Monday, June 04, 2007

The University of Brigadoon

Ken, who has a blog of his own, has made a comment on a post I wrote about the Close Up at Seven Easter Special. He asks
Why do you have a problem with Dr Bill Cooke participating? Surely his viewpoint and input to these sort of questions are valuable.
To explain why I have a problem with Dr Cooke might take some time: he was largely responsible for my being forced out of my job with the Rationalists, the accommodaton that came with it and eventually from membership of the New Zealand Associaton of Rationalists and Humanists (Inc).

You might be wondering what problem he had with me. The problem was that I had exposed him as a buffoon and as a fraud, on more than one occasion. Here is an example, a letter I sent to some members of the Rationalists in September last year, after I had been expelled from the NZARH.

Some time after Bill Cooke went to Buffalo to work for the Center for Inquiry [a Humanist organisation], he began to describe himself as Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the University of Buffalo. This singular honour surprised me, since Bill is no Philosopher. I was also surprised me for another reason: there is no University of Buffalo.

The City of Buffalo, New York has a number of academic institutions, one of which is a campus of the State University of New York. Its correct name is the State University of New York at Buffalo, although the administration describes itself informally as the University at Buffalo. It is not the University of Buffalo, a title which would suggest that it was a private university. In the USA, private universities generally are thought to be better, academically and socially, than state ones.

Bill Cooke was described as Visiting Professor at the University of Buffalo on the NZARH website and the website of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. On other sites, however, he is described as Visiting Assistant Professor. On some of these, the university was named correctly. The Center for Inquiry and Prometheus Books describe Bill as Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at The State University of New York at Buffalo. Since the CFI was Bill's employer and Prometheus his publisher, we could assume they were correct in this designation, particularly since both are based in Buffalo. He is so described on the back cover of his book, The Gathering of Infidels, which is published by Prometheus.

Lest I be accused of inaccuracies, I have listed some of the relevant sites at the end of this piece [I have omitted these from this blog posting]. The most recent seems to be that of the Sea of Faith, at whose conference Bill will be speaking on 1st October.

One website where Bill Cooke is not mentioned, however, is that of the Philosophy Department of The State University of New York at Buffalo. This seemed peculiar to me, since the Department lists all its staff, including visiting scholars. Of course, it could have been that the period of his professorship had ended. So I used The Internet Wayback Machine, which archives web pages, to search for older versions of the Department's pages. There was no mention of Bill Cooke on any of these pages, which date between 2003 and 2005.

I made discreet enquiries. I asked a friend to write to the Department Chair, Carolyn Korsmeyer, asking her to confirm that Bill Cooke was a Visiting Professor. This is her full reply, dated 5th May 2006:
Dr. Cooke is in our records as a "research fellow" for this period of time, which is a relationship that we sometimes have with people who visit a nearby institution called the Center for Inquiry. He does not appear on our website because he is not a member of our faculty. (The paperwork that used to be processed for the research fellows is submitted on the same form that also says "visiting professor," which may be a source of some confusion.)

I hope that this clears up your question.
Carolyn Korsmeyer
I think it does. Bill Cooke was never a Professor, Visiting, Assistant or otherwise at Buffalo. He was an employee of the The Center for Inquiry (which is the creation of Paul Kurtz, Emeritus Professor of the Philosophy Department and Bill's guru) and became a Research Fellow as a result. Carolyn Korsmeyer's suggestion that it may all have been a mix-up in the paperwork seems rather generous, to say the least. It is difficult to believe that anyone would mistakenly think he held a professorship.

Whatever the causes, this issue was a concern for the NZARH, since the description of Bill Cooke as a Professor was on its website. I told Andrew Geard, Liz Mckenzie and Malcolm English [NZARH Council Members] about it at the first opportunity. I was told the matter would be investigated. I saw Andrew Geard a few days later, shortly before the May [2006] Council meeting, and asked him whether my concern would be raised there. He told me it would not, because I had not made it in writing. So, I hastily wrote a letter, copied it and gave it to him.

So what happened? Nothing, except the NZARH Council webpage was changed that very night. The phrase " Cooke is Visiting Professor of Philosophy of the University of Buffalo (2003-2006)" was changed to "Bill was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy of the University at Buffalo (2003-2006)" When I later asked Judith de Leeuwe about the matter, she said that Bill had shown the Council a letter which apparently proved he was a professor. I did not receive a written reply to my written enquiry.

Despite my protests, nothing was done about the matter at the next Council meeting, in June. So I brought a paper copy of Carolyn Korsmeyer's email to the Annual General Meeting. I did not stay long there, because I was expelled from the NZARH as soon as I arrived, but my last act was to hand the email to Judith. Three months later, nothing has been done, other than the Council choosing Bill Cooke as their Vice-President.

