By: David Bloomberg
Re: Professor Sued
PROFESSOR FIGHTING SUIT IS ON HIS OWN
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
The state risk manager's refusal to defend a University of Utah
professor in a defamation lawsuit has some of his colleagues leery
about professing outside their own classrooms.
The state Division of Risk Management, which insures the U., has
denied coverage to U. psychology Professor David Raskin, who was
sued after giving a speech off campus before the False Memory
Syndrome Foundation. That decision sets a dangerous precedent,
faculty leaders argue, and threatens academic freedom at the U.
"The consequences of this decision for academic freedom and the
willingness of faculty to take on controversial issues in free and
open debate are grave," members of the school's Academic Freedom
and Tenure Committee state in a memo.
"The university cannot serve the public in the manner it has
traditionally done if faculty members must censor their thoughts so
as to avoid all that might offend someone."
The issue arises from a long-standing dispute between Salt Lake
City psychologist Noemi Mattis and David Raskin over recovered
memory in sexual- and ritual-abuse cases.
Mattis, who was co-chairman of a state task force on ritual
abuse, maintains many people have recovered, through therapy,
suppressed memories of ritualistic satanic abuse they suffered
years earlier. Raskin argues law-enforcement agencies have found no
evidence of such abuse.
In June 1992, he gave a speech in Provo before a chapter of the
False Memory Syndrome Foundation, an advocacy group for people
accused after alleged victims recover memories of childhood sexual
abuse or other trauma. He criticized Mattis and talked of doctors
"who do not know the scientific literature. They do not know the
literature about memory. They do not know the literature about the
suggestibility of children," according to court documents.
Four months later, Mattis sued Raskin in 3rd District Court,
alleging defamation and seeking $1 million in damages. Raskin's
speech was a mean-spirited personal attack, the suit charges,
containing false statements that damaged Mattis's personal and
Raskin's attorney is seeking summary judgment in the case,
arguing among other things that Raskin's statements were true and
they are constitutionally protected expressions of opinion. The
judge has not yet issued his decision.
The decision that worries U. professors was issued two years ago.
In February 1993, the state's risk manager informed Raskin he would
not be covered because his speech "did not fall within the scope of
your employment with the University of Utah."
The risk manager argues the speech was "a private matter"
because Raskin was not assigned the lecture by a supervisor and he
did not deliver it on campus during usual working hours. Further,
the risk manager argued that Raskin has an "extensive private
consultation practice" related to sexual-abuse cases.
The university itself, however, maintains Raskin was acting in
his professorial capacity.
"Faculty members' speeches on issues related to their teaching
and research are clearly part of their university duties," said U.
Counsel John Morris. "The risk manager ought to defend them in
litigation arising out of those activities."
He said he is discussing the issue with a subcommittee of the
Academic Senate and plans to meet with the risk manager. Further,
the U. will consider revising its policies to make it clear that
such things as Raskin's speech are within the scope of professors'
In the meantime, Raskin said, professors at all of Utah's public
colleges and universities should be on notice that they are not
protected when sharing their knowledge with the community.
University scholars evaluate one another's work publicly, he
said. The peer review process for research publication or the
awarding of grants depends upon people freely giving their opinion
about others' work.
"If the faculty are not protected in that endeavor, then no one
can feel comfortable presenting a paper in which they comment on
other people's work," he said. "They would not be able to engage in
serious scholarly work."
Mattis' attorney declined to discuss the case because it is
under advisement. Risk Manager Alan Edwards could not be reached
Ross Anderson, who is representing Raskin in a possible claim
against the risk manager, said the state's decision to deny
coverage "poses substantial risk to anyone at the University of
Utah who thinks they are protected in expressing their viewpoint."
Raskin's homeowner's insurance is paying for his defense, but it
won't pay damages if there is a trial and Mattis prevails. Anderson
doubts that will happen, but if it does he will pursue a claim
against the state.
Either way, the lawsuit will have a chilling effect on
professors' speech, he said.
"The people at the university really need to insist that if one
of the things they're supposed to do is go out and speak in the
community, that they have the protections that any other employees
have under those circumstances," Anderson said. "The problem needs
to be taken care of regardless of the outcome of Dr. Raskin's