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Lehman Takes the Stand

Thanks to an unusual lawsuit playing out in Michigan, MetaEzra has stumbled onto a court deposition that sheds some interesting light on former Cornell president Jeffrey Lehman '77. Or does it?

As reported in Inside Higher Ed today, a former Michigan law professor who was denied tenure is suing for breach of contract, arguing that the university failed to protect him from what he believes were the anti-gay biases that led some faculty members to vote against him in the review process. This happened in 2002, when Lehman was still the dean of the law school, which at first attempted to claim that its anti-bias policies weren't enforceable in court. (It has since backed down from that tactic.)

None of this is to demonize Lehman, who despite plenty of criticism at Cornell was clearly not a bigot. The plaintiff's lawyer, however, does his best to paint Lehman in a negative light, going so far as to reference Sun articles (!) to imply that he was a homophobe. ("President Lehman's leadership on non-discrimination has been lacking at best and perhaps indifferent at worst," wrote Jeff Purcell in a 2005 column.)

Lehman's deposition [pdf] in Hammer v. University of Michigan, from Feb. 3, 2006, offers a surreal glimpse into the discovery strategy and Lehman's own thought processes. After the jump, enjoy a partial transcript including the lawyer's strange tactic of trying to associate the Solomon Amendment dispute with Lehman's personal views on gays, the former president's Sun reading habits, his sudden about-face, and his curious ambivalence about who had the authority to allow military recruiters on campus.

Q. ... At the risk of being rude, and it's not my intention to be, I want to ask you, first of all, whether or not in your professional career you have been accused of being homophobic?
A. No.
Q. You have not?
A. I don't believe so.
Q. Do you read The Cornell Daily Sun, or did you?
A. Yes.
Q. Tell us what The Cornell Daily Sun is, please.
A. The Cornell Daily Sun is the student newspaper at Cornell University.
Q. When you were president, did you read it?
A. Sometimes.
Q. Did you read articles that applied to you, in particular, articles regarding the Solomon Amendment, and how it was applied at Cornell during your tenure?
A. Sometimes.
Q. Do you wish to alter your statement --
A. Yes.
Q. And so you have been accused of being homophobic --
A. Yes.
Q. -- in the student newspaper at Cornell?
A. Yes.
Q. That would have been in 2005, early in the year that you stepped down as president?
A. Yes.
Q. ... [D]id the Solomon Amendment problems, if we can call them that for the moment, have anything to do with your stepping down as president of Cornell?
A. No.
Q. You recall, do you not, that early in the year 2005, you refused to bar the recruiters from the armed forces from the Cornell campus, or perhaps late 2004?
A. Yes.
Q. And there was some concern expressed by students and some members of the community in which Cornell is located that by allowing recruiters to come in to Cornell, and to the law school ... you were perhaps violating some principles that Cornell held dear, as well as perhaps an ordinance from the municipality because the recruiters were asking recruits whether they were homosexuals and telling them such things as “Uncle Sam is disappointed in you” if they answered affirmatively?
A. The arguments that you mention I don't believe were directed against me personally. I think those arguments were directed at the institution of Cornell University.
Q. Okay. While you were the president?
A. While I was president.
Q. Wasn't it your decision to allow the army recruiters on campus?
A. No.
Q. Whose decision was it?
A. That's probably a -- probably would have been made in the -- I don’t actually know whose decision it would have been but I expect it was in the jurisdiction of vice president for student services. [Susan H. Murphy '73]
Q. Is that somebody who reported to you?
A. Yes.
Q. Could you have overturned that decision?
A. Probably.
Q. Okay. And you did not do so?
A. No.
Q. Was one of the reasons you did not do so because to do so would have jeopardized certain federal funding that Cornell enjoyed?
A. Yes.

More documents, including e-mails to and from Lehman, are available here.

Andy Guess | Posted on December 19, 2007 (#)

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