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Why our UNH coverage may seem one-sided

In July, we ran a story about John Collins, chair of the University of New Hampshire biochemistry department who had been arrested for disorderly conduct. His accuser -- Stacia Sower, dean of research -- subsequently filed for a restraining order against Collins, after he had been banned from campus by the university. You can read more of the details on the incident linkurl:here;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/53383/ . Last month, I linkurl:reported;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog

By | November 14, 2007

In July, we ran a story about John Collins, chair of the University of New Hampshire biochemistry department who had been arrested for disorderly conduct. His accuser -- Stacia Sower, dean of research -- subsequently filed for a restraining order against Collins, after he had been banned from campus by the university. You can read more of the details on the incident linkurl:here;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/53383/ . Last month, I linkurl:reported;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/53782/ that a judge cleared Collins on both criminal charges, and last week, a judge declined to grant a permanent restraining order against him. Collins told me he is extremely pleased. Reporting this story has been frustrating. While I was working on our first story on the subject, I called and emailed Sower for comment. She didn't respond. But after my first story ran, I got a voicemail from Sower saying that the article was almost all wrong and that she was disappointed in the coverage. I called her back, and she told me, "I'm not going to comment," and that I should contact the university press office. That was the beginning of a trend: When I've gone to contact a supporter of Collins', they have been willing to comment on the incident and attest to Collins' character. But I haven't had equal luck getting comment from Sower's side, which is why you've only been reading what Collins has to say about the controversy. When I linkurl:blogged;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/53575/ in September that the University had made Collins an offer to return to his job with certain conditions, an anonymous poster accused the blog of being "gossip ridden" and that my information did not come from the primary source. My editor and I both contacted this poster and asked if they knew the real story, and if they would like to correct the record. The response was only that the poster didn't want to speak on the record. In a linkurl:news story;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/53581/ following up to that blog, another anonymous poster wrote about Sower: "The department should thank their lucky stars they have a faculty member of such caliber -- a professional, world-renowned faculty member who cares deeply about her students, their careers and her research." Alas, when I tried to contact this person my email bounced back. I've contacted Sower numerous times to try to get her side of the story, but other than my one phone conversation with her, I've never heard back. Even a couple of Sower's lab personnel have told me they would like to tell their mentor's side of the story but can't -- they won't say why. Frustratingly enough, but less surprising, the university press people only gave me one comment for my first news story. Since then they have not responded to other requests for comment. Telling a complete story is dependent on getting people to open up on the record, which of course is not going to happen all the time. But I'll continue covering this story and welcome every opportunity to add to, or correct, the record.

Comments

Avatar of: Anonymous

Anonymous

Posts: 5

November 15, 2007

Although you are getting cooperation from many of John's supporters, there is much more out there that is not being told. First, there are the court testimonies from people who have sworn to their negative, harassing, and even abusive experiences with Dr. Sower. It was also testified that she has a history of involving the police when completely unnecessary (as in this case) and attempting to use them to intimidate or threaten her current target. These testimonies really haven't yet been covered by the press. One local NH newspaper has stated that they cannot write anything negative about Dr. Sower as long as she is viewed as the victim. ???? How is the public supposed to get the whole story so that they can change their opinions of who is the victim if the SWORN testimonies from extremely credible witnesses is being kept from them? \n\nSecond, John's lawyer has several affidavits from people (who were not asked to testify) describing their own experiences with Dr. Sower's harassing treatment. These affidavits have not yet been made public at all. \n\nThird, Dr. Sower is still in a position of power and authority at the university and I would guess that many people are reluctant to give their negative experiences with her because of how difficult she can make it for them. She has already made it difficult for some of those who have testified on John's behalf and I would think that others would be reluctant to subject themselves to the same. Even I will sign this post anonymously.\n\nComments to your blogs and articles have alluded to her abusive treatment of graduate students. Most of these students are unlikely to ever comment publicly because they NEED her for letters of support. She has the power to affect their careers. \n\nSo while it may seem that your stories are one sided, the truth would have them even more so! Even if everyone was willing to speak up, people with positive things to say about Dr. Sower will be few and far between, while the list of those with negative experiences seem endless. For some reason, the university is tied to defending her. I think that will be their mistake. \n\nEveryone knows that John behaved inappropriately. Extremely inappropriately. But he has stated numerous times that while yes, he was angry, his WORDS were NOT literal. He was speaking in response to Bernie's taunts. He was initially standing there (looking annoyed) and she repeatedly encouraged him not to hold in his anger, but to let it out. Finally, he burst out with "do you mean like this???" and went on to say whatever he may have said. Everyone who knows John would be much more willing to believe that his words were sarcastic rather than actually threatening. His anger stemmed from years of dealing with Dr. Sower and the universities seeming enabling treatment of her.\n\nThanks for your continuing coverage.
Avatar of: Anonymous

