Marcia Falk Vs. University Of Judaism

On June 25, 2004, I interviewed Gene Lichtenstein, the founding editor of the Jewish Journal.

"Were there any great stories during your tenure that you couldn't get in the paper?" I asked.

Gene replied: "There was one story that I killed [in 1987] but not through pressure. My killing it was unpopular. Naomi Pfefferman, who I had hired, had done a long piece about the University of Judaism. There was a female professor there, a poet [Marcia Falk], who was popular among the students and had published a lot and had a PhD. When it came time for tenure, the president David Lieber, vetoed her tenure. He was popular and he was leaving. He was a humane decent man but he had a hard time with women. The faculty had been for her. There were some ugly incidents concerning students who had protested. Naomi had done a terrific job. We had the story. I regret that we didn't run it.

"I got calls from people on the board of the University of Judaism. Kill the story. They hadn't read it.

"I did some background. He [Dr. David Lieber] said to me, 'I can't bear this woman. She was obnoxious.' If we ran the story in its entirety, we would've had to come out with the reason she was denied tenure -- that the president and some of the faculty found her obnoxious. They didn't want her as a colleague.

"I should've run it but I didn't want to hurt her feelings."

"She didn't realize that?"

"No. Nor did Naomi. People thought I was knuckling under. The poet had had dinner at my house. In fairness to David Lieber, I would've had to say that, so I killed the story. If I were working at The New York Times, I wouldn't have killed the story, but I felt that a community newspaper has an obligation to people in the community to not hurt them unnecessarily. That is not a journalistic view."

Marcia Falk responds August 21, 2005:

I was stunned to read on your site what Gene Lichtenstein said regarding his killing of the story about my case against the University of Judaism. Did it not occur to him that printing David Lieber's comment about finding me "obnoxious" would have served justice, in that it made clear that his administration had lied in my tenure evaluation: I was not denied tenure because of my qualifications but because of personal animus on the administration's part. Far from being "hurt" by such comments coming to light, I would have welcomed them. Surely Gene must have realized that, and also realized he had a journalistic ethical obligation to print that remark, significant as it was to the truth of the case.

Dr. David Lieber replies to my inquiry on this matter:

I am sorry that a legal agreement we reached with the professor in question precludes me from divulging the details of the case. All I can say is that an academic review committee of her peers, including a distinguished professor in her field from another university, voted unanimously not to recommend her for tenure.

Mr. Lichtenstein was a very competent editor. The same cannot be said of many of his "journalists," most of whom were part-time and did not know how to research a story. Thus the writer in question never interviewed either me or the dean of the school in which the professor taught, nor did she inquire about the circumstances of the professor's leaving the university at which she taught prior to coming to the University of Judaism.

Liturgist and poet Marcia Falk sued the University of Judaism for not giving her tenure and won a settlement. The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) came in and helped her. She had a great attorney.

Similar to another case, there was word put out by sources at the UJ (in 1988) that Falk was a bitch. But a national professors association -- AAUP (American Association of University Professors) -- issued a report that censured the UJ for its handling of the Falk case. The AAUW (American Association of University Women) also wrote a report on it that criticized the UJ.

Dr. Lieber had an anonymous evaluation committee to decide whether or not to give Dr. Falk tenure. The committee largely depended on the opinions of six outside referees. The UJ committee said the six outside workers had a low opinion of Dr. Falk's work. But when Dr. Falk approached the six, they all said they'd highly praised her work and recommended her for tenure.

The 1988 AAUP report states:

The investigating committee found that the evaluation committee provided misleading information in its report on the contents of outside references, thereby acting questionably under the standards setr forth in the Association's Statement on Professional Ethics. The investigating committee found further that the University of Judaism administration, by failing to afford the faculty member opportunity for independent review of her complaint against its action, denied her requisite procedural protections...

...The report of the anonymous evaluating committee also conveys its impression of Professor Falk as someone who is difficult and demanding in her relationships with others, an impression similarly conveyed in quite hostile evaluations of her candidacy submitted to Dr. Mars [UJ's Vice-President for Academic Affairs from July 1985] by three administrators at hte university upon his request. Might it have been that evaluators who found her personally objectionable felt that they needed to make a case against her writings and teaching? Was personal dislike, if it was an important factor in the decision, based significantly on the fact that she is a woman, thus constituting discrimination on the basis of sex? Was it based significantly on the fact that she is a feminist, thus raising an issue of academic freedom...?

...Professor Falk is the only woman ever to have been evaluated for tenure at the University of Judaism.

...[N]o other faculty member at the University of Judaism is engaged in work that challenges tradition at a comparably fundamental level.

Dr. Falk has a BA in Philosophy from Brandeis University and an MA and PhD in English from Stanford. She was a Fulbright junior scholar and later a post-doctoral fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She was an assistant professor of English and Hebrew at the State University of New York at Binghamton from 1974 to 1981. From 1981-84, she was an associate professor of English at Pitzer College. She joined UJ in 1984.