professor of English at Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York, said that CUNY’s trustees tried to prevent an adjunct at her campus from teaching the novel The Scar of David. CUNY officials could not be reached for comment, but press accounts suggest that the book was in fact taught.”

Unfounded allegations are inconsistent with someone who “has always conducted her professional duties with dignity and grace.”

The complaint: “SUSAN O’MALLEY found the position of UFS chair to be a demanding, high-stress, nerve-wracking position.”

The record: As far as can be determined, no one forced O’Malley to serve multiple terms as UFS chair. Or to stand for election to the PSC executive committee. Or to serve as executive director of the MLA’s Radical Caucus. Or to issue repeated public comments on higher education issues.

Perhaps O’Malley, for some reason, has regularly placed herself in “high-stress” and “nerve-wracking” situations. Or perhaps she enjoyed the power and influence that flowed from her myriad high-level elective positions, regrets that she has been voted out of office (UFS) or demoted (PSC), and is looking for someone to blame for her political setbacks.

The complaint: “During her term as UFS chair, SUSAN O’MALLEY worked a minimum of 5 days per week, 8 hours per day, and often worked into the evening, on weekends, and during the summer.”

The record: This claim is a bold one indeed. But though the complaint filed by O’Malley attorney Joseph Martin Carasso contained a number of exhibits, it did not include timecards or any other items that would corroborate this assertion. Apparently, O’Malley believes that not only everyone should take her word for how much time she worked as UFS chair, but this uncorroborated assertion should help her obtain $2 million from Karkhanis.

The complaint: “SUSAN O’MALLEY has always conducted her professional duties with dignity and grace.”

The record: “Dignity” and “grace” are not two words that immediately spring to mind to describe O’Malley’s performance in the KC Johnson tenure case. After going out of her way to identify herself as UFS chair, O’Malley published a statement, sent to all CUNY faculty, that misrepresented both Johnson’s publication record and the process through which he received tenure.

Erin O’Connor of Critical Mass blasted O’Malley’s performance in the case, which O’Connor described as that of a powerful senior professor seeking “to libel those junior faculty [she and her allies] seek to fire.”

The complaint: “SUSAN O’MALLEY likes and enjoys teaching and, in fact, defines herself as a teacher as well as a scholar. During her four years as UFS chair, she missed her students.”

The record: However much O’Malley “missed” her students, it evidently wasn’t enough to set aside her ambitions to hold elected office within the CUNY governance structure.

Moreover, on at least one occasion, O’Malley used her position to directly harm her community college students. Chancellor Goldstein created funds for 200 new community college hires, to be assigned to liberal arts departments. O’Malley, however, wanted the lines to go to more easily politicized skills instruction. Her response to the Chancellor’s proposal: “We must change this."

Trying to stop the hiring of 300 new tenure-track faculty members doesn’t sound like behavior associated with someone who “likes and enjoys teaching and . . . missed her students.”

The complaint: O’Malley “never politicked to be reassigned from teaching.”

The record: O’Malley’s initial election as UFS chair—and the released time from teaching that the position provided—was very tight. She now appears to be claiming that she never “politicked” for that position—and that this assertion should help her obtain $2 million from Karkhanis. This line of reasoning doesn’t pass the laugh test.

Who, then, is the real Susan O’Malley? The complainant demanding $2 million from Sharad Karkhanis, on the grounds that she “has always conducted her professional duties with dignity and grace”? Or the Susan O’Malley who made unfounded allegations against a CUNY trustee and an untenured CUNY professor; who tried to block the hiring of 300 new professors; who politicked to win election as UFS chair; and who seemed to revel in her power as UFS chair and ex oficio CUNY trustee?


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

O'Malley Rationalizes Yousry and Rosenberg

No one—not even Susan O’Malley—would deny that during her time as UFS chairperson, she advocated the continued employment at CUNY of Susan Rosenberg and Mohammed Yousry. Most people (although perhaps not O’Malley) would agree that Rosenberg and Yousry were convicted of terrorist-related activities. Much of O’Malley’s lawsuit against Sharad Kharkanis appears to be based on her claim that it was defamatory—to the tune of $2 million—for Kharkanis to assert that because O’Malley demanded the continued CUNY employment of Yousry and Rosenberg, she wanted to see terrorists employed at CUNY.