Anonymous

Posts: 1

November 15, 2007

Your information in this story is incorrect. On November 8, 2007, Steven M. Houran, Presiding Judge, Stafford Superior Court, Dover, NH, granted Dr. Sower's request for a restraining order against Mr. Collins.\n\nThe Final Order states in part "The petitioner(Sower)bears the burden of success on the merits by a preponderance of the evidence. She has met that burden. The court notes that, were it to apply the higher clear and convincing burden of proof in this case, the petitioner would meet that burden."\n\nThe order also states that "The court finds credible the testimony to the effect that Professor Collins was screaming and sounded and appeared to be very angry or furious. The court also finds, as several witnesses credibly testified as to their own reaction, Professor Collins words and tone, including the apparent level of his anger, would make a reasonable person fear for his or her own safety or the safety of the person who was the target of those words. The court further finds that upon learning of the words and tone used by Professor Collins referring to her, the person who was the target of those words would reasonably be fearful, at a minimum, of such a threatening circumstance being repeated."\n\n"The respondent (Collins)offers his evidence in support of his contention that no restraining order is justified in part because Professor Sower's assertion that one is needed is motivated either by ill will toward the respondent or by a concern which, even if genuine, is nonetheless an unwarranted and unreasonable overaction. The court declines to reach this issue or make any findings in this regard because, even if the court were to assume without deciding that all of the assertions about Professor Sower's actions concerning her colleagues and about her character are true, it would not change the outcome of this case. More specifically, even if all of those assertions were true and the court makes no finding in this regard, they would not undercut the conclusions that no person should be the target of a threat of death made by a colleague in a workplace and that, on the circumstances of this case, a reasonable person would be fearful that without intervention such an incident may occur again. HOwever, because the testimony presented by the respondent's witnesses could be seen, absent an understanding that the respondent is making no such assertion, as implying that Professor Sower's conduct and attitude justified Professor Collins' actions, the court makes the explicit finding that none of what the court heard would justify Professor Collins' threat against Professor Sower."\n\n"To the extent that the respondent may be understood as suggesting that such a fear of recurrence is unreasonable because his own character and conduct make it certain that it will not happen again, the court disagrees. That the respondent shows LITTLE INSIGHT INTO WHAT HE DID OR ITS IMPACT ON OTHERS IN THE WORKPLACE, is to the contrary, a PRIMARY REASON THE COURT IS ISSUING A RESTRAINING ORDER."\n\n"The petitioner must show that the potential harm to the petitioner outweighs any harm to the respondent caused by the restraing order. The petitioner's side of this balance is plain: she has a right to be free from threats to her life made in the workplace by a colleague and from the harm associated with such threats."\n\n"The petitioner must show that the public interest would be served by granting the injunction. Because the public has a strong interest in securing the freedom of one colleague from threats to her life made in the workplace by another colleage, the petitioner has met her burden of showing that the order she requests serves the public interest."\n\nProfessor Collins was sanctioned by the internal UNH investigation and Dr. Sower was awarded the restraining order. Is there something that the Durham District Court doesn't get by finding him not guilty? That just doesn't make sense.\n\nDr. Collins is sad he can't take his 2-year old daughter to watch the horses and can't take his 14-year old son to soccer. This case is severely affecting his family. Well guess what - how do you think it affected Dr. Sower? Just because she doesn't have children or a spouse, do you think it affects her and her family any less? Is Collins the type of mentor we want our children to look up to? An extremely angry, outspoken, threat to anyone in the "wrong place at the right time?" Collins' colleagues said he has often had outburts within the department; Laue said "we expected his outburst but not to that level of severity" in a Fosters' Daily Democrat article. \n\nSo Sower's colleagues dislike her - so what? Professional jealousy runs rampant within the scientific fields and especially the Biochemistry Department. Can any other faculty in the department match or excel Dr. Sower's awards, \ngrants, excellent teaching evaluations or professional demeanor? I think not. UNH needs to develop a Code-of-Conduct for its faculty members and then abide by it. Maybe that would stop the inaptitude of self-serving, me, me, me attitudes of professors like John Collins.
Avatar of: Laura DiMeglio

