[NetBehaviour] Referring to the previous post on a new media department -

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Tue Jun 29 18:03:36 CEST 2021

(This is also up on Facebook; it may not be germane here, but for those 
who are interested in how, at least in the U.S., things can go wrong in 
developing new media at a university, here are some of the details. Again 
I'm not including names to protect myself. From my viewpoint, in relation 
to the/a commons, as a colleague said to me, "they (the tenured faculty) 
closed ranks behind me" - they were told, according to one, in a faculty 
meeting, that "Alan Sondheim is dismissed. There will be no discussion."
and so forth.)

Referring to the previous post on a new media department -


Some readers asked for more detail:

What happened (in somewhat boring detail) from my viewpoint:

2001 We move to Miami; I'm teaching new media at **************
***********************. I had gone for an interview - and felt
I was simply promised a situation - facilities, programs,
technologies, funding - that didn't exist. For the school year
2001-2002 I was in Miami. At the end of the first semester, there
was supposed to be a "review" - but I was the only one reviewed.
My contract wasn't renewed, and the entire line was eliminated.
The school continued to lie to me; *********, who was the
department head, made veiled threats. To this day I'm not sure
why I was let go. We had to fight constantly to get the facility
in shape; the studio was built on low ground that flooded - it
was a in a tin warehouse - and the air-conditioner didn't work,
there was no ceiling (just lights hanging down from the tin) and
no floor (it was raw cement covered with glue and never finished)
- think of dead lizards and other creatures. There were two or
three computers and no internet access; there was one low-grade
consumer camcorder that broke soon after classes began. I was
told I'd get something like $20,000 to get everything up to date
etc. - and got nothing.

2002 During the same period we went almost daily or nightly to
the Everglades. I couldn't face the other faculty or the school;
I roamed the halls of the art building (separate from the multi
media shed) late at night, even getting my mail that way. I
didn't go to faculty meetings or crits. I was invisible. ******
my graduate student took over my classes. But the Everglades
saved me; at first we noticed only the alligators and larger
birds - by the time we left Miami, we were looking at
periphyton, walking off trail day and night, and observing
invertebrates. I believe to this day we found several new
species of hemiptera; we have the photographs possibly to prove

2002 Here are materials somewhat disguised related to my
dismissal from ********************************* ("Devil" -
**********, then head of department). These snippets are from
letters written to everyone from, I believe, the assistant
provost to the faculty union grievance representative; they
give a fair indication of my mood at the time. I include these
because of the resulting trauma. This was, don't forget, a short
time after my mother died, and 9/11 occurred the second month we
were down there. Between these, and feeling I had been lied to
about the condition of the new media area, I had very little
psychlogical energy to go on:

First - I never did get any TA help at all; is there any chance
this will change? The area needs both tech support on an on and
off basis, and a TA who would also be a lab monitor. I will give
out the password, as we talked about, but I'm not completely
comfortable with this; still, I don't see any other possibility.
As in the past, we'll have a signup sheet and students can come
in when they want. (I do want to note for the record that every
media room I've seen has had both lab monitor and full-time or
part time tech (sysadmin) help - if we do anything more than
graphics or video (and we need to upgrade here - have to use the
department credit card to pay online once someone wires the
computers in), the latter is essential. Even 2-3 hours every two
weeks would be an enormous help.)

Second - as far as (from what I recall yesterday) the students
finding me depressed - I _am_ depressed. It's difficult for me,
as a new faculty member here only a month, to have to deal with
things like a roof, floor, and biohazardous materials, no TA,
and a lot of student complaints about equipment. When I was told
I'd have to build up the area, I never assumed it was literally
from construction onward. As I mentioned, it's been far too much
work, considering I'm also teaching, trying to research
equipment for the area, etc.

Someone said we might be able still to hire adjuncts? Is there a
freeze also on this? Working with someone who is a Mac/Flash
expert would be a huge relief to the area. What I'm expert in -
Internet studies, the Net, etc. - simply isn't set up, as you
know, in 105. I'm hoping we can hire IRM to configure the Mac
computers to connect to the Net through the phone line - that
should be possible? (For some reason I couldn't get them to work
- I have a Mac here at home and it connected immediately.)

Third, I wrote Satan about the vendor situation - do you know
any creative way around purchase orders? There are huge
discounts in the retail shops (I went to Circuit City and Comp
USA a few times to research this, as well as some smaller
retailers); if we have to order through official channels, we're
likely to get a lot less equipment for the $4000.

Again, any help/advice greatly appreciated. I'll be in tomorrow
around noon (meeting with *********** from another dept.) and
will check on the room again at that point (as well as today);
in other words, I'll be in and out of the university tomorrow
and possibly Monday.

yours, Alan

Sounds good; I called God and am waiting to hear from him.

Impatience unfortunately is built into what you want from me.
For example, as you know, the university can't fix the camera.
This is the one camera we have for all 20 students - who now
have to wait until we can get it commercially fixed. And I have
to explain this to the students - and I will have to field
complaints. (It's already been out for two weeks.)

Did a TA ever come through for us? We desperately need one, but
I haven't heard back from you on this.

All of this is really disenheartening. I should be focusing, I
believe, on teaching and trying to settle in Miami, and instead
there seem to be constant difficulties with the multimedia area.