Rosenberg, it’s worth recalling, was convicted of armed robbery in a Weathermen attack that left two policemen dead. She nonetheless was hired as an adjunct at John Jay after Bill Clinton commuted her sentence; when the John Jay president elected not to reappoint her (as was his right), she became a cause célèbre of the Barbara Bowen-led PSC top brass. That, of course, included then-PSC executive committee member Susan O’Malley.

O’Malley concedes that—as UFS chair—she criticized the decision not to reappoint Rosenberg. Why? In her filing, she asserted that she had a “duty” to represent the opinions of the faculty, and there was “outrage” at John Jay over the decision not to reappoint Rosenberg.

How did O’Malley reach this determination? Her complaint doesn’t say. Did she take a poll of the John Jay faculty? Did she spend several weeks on campus to ascertain grassroots opinion? Did she speak to a handful of her cronies on campus?

It would seem, in short, that O’Malley has a flexible interpretation of “duty.”

Her explanation of her behavior in the Mohammed Yousry affair was even more tortured. Yousry was the former York adjunct who was suspended after being brought up on federal charges related to aiding lawyer Lynne Stewart get around federal guidelines designed to prevent convicted Egyptian terrorist Sheikh Abdul Rahman from communicating with his followers. Yousry was subsequently convicted on all charges.

O’Malley admits that she criticized the decision to suspend and then not reappoint Yousry. Why? Again, she cited her “duty” as UFS chairperson. “The faculty at York College . . . did not understand [Yousry] he was removed from the classroom in the middle of the term and forbidden to teach there again.”

Some people might argue that if the faculty at York College did not understand why it was not a good idea to have someone charged with serious federal crimes as an adjunct faculty member at their school, it was O’Malley’s “duty” as UFS chair to explain the situation to them.

The complaint concedes that O’Malley took the highly unusual decision to announce “at a UFS meeting that she heard that Yousry was looking for a job.” Neither O’Malley nor her attorney, Joseph Martin Carasso, reveal how many other times O’Malley used her position as UFS chair to announce the availability for hire of a potential adjuncts.

Nonetheless, asserts O’Malley, she wasn’t envisioning KCC extending an offer to Yousry—as Karkhanis suggested—because she had no influence over the KCC personnel process.

This assertion is laughable on its face: the chair of the UFS—the elected head of the faculty university-wide—takes the all-but-unprecedented decision to announce from the Senate floor that a politically controversial adjunct is looking for a job at CUNY. And it’s attorney Carasso’s claim that such a move couldn’t influence decisionmakers in O’Malley’s own academic department?

But take O’Malley at her word: she had no personnel influence, even as UFS chair. Even so, how could anyone possibly claim that Kharkanis--or anyone else--demonstrated bad faith by asserting that the head of the UFS likely had influence over her colleagues? At any university in the country (apart, evidently, from KCC during the O'Malley tenure as UFS chair), the elected leader of the faculty has influence over his or her colleagues.

O’Malley tries one other argument—but unfortunately, she just couldn’t override her ideology, even to advance her lawsuit. Carasso informed the court that O’Malley “does not support [Yousry] in his alleged ‘terrorist’ activities.”

“Alleged”? Yousry has been tried and convicted.

So, O’Malley’s basic position is this:

  • Yes, she criticized Rosenberg’s non-reappointment.
  • Yes, she criticized Yousry’s non-reappointment.
  • Yes, she took the extraordinary step of announcing Yousry’s availability for a job from the Senate floor.
  • No, even now, she can’t bring herself to admit that Yousry was convicted of aiding terrorism.

