After months of persecution by the administration of the University of Oklahoma, geophysicist David Deming answered back with more than a letter-to-the-editor or inter-office memo. He has sued OU officials in federal court. “A lawsuit was the only option,” he says. For quite some time, Deming has suffered at the hands of the administration, and his story seems at some times outrageous and at others, bizarre. He is, as the Chronicle of Higher Education put it, “The Man Without a Department.”
Deming is a tenured University of Oklahoma geology professor who has sued in order to regain his place in his department. The lawsuit stems from a December 2003 decision to remove Deming from the School of Geology and Geophysics, where he was an associate professor. In his new position, he could continue to do research, but had to gain permission to teach classes—and the classes he taught would not be listed as geology classes, but as geoscience classes. This change has significantly reduced enrollment in his classes. “I’m a geologist and geophysicist,” he says. “I don’t do geoscience.”
School officials also forced him to move to a new office, a former laboratory in a windowless basement room, the only basement office assigned to a faculty member, according to Deming. He has since relocated, and he notes that his new office has a window.
Deming is not an inept scientist. He has authored an introductory textbook on hydrogeology, and is associate editor for three journals: Ground water, Petroleum Geoscience, and Geothermics. He lists 28 articles that he has authored on his school homepage. Deming thinks for himself and that, he says, makes him a target for the administration. “The administration of the University of Oklahoma seems to want a generation of faculty that are servile, apathetic, and obsequious,” he wrote earlier this year. And that culture is widespread. “We have a culture of fear,” he says. “The University of Oklahoma is like a totalitarian regime.” In 2003, OU officials began an alumni campaign to have Deming fired.
Deming has strong opinions, and he expresses them in letters to the editor, often with controversial results. A brash, pro-gun 2000 missive netted him 25 sexual harassment charges, which the University of Oklahoma dropped after Deming threatened to sue.
He’s just as outspoken when it comes to the university and its administration. In 2001, he wrote in the Oklahoma Daily of OU president David Boren’s stance on free speech: “I am at a loss to understand why the rhetoric is not matched by the reality.” In 2002, in another letter to the editor, he wrote, “The degree to which free speech lacks support not only on this campus, but across the country is disturbing. How can we as a community of scholars survive when freedom of expression has been squashed?” And, according to Oklahoma provost Nancy Mergler in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Deming “went on the record as having no confidence in the leadership of [the School of Geology and Geosciences].” After he disseminated an email critical of affirmative action, geology department chairmen Roger Slatt “circulated to all faculty, staff, and students in the College of Geoscience a statement that implied because I was against affirmative action I had dysfunctional relationships with women,” Deming wrote in an article in Front Page magazine.
Deming, however, despite the controversy that so often surrounds him, does not consider himself an iconoclast. He supports gun rights, opposes affirmative action, and is in favor of intellectual diversity. “I feel that my views are among the mainstream in Oklahoma,” he says. “They may be unpopular at OU.” In the recent election, Oklahoma voted overwhelmingly Republican, 66% percent for George W. Bush. Cleveland County, home of the University of Oklahoma in Norman, mirrored those results.
While his lawsuit may take years to resolve, he’ll remain on the faculty and continue to suffer the status quo. Deming doesn’t want to leave the school where he has worked since 1992. . “I belong here,” he says. “I love it here. I like living in Oklahoma.”
Larry Scholer is a staff writer with Accuracy in Academia.