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The DePaulia

DePaul President Holtschneider responds to Koocher concerns

Gerald Koocher, dean of the College of Science and Health, will not face sanctions from the university, President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M., said in a letter to faculty. (Photo courtesy of DEPAUL UNIVERSITY)

For weeks, some faculty, staff and students have demanded DePaul’s administration take action by either reviewing or stripping the deanship of College of Science and Health Dean Gerald Koocher after his ethical behavior was questioned in a report commissioned by the American Psychological Association (APA).

In a letter to faculty and staff, university President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M., said Thursday that DePaul would not sanction Koocher and will not instigate an investigation in any potential wrongdoing based on the Hoffman Report. The report, released in July, concluded that top APA officials, including Koocher, colluded with the Department of Defense in creating loose ethical guidelines for psychologists in national security situations. This contributed to torture taking place in places like Guantanamo Bay, the report states.

DePaul hired Koocher in 2013, several years after the events criticized. While the university had knowledge of the controversies that Koocher was involved with at APA, it was not deemed serious enough at the time to not hire him.

more2“I respect those in our university community who are concerned that Dr. Koocher’s actions, as well as perceptions and interpretations of those actions, may be inconsistent with our ideals of compassion and human rights, but I simply do not find that the evidence supports the judgments that some have rendered,” Holtschneider said. “Nor can I find a path to honor the requests that DePaul assemble a body to conduct its own independent hearing and investigation of the matter.”

“We do not have the authority to call witnesses or command evidence outside the university community, and therefore would be forced to rely on information we already have.”

Holtschneider also said that “I see no reason to think that yet another investigation by us would come to a different conclusion.”

Holtschneider cited that the Hoffman Report found that there was no evidence that APA officials “actually knew about the existence of an interrogation program using enhanced interrogation techniques.

[box]Read: Full response sent to faculty and staff by President Dennis Holtschneider, C.M.[/box]

“Even here, though, culpability rests on what the board knew at the time, and the record is clear that key information was withheld from the board by the APA staff,” Holtschneider said.

Holtschneider also said the feedback of those that raised criticisms of the dean’s leadership was taken into consideration and those who stood up for the dean. On Oct. 1, a coalition of students, faculty and human rights formed the group Vincentians Against Torture and called for Koocher to resign.

Senior Jack O’Brien, a leader of the coalition, expressed his frustration with the president’s stance.

“I was appreciative that the president took the time to respond to this I think is of great importance to the community,” O’Brien said. “But that being said, I don’t agree with all the points within the letter.”

O’Brien said that he was frustrated that several voices in the community, most notably students, were left out of the process and he said that many important facts were left out of the letter.

DePaul student and leader of Vincentians Against Torture Jack O’Brien leads the press conference Oct. 1 calling for the university to strip Dr. Gerald Koocher of his deanship over the College of Science and Health. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)
DePaul student and leader of Vincentians Against Torture Jack O’Brien leads the press conference Oct. 1 calling for the university to strip Dr. Gerald Koocher of his deanship over the College of Science and Health. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

“Another issue I took was on one hand, he was condemning the APA’s actions in the past, while on the other hand he’s using it to corroborate that Dr. Koocher behaved ethically because the APA still supports him,” O’Brien said. “I thought that was a bit contradictory to use them both as a source of confidence and endorsement of Dr. Koocher, but also to summarily blame the organization for the actions that took place and Dr. Koocher’s role was largely ignored in the president’s letter.”

On Oct. 12, Faculty Council also met in a town-hall style meeting that gave faculty and staff a chance to ask questions to Provost Marten denBoer regarding Koocher.  

“All of this feedback has been collected by the provost and will be communicated to Dr. Koocher, carefully anonymized,” Holtschneider said. “As always, disagreements with decanal decisions may continue to be addressed in our existing ways: raised informally with the dean himself or in the various meetings of the college, brought directly to the provost’s attention or expressed during the review process for a dean’s reappointment.”

Holtschneider said that the provost will be updating the way DePaul analyzes deans and program directors, by adding a “more formative evaluation process for deans and program directors.” That process is the one which denBoer used at Cal Poly Pomona, the university he resided at before his tenure at DePaul.

A few supporters of Koocher in CSH expressed happiness that the president took a definitive stand on the issue, effectively putting it to rest.

“While the Hoffman report was troubling, I think Dean Koocher has done a good job so far in his time at the university, and I am happy to have him stay on,” said associate professor Kyle Peterson.