And based on those facts, she’s contending that because Sharad Kharkanis wrote that she favored the employment at CUNY of Yousry and Rosenberg (people convicted of terrorist-related activity), he should pay her $2 million? Most people would consider such a claim—as O’Malley herself admitted to the New York Sun—“very, very silly.”


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A "Sore Loser" Rationale?

In her lawsuit against Sharad Karkhanis, Susan O’Malley claims that she “has lost the esteem and respect of her colleagues and members of the KCC and CUNY Community.” For this development, she blames Karkhanis, to the tune of $2 million.

Of course, O’Malley’s complaint also asserts that she “has acquired and retained a high standing and reputation among the CUNY academic community.” [emphasis added]

How O’Malley has simultaneously “lost the esteem and respect of her colleagues” and “retained a high standing and reputation among the CUNY academic community” neither O’Malley nor her attorney, entertainment law/personal injury specialist Joseph Martin Carasso, chose to reveal.

Leave aside, for a moment, this seemingly fatal intellectual contradiction in the O’Malley complaint. Few would challenge the assertion that the former UFS chairperson/PSC executive committee member is best known on her home campus, Kingsborough Community College. Indeed, the O’Malley complaint itself speaks of her “long service to KCC” and “her long career dedicated to governance” at KCC. The complaint adds that her “life has been dedicated to teaching, scholarly research and governance at KCC.”

Kingsborough professors, in short, know Professor O’Malley well. If the O’Malley complaint had any merit, presumably KCC professors—the people who know her best, because of her “long service” to the institution—would have seen through Karkhanis’ allegedly defamatory falsehoods. Indeed, if O’Malley had been subjected to a campaign of defamation worth $2,000,000, she might even have benefited from a surge of sympathy on her home campus.

This past fall, Kingsborough featured a campuswide election for two seats in the University Faculty Senate. Professor O’Malley chose to run for one of the seats. But while 105 ballots were cast, O'Malley tallied only 30 votes. (Voters could select two candidates on their ballot.) Donald Hume and Gary Sarinsky were elected instead.

It’s easy to understand how this embarrassing outcome—the former president of the UFS not only failing to win a seat in the body over which she once presided but losing by a greater than two-to-one margin to Hume and just under that margin to Sarinsky—would constitute a crushing blow to a figure who has stated that her “life has been dedicated to teaching, scholarly research and governance at KCC.” And it’s also easy to understand that a figure so decisively repudiated by the colleagues who know her best would seek to lash out at her critics.

It surely is easier for Professor O’Malley to believe that she was defeated because of a $2 million campaign of defamation, and not because the people who know her best made a reasoned judgment that her agenda isn’t good for Kingsborough or CUNY. Unfortunately for O’Malley, being a sore loser doesn’t usually qualify as grounds for a favorable judgment.


Monday, January 7, 2008

Who Is Joseph Martin Carasso?

In a city teeming with attorneys, it might have been assumed that Susan O’Malley could have found a First Amendment or libel law specialist to file her $2 million lawsuit against Sharad Karkhanis.

Instead, the former UFS chairperson/PSC executive committee member turned to a 54-year-old entertainment attorney named Joseph Martin Carasso. A graduate of the William Mitchell College of Law (not an institution many would confuse with a Tier-I law school), Carasso’s Lexis/Nexis entry lists his specialties as entertainment litigation and personal injury matters.*

Carasso also served as consultant to a 2003 film called How Do You Spell Murder?, which “documents the L.I.F.E. literacy program at the New Jersey State Prison, one of the few inmate-run literacy programs in the United States.” He also has advertised himself as providing “low-cost legal advice for independents.”

It’s not clear how any of this experience—or, presumably, his personal injury lawsuits—prepared Carasso for filing what Brooklyn College professor Mitchell Langbert has termed a case “consistent with the long-observed deterioration of universities’ willingness to tolerate dissent,” which “may suggest an extension of this deterioration to universities’ use of the courts to suppress external criticism.”

In an interview with the New York Sun, O’Malley termed her cause of action “very, very silly.” Perhaps that’s why she had to turn to an entertainment and personal injury lawyer to get an attorney willing to file the suit.


