Professor terminated; intoxication on campus alleged
Published: Monday, March 5, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 04:03
Pippin Ross, a broadcast journalist who had been hired as a professor for the Journalism department this semester, was found intoxicated and unresponsive in her vehicle on campus Feb. 27, according to that day's police log. University Police placed Ross in protective custody and transported Ross to the Waltham Police Department. Dean of Arts and Sciences Susan Birren terminated Ross' employment at the University the next day.
Ross' criminal background, according to her blog as well as multiple newspapers, includes numerous convictions for operating a vehicle under the influence, conspiracy to aid an escape from jail and conspiracy in attempting an escape from jail. On Feb. 28, the day after she was placed in protective custody in Waltham, she was arrested for operating under the influence and operating a vehicle after her license was revoked for drunk driving, according to the Barnstable Police Department.
The Barnstable Police Department confirmed that Ross has been convicted of OUI more than four times; under Massachusetts law, that many convictions requires a lifetime suspension of the involved individual's driver's license.
In an interview with the Justice, Ross' husband, Philip Austin, said that he drove Ross to Brandeis on Feb. 27. Austin said that Ross was incorrectly taken into protective custody on Feb. 27 and she should have been offered medical care for a neurological condition instead of taken to the Waltham Police Department.
According to the police log, BEMCo was dispatched when officers arrived at Tower Lot after receiving a report that Ross was unresponsive in her car; however, there is no note in the police log of Ross receiving or refusing treatment.
"She seems to have some sort of neurological problem that they're trying to diagnose which may have something to do with [why] she was disoriented on Monday," Austin said of Ross, who he says is currently at a hospital in Nantucket undergoing neurological tests and so was unavailable for comment on this article. "I got a phone call from the police department and went up there and rescued her, but she was there for almost six hours in a cell." Austin said that Ross was not intoxicated that day and she was given neither a breathalyzer nor a sobriety test before she was taken into protective custody.
According to Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan, unless it is thought that an individual is about to operate or is in the process of operating a car, a breathalyzer test is not necessary. He added that police officers use their discretion based on experience, education and training to determine if an individual is intoxicated.
"The [U]niversity stands by the Public Safety report on this incident," wrote Senior Vice President of Communications and External Affairs Andrew Gully in a statement to the Justice.
The Waltham Police Department confirmed that if an individual is suspected of being intoxicated but is able to walk, the individual can be taken into protective custody and transported to a police department, hospital or home until he or she is picked up by another person or able to transport him or herself safely.
Ross' original account of the afternoon, however, conflicts with both that of the University and her husband. The night the accident took place, Ross sent the students in her course an email that read in part, "At about 11:00 a.m. I had a seemingly benevolent car crash on the Brandeis campus! I wasn't even driving! I got knocked out. Word is—a concussion. It's (strangely) a good plot, we'll talk about it."
When asked about the email, Austin was unclear about its content but said that Ross was in a "neurological hallucinating zone" at the time and that she could have "misspoken."
Austin said that "there will be an investigation and legal inquiries made about ... the University's handling of basically a professor who was having a medical issue," continuing that no lawyers had yet been in touch with the University legal team.
Despite the fact that information about Ross' arrests is publicly available through her blog, Google searches and public records, nobody at the University knew about her criminal history before hiring her, according to multiple University officials.
Ross, who was hired this semester to take over the Journalism 15A "Writing for Broadcast Media Journalism" course, a requirement for the Journalism minor, was an emergency hire, according to chair of the Journalism program Prof. Maura Jane Farrelly (AMST). Ross filled the position left vacant by Margo Melnicove, who had previously taught the class for 14 years but had to be replaced due to a medical emergency in her family.
According to Farrelly, Ross was hired after Farrelly listened to Ross' work on the National Public Radio website and contacted her for two phone interviews over the winter break. Farrelly learned of Ross from Ross' former colleague who currently works for New Hampshire Public Radio; that colleague served as Ross' reference for this position. After the two phone interviews, Farrelly recommended Ross for the job to Birren.Farrelly said that she did not know of Ross' criminal past before she recommended that the University employ Ross.
According to an email to the Justice from Senior Vice President for Communications and External Affairs Andrew Gully, "Farrelly was following a standard process for hiring adjuncts" and "was unaware of Ross's criminal record when she was hired." Background checks, formal or informal, are not required for faculty positions at the University, according to an email to the Justice from Birren.
The Faculty Handbook states that the requirements for the hiring of a normal faculty members—which include review by a committee of professors—are different for "associate professors of the practice," the title Ross held.
Vice President for Human Resources Scot Bemis wrote in an email to the Justice that Massachusetts law forbids the University from asking job applicants about their criminal backgrounds. However, Bemis added that "if asked, a candidate is required to disclose a criminal conviction. The affect [sic] of a conviction depends on the position being filled and the nature of the conviction." Ross was not asked about previous convictions.
A Google search for "Pippin Ross" leads to an entry on her blog. The entry explains the content of the manuscript of the book she and her husband are co-writing, Crash Course: A Reporter's Journey Into Prison, which she describes as a "stark, often funny, hopefully intriguing examination of my lost and found years of rape, alcoholism, and eventually incarceration in our nation's oldest women's prison."
The Future of JOUR 15A
Farrelly explained that she was informed minutes before Ross' class on Feb. 27 that Ross would not be coming to class. Farrelly said she then had decided to fill in for Ross, and was relatively certain that she would be teaching the following week.
"At this point, it is not completely clear as to what the instructor situation for the class is going to be," Farrelly said. "My inclination … is that I will take over the class and we will try to bring in a guest lecturer toward the end of the semester."
Ross' employment at Brandeis was terminated the day after the on-campus incident, according to an email provided to the Justice by Austin.
Ross was informed of the termination in a short email from Birren. Birren issued the decision after a conference with the parties involved, according to Farrelly. In the termination email, Birren wrote to Farrelly that "based on [Ross'] conduct on February 27, 2012," her appointment with the University was terminated effective immediately.
Austin said that Ross was not consulted before her termination or contacted beyond Birren's email.
According to the Faculty Handbook, "action to suspend or permanently dismiss a member of the faculty is initiated by the Provost." Furthermore, "the faculty member involved must be allowed to present his or her case to the Committee [of Faculty Rights and Responsibilities], in writing as well as in person, and to present pertinent individuals who will speak in his or her behalf."
This process, according to the handbook, is followed for all faculty, and adjunct professors are listed in the handbook's definition of "faculty."
In an email to the Justice, Birren wrote that "much of the Handbook does not apply to adjuncts because they are short-term, temporary faculty."
—Sara Dejene, Rebecca Blady and Andrew Wingens contributed reporting.