“I think that Father Holtschneider’s detailed and thoughtful statement demonstrates that he seriously considered the concerns of some of the members of the DePaul community,” said assistant professor Sarah Connolly. “I am pleased that the university has taken a clear and public stance to strongly support our dean.”

Several faculty members not supportive of Koocher declined comment after the university’s stance became clear.

[box]Timeline: Controversy surrounding Dean Gerald Koocher and DePaul’s response[/box]

Holtschneider also empathized with the situation Koocher faced.

“There is tragedy and irony that Dr. Koocher must bear accusations against his ethics when he has spent his professional life writing on and contributing to the ethics of his profession,” Holtschneider said. “His public statements and writings over more than three decades have consistently argued against all forms of torture, and those convictions contributed to his appointment as a liaison to the committee studying the issue in the first place.”

O’Brien had no empathy for Koocher or the university, however, saying that the university’s response to the controversy was unacceptable and continues a culture of fear some faculty and staff in CSH have described. .

“I think that students are voicing that, alumni are voicing that, certain faculty members are voicing that publicly and others believe that personally and privately, and I think unfortunately, it only continues to give power to a person who’s cultivating an environment of fear and intimidation. And this further endorses that,” O’Brien said.

Acknowledging that not everyone agrees with his position, Holtschneider also empathized with the DePaul community as well.

“I am grateful the DePaul community has a heart that so immediately rises to the needs of those who are so inhumanely treated in our own time,” Holtschneider said. “I am grateful, too, for a university community that accepted Dr. Koocher’s invitations to meet and discuss these issues at great length.

“I benefited greatly from the university’s evolving discussion over these weeks as my own thinking took shape.”

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    Jack O'BrienOct 19, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Vincentians Against Torture Coalition’s Response

    Dear Supporters,

    As some of you may be aware, DePaul’s President Rev. Holtschneider, C.M., sent an email this week to DePaul’s faculty regarding his opinion of Dean Gerald Koocher and his involvement in the Psychological Ethics in National Security (PENS) task force. While I am glad that Rev. Holtschneider is commenting on this important issue to the DePaul community, he made a number of inaccurate assertions in his email about Dr. Koocher’s role and intentions at the time.

    The PENS task force did not merely determine, “…that there were important, but highly limited, roles that psychologists could fill ethically in advising government and military officials.” Rather, as cited in the Hoffman Report on the PENS task force, Dr. Koocher confirmed, “that the purpose of PENS was to give ethical guidance to psychologists in interrogation settings and not to bar them entirely” (Hoffman, p. 252). In addition to psychologists having an active role in interrogation settings, Dr. Koocher attacked the very notion that the APA (American Psychological Association) should use international law in crafting ethical guidelines for psychologist in these settings, instead asserting that psychologists should be bound only by U.S law (Hoffman, p. 23).

    President Holtschneider also writes, “Unfortunately, senior staff employed at the APA concealed important information from the task force and the trustees, including conflicts of interest, delayed ethics investigations, and collusion of the senior staff with the military and intelligence agency personnel in charge of interrogation programs.” What he omits, however, is that Dr. Koocher was one the APA senior leaders who recommended the APA, “…deliberately avoid probing or inquiring into the widespread indications that had surfaced about the harsh interrogation techniques being conducted by the CIA and DoD (Department of Defense), even though they knew that psychologists were involved in CIA and DoD interrogations” (Hoffman, p. 67).

    In addition, when Dr. Frank Summers emailed two independent, authoritative reports confirming that psychologists were involved with torture, Dr. Koocher did not initially respond. After Dr. Summers emailed him a second time inquiring as to why he had not responded, Dr. Koocher wrote back, “Don’t hold your breath.” Dr. Koocher cannot claim to be a victim of evaluation in hindsight because his own communications illustrate his intent to obfuscate the truth, falsely uphold the APA’s reputation, and unilaterally ignore reports of psychologists involved in enhanced interrogation settings.

    In addition, Dr. Koocher assumed that the APA would never have the means of acquiring hard data regarding psychologists, “…committing abuses at Guantanamo Bay, and therefore as a matter of strategy, APA should simply continue to issue public statements saying it was ‘concerned’ and would look into the matter as soon as such hard data became available (knowing that it never would)” (Hoffman, p. 216). The party line for the senior leaders of the APA, including Dr. Koocher, was to deny collusion indefinitely until it had only historical interest. As Dr. Koocher himself wrote, “Right! We should probably [r]epeat same until ‘evidence’ of anything becomes public in 2055” (Hoffman, p. 216).