*--corrected, in light of Carasso's subsequent denial of an association with ARP

Friday, January 4, 2008

Paranoia As Defamation?

Among the oddest of the many odd claims in Susan O’Malley’s $2 million lawsuit against Sharad Karkhanis is the following item:

“Plaintiff fears that people who only know her through [The Patriot Returns] . . . will harm her.”

Why? Because Karkhanis noted (correctly) that O’Malley had supported the employment at CUNY of people convicted of or charged with terrorist-related activity.

The inclusion of this clause suggests the close coordination between the former PSC executive committee member’s lawsuit and the PSC leadership: PSC spokesperson Deborah Benz, asked for a comment on the suit, replied, “Free speech, however, has limits . . . in a post-9/11 world.” (This is from the same union leadership that said it was OK for Brooklyn College’s Tim Shortell to term all religious people—including his religious students—“moral retards.”)

One major problem with O’Malley’s claim: the law—at least to date—doesn’t allow paranoid musings to be offered as evidence. And O’Malley appears to have no other grounds to substantiate her claim.

The former UFS chairperson says that she’s afraid people “will harm her.” Has she received any threats of harm? The complaint mentions none.

Has she filed a report alleging threats with the Brooklyn Police? Or with CUNY Security? Again, the complaint mentions no such action.

In recent years, critics of neoconservative theorists have contended that the neocons’ theories have actually promoted rather than combated terrorism. By O’Malley’s reasoning, each and every person who has made such a criticism of the neocons (including some of the PSC upper leadership) has opened themselves up to a $2 million lawsuit. Surely the neocons have as much reason to fear that people “who only know them through” the anti-war criticism that their policies have promoted terrorism “will harm them” as O’Malley does to fear people who only know her through The Patriot Returns.

We no longer live in 17th century Salem, Massachusetts: the long hand of the law cannot impose sanctions just because an influential figure—like O’Malley at CUNY—feels afraid.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

Candid O'Malley

A recent court filing contained some highly unflattering descriptions of former UFS chair and PSC executive committee member Susan O’Malley. Readers learned that some consider O’Malley:

  • “a person of vicious, disreputable, criminal, and ‘terrorist’ character, who supports ‘terrorist’ activities at the present time in the United States, who actively goes out of her way to assist convicted criminals without regard for the CUNY academic community, who acts purely for her own selfish reasons, and not for the best interests of the academic community, who believes in those who practice or preach terrorism or violence and murder and has the ability or influence to secure jobs for criminals and ‘terrorists’ instead of and at the expense of decent upstanding citizens and law-abiding Americans.”

  • “a thief, a person of dishonest and disreputable character, who works for her own selfish interests and against the best interests of the CUNY academic community, who improperly takes money and/or dues from the PSC and uses them for her own benefit, and further a person who dislikes and looks down on her academic colleagues and staff.”
  • “unscholarly, lacking scholarly excellence, and characterize[es] her academic achievements dishonestly.”
  • “a person of lazy and disreputable character, and who was working for her own selfish interests . . . She dislikes teaching, mistrusts her staff and colleagues, and is in all respects a person who has failed to contribute anything of value to her students, CUNY governance, and the CUNY academic community.”
  • “a person of disreputable character, who participated in a demonstration in front of Chancellor Goldstein’s home and who advocated demonstrations of no value or merit for her own interest and against the interest of the CUNY academic community.”

None of those descriptions of O’Malley came from Sharad Karkhanis, the person that O’Malley is suing for $2 million in a lawsuit that she herself has described as “very, very silly.” Indeed, apart from the word “terrorists”—Karkhanis’ description of Susan Rosenberg and Mohammed Yousry, both of whom were convicted of terrorist-related activity—none of those words appeared in any Karkhanis publication to describe O’Malley.