That is not all. On the NZARH Council page, Bill is described as Senior Lecturer at the School of Visual Arts, University of Auckland at Manukau. You might have the impression that the University of Auckland at Manukau is a campus of the University of Auckland (just as Buffalo is a campus of the State University of New York) and that Bill Cooke is one of the University's senior lecturers. You would be wrong. The University of Auckland at Manukau is an alliance between between Manukau Institute of Technology and the University of Auckland which allows MIT students to take Auckland University degrees. Bill Cooke is a lecturer at Manukau Institute of Technology. The School of Visual Arts where he works participates in the alliance [more recently, Bill Cooke was described in an edition of North and South as teaching at Auckland University and at MIT; he does not appear on the Auckland University staff list].

I found one more anomaly. I came across a site for the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, which sadly is no longer online (note to lawyers: I kept a copy). The site lists a board of illustrious academics, including Gerd Lüdemann (Theology, Göttingen), Robin Lane Fox (Classical Studies, Oxford) and Michael Martin (Philosophy, Boston). Amongst these names is "Charles William Cooke (History, Amherst)." Is Charles William Cooke a History lecturer at Amherst, one of the most illustrious liberal arts colleges in the USA, which counts among its faculty and alumni three Nobel prize winners, four Pulitzer Prize winners, three CIA Directors, the poet Robert Frost, and such luminaries as David Foster Wallace, Dan Brown, Scott F. Turow, David O. Russell, David Suzuki and President Calvin Coolidge? No, Amherst is the suburb of Buffalo where Bill Cooke's former employer, the Center for Inquiry, is based.

I am sure there is a perfectly rational explanation.

The NZARH responded with a email, seemingly sent to all members with an email address:
You may have recently received unsolicited emails from a former employee of the NZARH. The latest of these emails tries to call into question Dr Bill Cooke's academic credentials.

Earlier emails related simply to the ex-employee's personal issues with the NZARH Council, but the most recent email made a direct, specific allegation of  misconduct against Bill Cooke.

Contrary to the allegation made -- as the  attached document shows -- Bill Cooke held the position of Visiting Assistant  Professor of Philosophy at the University at Buffalo (2003-2006).

We are  happy to respond to any other queries you may have.
Attached to this email was a letter from the Philosophy Department, which seemed to confirm that Dr Cooke was a Visiting Assistant Professor. I sent this letter to Carolyn Korsmeyer, who replied:
I consulted with the former chair of my department (who is referred to in the letter to Dr. Cooke from Dean Sukhatme), for I had not seen that letter before.  He confirms my earlier characterization of the situation. It is clear that there is ample room for confusion here.

As I observed in my previous communication about this matter, the Philosophy Department has often offered courtesy appointments to resident fellows at the Center for Inquiry to permit them to get a parking tag and to use the library at the University at Buffalo. In the past we were required to submit paperwork that appointed people as visiting professors in order to establish this relationship, although in our “in-house” language the relationship was called “research fellow”. (I suspect that Dean Sukhatme, who was new to the university at the time, may not have been aware of the terminological disparity.) At any rate, these appointments were not true appointments to the faculty, for the fellows did not teach for us or receive salaries.  In order to remove misunderstanding that this situation sometimes generated (more than once I should add), we now use different titles and do not submit paperwork that appoints people as visiting faculty.

However, I can well imagine that a research fellow who received the sort of letter that Dr. Cooke was sent would consider himself a visiting faculty member, for after all, that is what the dean’s letter states. Your inquiry seems to suggest that you are worried about misrepresentation, but I believe what we have here is just a large dose of confusion.
I think we can be certain that Dr Cooke never was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy; all of us, except the NZARH Council. It is now over a year since I first brought up this matter and yet the NZARH website still proclaims "Bill was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy of the University at Buffalo (2003-2006)..." Not once, it seems did the NZARH Council contact the Philosophy Department at Buffalo to resolve the disparity between the emails from its Chair and the claims made by Dr Cooke. After all this time they still persist with this fiction.

This episode demonstrates the extraordinary fear of Dr Cooke among the NZARH Council; they are prepared to say black is white rather than risk his wrath. I will return to this subject in a later post. It also shows Dr Cooke's egotism and capacity for deception. He has had a year to put right this matter, yet nothing has been done. Obviously, he wants everyone to think he really was a Philosophy Professor, rather than someone entitled to a library ticket and a parking space.

Dr Cooke's behaviour, and that of the NZARH Council in supporting him, insults the membership of the NZARH and the wider "non-religious community" which the NZARH claims to represent. It also insults real philosophers and real holders of academic positions. His dishonesty jeopardises the good name of atheism. If he claims to represent all of us but shows such fradulent behaviour, then all of us are affected. It is worth noting, in passing, that Dr Cooke claims some expertise in the area of "Humanist Ethics."

So, to finally answer Ken's question, the reason I object to Dr Cooke participating in broadcasts is simple: Dr Cooke is a fake.


Unknown said...

Congratulations Paul. Good investigative work, and it needed to be said.

Watch out, they'll be calling you "scurillous" soon...

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

OK, I now realise that there are some issues there.
However, to me the important thing is that the TV debate on religious diversity included a non-theist. I know some religious people believe we are not part of the religious diversity of the country (some even think we are not part of the human race!)
So to me it was important that the programme gave a public recognition of the legitimacy of non-theists.