    Dr. Koocher and his allies want everyone to believe that they were duped or fooled, and are sincerely contrite in the face of new evidence showing the atrocities committed at detainment facilities and psychologist’s roles in these inhumane programs. They would want us to believe that they too are victims of hindsight and would have done things differently with more information. But the PENS task force email communications and the Hoffman Report clearly show that the senior members of the APA, including Dr. Koocher, intentionally ignored information on enhanced interrogation practices and psychologists roles and shot down those who dared to express outrage over the APA collaborating with the DoD. Nor did Dr. Koocher and his allies come forward with their surprise after disclosure of the Gerwehr emails, emails that were used to show that members of the APA had collaborated with the CIA and military in an attempt to legitimize the cruel interrogation of detainees, which provided the smoking gun to Hoffman.

    Dr. Koocher was vitriolic and defamatory in his attempt to silence PENS task force dissenter Dr. Jean Maria Arrigo, fabricating an elaborate story about her father’s suicide and a history of mental instability in an attempt to discredit her vocal opposition to the collusion between the APA and DoD (Hoffman, p. 342). He later admitted he received false information regarding Dr. Arrigo’s father, but he did not meaningfully apologize. Regardless, his highly psychologized, personal attack on an opponent is not in keeping with a high respected ethicist and psychologist. Dr. Koocher’s past actions are not appropriate for one whose position gives him oversight over all health professionals educated at DePaul.

    President Holtschneider continues with, “I am grateful the DePaul community has a heart that so immediately rises to the needs of those who are inhumanely treated in our own time. I am grateful, too, for a university community that accepted Dr. Koocher’s invitations to meet and discuss these issues at great length.” But this portrayal of the event is inaccurate. DePaul’s undergraduate students, graduate students, and alumni, especially from within the College of Science and Health, have been excluded from this vital community conversation. Many have voiced their concerns on the petition to “Strip Dr. Gerald Koocher of Deanship over the College of Science and Health”, arguing that his Deanship degrades their education, their degree, and their career prospects. Others signees feel that DePaul is failing to live up to its Vincentian mission by backing Dr. Koocher, while some even believe this is a sign from the university of tacit complicity with human rights violations.

    What will happen to our university if we are rightly looked upon as hypocritical? Will undergraduates want to enroll in our College of Science and Health? Will graduate students be hesitant to apply to our university’s graduate school programs? Will our willingness to abide a Dean so heavily complicit in enhanced interrogation practices lead to a drastic drop in alumni donations? I fear that if we do not take action now, the answer to all of the above will be “yes.” And, equally concerning, will the College of Science and Health’s faculty be able to express their honest concerns to the Dean, knowing how he has treated dissent in the past? Do we want one of our colleges to be trapped in a culture of fear, intimidation, and silence? Surely, the answer is “no.”

    Father Holtschneider writes of Saint Vincent De Paul’s mercy in his treatment of Abbe de Saint-Cryan, his adversary in theories of grace. And while it is true that St. Vincent did indeed defend his great intellectual adversary, it was only after he himself pursued the arrest of St-Cryan for his path of “error,” or the holding of what is false to be true. It was only after St-Cryan was held responsible for his errors that St. Vincent defended him with mercy and compassion. In this spirit of St. Vincent De Paul, who sought first accountability and then forgiveness, Dean Koocher can admit to his past mistakes and step down gracefully, preserving his storied career and illustrating his commitment to ethics as an example to the students of the College of Science and Health. If DePaul continues to defend and back the Dean, it will continue to set the wrong example for our students, graduate students, faculty, and community, and leave the Dean in a position of potential harm to DePaul as well as to the APA.

    CNN recently reported on the ACLU suit on behalf of three detainees against two psychologists for their integral roles in designing a CIA interrogation program ( Psychologists and health professionals who have been speaking out for years against this collusion have attained vindication and credibility as a result of articles in the New York Times, other reliable news sources, and the Hoffman Report. When all is said and done, DePaul will find itself on the wrong side of history if it does not change course, and this will harm our entire community.

    As a preventative measure, the Vincentians Against Torture Coalition has begun vigorous pursuit of alternatives to petitioning President Rev. Holtschneider. This issue will not dissipate or simply go away, not on the international stage and not here at DePaul. Our petition, “Strip Dr. Gerald Koocher of Deanship over DePaul’s College of Science and Health,” will continue as a means to transmit information and as a tool for other members of our community to express their dissent, but is no longer the primary focus. I want to thank you all again for showing your support, almost 700 strong, and I hope you all continue spreading the word and joining us in our mission. Thank you.