Laura DiMeglio

Posts: 2

November 15, 2007

The order that was granted was not the "no contact" restraining order that the petitioner (Dr. Sower) asked for. Instead the judge granted a no harassment order which essentially states that the respondent (John) is restrained from harassing or threatening etc.. the petitioner (Dr. Sower). It basically says he has to obey the law and the university contract. The judge wrote 7 pages of text before getting to what he is actually granting. Once he states his decision, the first point is to specifically terminate the temporary "no contact" restraining order that was put into place immediately after the incident until the matter could be heard in the courts. Funny how the previous poster quotes extensively from the judges order, yet fails to put in the actual 3 points where the judge states what he is indeed granting. Dr. Sower DID NOT get the no contact order she was asking for. Instead she was granted such a benign order that it is essentially meaningless. I don't have the order in front of me right now, but I will post the actual three points from order as soon as I can.\n\n

November 15, 2007

Dear Anonymous,\n\nThanks for posting this excerpt from the judge's ruling. You are correct in that had Sower been pursuing a classic permanent restraining order she would have met the burden of proof required for that ruling. However, you didn't include a portion of the final ruling stating that the petitioner (Sower) was not seeking a restraining order that barred Collins from his place of work, or to keep a certain distance from her. In fact, the court ordered only that Collins "shall not harass, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with the liberty of the petitioner Stacia Sower." \nYou can read the complete court order here: http://www.the-scientist.com/supplementary/pdf/53857/NHSuperiorCourtOrder.pdf\n\nIndeed, this is not the "classic" restraining order that people might associate with certain distance requirements and restrictions. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify.\n\n \n\nAndrea Gawrylewski\n\nStaff Writer\n\nThe Scientist\n
Avatar of: john collins

john collins

Posts: 1

November 17, 2007

i'll work backwards here and probably won't even get thru the last paragraph of "Incorrect Information". but first, one general comment -- as the reported herself points out in a comment, the substance of her blog is accurate. as for "Incorrect Information", to paraphrase Aaron Levenstein "spin is like a bikini; What it reveals is suggestive, but what it conceals is vital." \n\nnow to the final paragraph:\n\n"can any other faculty match or excel .... " ???\n" ...... would stop the inaptitude .... " ???\n\npity this person posted anonymously. i'd be happy to supply him/her with a dictionary and a copy of Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style". those gifts would help, but might fail to address more fundamental issues. \n\ni also suggest that comments containing personal attacks should be accepted only if the poster identifies him/herself. accountability might serve as a very effective quality (veracity) control tool.\n\nthe suggestion about a Code of Conduct is an interesting one. if UNH were to adopt such a Code, my guess is that you view yourself as the obvious choice for author (as long as you have a ghost writer to handle spelling and grammar and usage). that would sure fix the rest of us!\n\nIf such a Code existed (indeed it might) and if UNH were to "abide" by it (uniformly, not selectively, arbitrarily and capriciously), who do you think would have the most to fear? did you hear ALL the testimony in Superior Court in Dover over the past three weeks? give me a Code we all agree on and assure me it will be applied fairly and uniformly ... and show me where to sign.\n\nfinally, your suggestion that professional jealousy has ANYTHING to do with the interpersonal dynamics and attitudes within the department and college that are the subject of your assertion is utterly ridiculous, and i hereby hold same up for such ridicule.\n\nthere are some really serious and important issues at hand here, crucial for the long-term health and morale of our college and university. unfounded and untrue personal attacks do nothing but engender ill-will and muddy the waters.\n\nsee, told ya i'd fail to get out of the final paragraph. life's too short to go on any further.

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