Instead, these descriptions of O’Malley all come from O’Malley’s attorney, Joseph Martin Carasso, an entertainment law specialist that O’Malley prevailed upon to file her “very, very silly” lawsuit. Given that Carasso’s descriptions of O’Malley are far more severe than anything Karkhanis has written about her, will Carasso be next in line to experience an O’Malley lawsuit?

Perhaps that’s why Carasso had demanded—in what would be an extraordinary provision—a court order that “all pleadings, papers, exhibits and other matters filed with the Court in this action be sealed.”


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

O'Malley v. Karkhanis: the Complaint

A recent posting in Mitchell Langbert’s blog, “...Does Mad Magazine Defame?” provides the greater part of the text of the full complaint in the libel case of O’Malley v. Karkhanis. If, as Publius notes below, “Sue” wins the day, lampooning will be illegal at CUNY, and soon across the American academy. O’Malley’s suit may be “silly,” but the implications are not.


Silencing Sharad Won't Be Simple

At the Democracy Project blog, Phil Ornstein recounts Sharad Karkhanis’ decades-long efforts in the cause of free speech in India and the United States. Phil also reminds us that this is not the first time that Susan O’Malley has tried to silence her most effective (and amusing) critic:

“In 1996, faculty union official and former chair of the CUNY Faculty Senate, Professor Susan O’Malley ordered Karkhanis to stop publication of TPR. Fearing repercussions to their careers, other critics bowed to O’Malley’s repressive exploits but Karkhanis refused to be silenced.”

If Sharad was willing to run the risk of disagreeing with Indira Ghandi, he is well able face the wrath of CUNY’s “Dear Leader” and Prof. “Sue.” The latter would be well advised to drop her "silly" lawsuit soon.


O'Malley's Curious Claim

In recent years, Sharad Karkhanis has mocked PSC head Barbara Bowen as the “Dear Leader.” The details of former UFS chair/PSC executive committee member Susan O’Malley’s complaint against Karkhanis (in a case that O’Malley herself has termed “very, very silly”) suggests that absolutist tendencies aren’t confined to the union’s leader.

Indeed, the complaint is chilling, essentially suggesting that expressing skepticism about the PSC/UFS leadership’s motives—even in the context of election campaigns—constitutes grounds for a defamation suit.

Portions of O’Malley’s complaint—penned by entertainment attorney Joseph Martin Carasso—appear to be based on the premise that the court system should be used not to redress grievances but to bolster a client’s self-esteem.

Carasso tells the court that:

  • “SUSAN O’MALLEY is a distinguished scholar and teacher”;
  • O’Malley “has many friends and associates among her fellow faculty”;
  • O’Malley “has served with distinction in various CUNY university and governance roles”
  • His client received a UFS resolution honoring “her great humanity and her intelligence, and acclaiming SUSAN O’MALLEY as a worthy and eminent leader.”
  • “SUSAN O’MALLEY worked hard for her achievements”
  • “SUSAN O’MALLEY’S life has been devoted to teaching, scholarly research, and governance at KCC and CUNY.”
  • “SUSAN O’MALLEY had a distinguished career as a scholar and teacher, and has made outstanding contributions to university governance and to the Faculty Staff Union.”

Is it O’Malley’s belief that to publicly challenge any of these cozy descriptions of herself constitutes defamation?

Perhaps because his background is in the entertainment world—where shameless flattery is the order of the day—rather than libel law, Carasso went overboard, and in the process appears to have fatally undermined his client’s already feeble case. Included in Carasso’s paeans to O’Malley is this highly revealing clause:

SUSAN O’MALLEY has acquired and retained a high standing and reputation among the CUNY academic community for her advocacy of high academic standards and accessibility of higher education, her humanity and intelligence. [emphasis added]

O’Malley’s entire lawsuit is based on a claim that Karkhanis’ allegedly defamatory attacks have ruined her reputation. Yet here is her own attorney affirming—under, he writes, penalty of perjury—that O’Malley retains “a high standing and reputation among the CUNY academic community.”

So what, exactly, is her case?

No wonder O’Malley has termed her action a “very, very silly” lawsuit.