Computing ed researcher fired from NSF over questions about her role as 1980s activist

September 11, 2014 at 8:38 am 2 comments

I’ve known Valerie Barr for years and believe that she was honest with the agents. I don’t believe that she lied about her involvement with a domestic terrorist organization that had “ties” (whatever that means) to two political activist organizations she belonged to.

I’m most shocked about the process. Valerie was dismissed on the basis of a report by a possibly biased agent — there are no transcripts or notes from the interview.  The OPM is prosecutor, judge, and jury — there is no defense. Doesn’t sound like due process to me.  It’s a loss to our community that a well-regarded researcher is forced out of NSF.

It’s a greater loss in that it will make it less likely that another “typical liberal college professor” (a quote from the below article) might offer to serve.

After again being asked if she had been a member of any organization that espoused violence, Barr was grilled for 4.5 hours about her knowledge of all three organizations and several individuals with ties to them, including the persons who tried to rob the Brink’s truck. Four people were found guilty of murder in that attack and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, including Kathy Boudin, who was released in 2003 and is now an adjunct assistant professor of social work at Columbia University. “I found out about the Brink’s robbery by hearing it on the news, and just like everybody else I was shocked,” she recalls.

But OPM apparently thought otherwise, again citing her “deliberate misrepresentation” in its report. Relying heavily on that investigation, NSF handed Barr a letter on 25 July saying that it planned to terminate her IPA at the end of the first year because the OPM review had found her to be unfit for the job…Barr was given a chance to appeal NSF’s decision, and on 11 August she submitted a letter stating that OPM’s summary report of its investigation “contains many errors or mischaracterizations of my statements.” As is standard practice, agencies receive only a summary of the OPM investigation, not a full report, and lawyers familiar with the process say that an agent’s interview notes are typically destroyed after the report is written.

via Researcher loses job at NSF after government questions her role as 1980s activist | Science/AAAS | News.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. David Klappholz  |  September 13, 2014 at 9:47 am

    On a lighter, but similar, note: Quite some time ago I was asked to apply for top secret clearance; when I was interviewed, I was told that, if I got it, I wouldn’t be able to travel to other countries or to contact residents/citizens of other countries, without explicit permission. I mentioned that I had relatives in Israel, a strong ally of the US, and asked if I could contact them — email, phone, etc. — without getting permission; the answer was “no.” I then asked something like “no contact at all without permission?; the answer was “You can send them Christmas cards.” They weren’t too happy when I burst out laughing.

    Reply
  • […] Of course, I buy into the argument here about the importance of context. Beyond that, this article does a nice job of tying context to success of women in computing (with quotes both from Barbara Ericson and Valerie Barr, formerly at NSF). […]

    Reply

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