Anyway I will not be aggressive with God or anyone else.

yours, Alan

Does this mean I'm in danger of losing my job at the moment? I
absolutely need to know, because if it's the case, I have to
start making other plans of course -

yours, Alan

Hello - I was the faculty member from new media you met at the

As you probably know, my position, my job (as first-year
tenure-track faculty member), and the new media area have all
been eliminated.

I understand there is no recourse, no appeal to this decision.
The Dean called me in and handed me a termination notice. There
was no discussion, and at no time during the semester did he
bother to find out what we were doing in the studio.

Art departments all over the country are emphasizing, not cutting
back, new media; this is even true in *******. The situation at
******* is deplorable - the students are quite honestly being
robbed of working in what is the hottest and most prevalent
international medium today.

As for myself - if you do a search on google - you will find at
last 3500-4000 listings for "Alan Sondheim" (use the quotes to
exclude other references). This will give you some idea of my
online community presence and reputation - which I was bringing
to **********.

As for my relationships within the department - for the first
half of the semester (I arrived around August 15), they were
very edgy; I was "whiny" and quite honestly depressed - and the
students knew it. I was teaching in substandard space, with no
finished floor (cement with glue), with no ceiling (tin roof),
and air conditioner (not working); there were termite droppings
on the equipment, dead lizards and waterbugs in the space, and
both white and black powders over everything - probably insec-
ticides. After considerable complaining, we got a drop ceiling
put in (there are probably still termites above it - this is
W10, RM 105), flooring put down, the room cleaned - including
biohazard testing, and the air-conditioner working. But this
took a tremendous amount out of me, the department, and the
class - and in spite of that my students did professional work
(for the most part), and I received very good evaluations from

And on top of this - to be terminated at this point, to have the
whole area closed down - this is intolerable, particularly given
what you passed out - the university mandate. I had hoped to
help several of my students towards online and offline
exhibitions by the end of this semester - this is blatantly
unfair to them as well.

I am well aware this letter will do absolutely no good, but I
found the luncheon was not a good time to bring this all up, and
it wasn't until the next day that I received the termination


Alan Sondheim

Of course I won't be teaching this summer, etc.; I also won't be
advising at this point.

I'll be going to the student crits, etc., but I will use the
faculty meeting time for working on job applications, etc. I'm
not getting anywhere, but I've been working the whole vacation on
this stuff. We'll have a furniture etc. sale in mid-April and
leave after that. I'm going to go to Human Resources next week to
find out about TIAA/CREF, health and unemployment, etc. etc. It's
a very depressing time.

I'm going to be working with two students outside of class (I
think) - one will be doing a one-credit course, and Jehovah is
the other. If there are any difficulties, I'll get in touch with

I cancelled out of the Sorbonne (and England - I was also asked
to speak there); I'm going to Minnesota late February for a few
days, but that's all. The courses will work around that. [I'm not
sure now what I was referencing here.]

Hope your holidays are good -

yours, Alan

I just wanted to add a few things.

Although it's technically irrelevant, I was told verbally I'd
get startup monies for the department area (new media) - none
came through.

I'm really not sure why the position was terminated. Two reasons
- budget and the fact the Dean didn't think I'd stay the whole
time and "the university's investment in the position wouldn't
pay off" make little sense to me in a lot of ways. I have reason
to think there was something else - someone hinted at it - but I
don't know what it is. It may be that I had an argument with the
Devil early on and asked if I would be able to take the startup
equipment with me if I left in a year or two. According to Evil
One I said that I was definitely leaving after one year "and
everyone heard me." But I didn't say that, Angel was there and
didn't hear it, and I wouldn't have said it. I was despairing at
that point of teaching altogether, because as I pointed out
the room I was given was in terrible disrepair (as was/is a lot
of the equipment) - and Evil kept insisting "I knew what I was
getting into" - that I was told everything during the interview.
But I wasn't - I had no idea about the termites, the flooding,
the broken air-conditioner, the ripped-up flooring, the lack of
a ceiling... The job was a mess at first. I have
before-and-after pictures of the room - we did manage over two
months to get it repaired - but we also lost around a month's
studio time for my classes in the process....

I can't follow through on any of this because I don't want to
lose my recommendations/references - I'm applying for other

Most of the time I try and stay level; I have a huge amount of
anger in me. I told the Dean the university should never have
advertised the job, and if they did, I would try and write
everyone I know to stop the hiring. I knew the last finalist
very well for example. I feel bound to do this - and do whatever
I can - because at this point I'm feeling basically raped - it's
the only way I can put it. I'm 58, one of the oldest people in
the department, and it was a HUGE move for Angel (my wife) and I
to come down here. Right now it's catastrophic, affecting my
health, etc.

Anyway the Dean said if I wrote anything it would affect his
letter of recommendation "of course" - I said I would never ask
him for one, and he said that the Deans are always consulted. I
don't think this is true in the slightest, but I need the letter
from Evil One - she gave me one already, but if she's called on
it, I have to appear positive to her.

Another one of the promises - Angel is young and wants to study
museology - I was told at the interview that there would be a
certification program with the Smithsonian. As soon as we were
here we were told it was postponed - and now I don't know if
it's ever going to happen. Angel has had nothing to do as a
result vis-a-vis the university. This may seem minor, but we
were told in absolute terms that the program was in place. There
was a lot of this stuff.

Sorry to vent like this. If you need specific information, I can
supply it, to the best of my knowledge. The paper trail is thin;
the email trail is a bit thicker, but a lot of what's gone on has
been verbal. I've taught, often as a visiting artist, at a number
of other places, and I've never had reason to distrust any of
them - unfortunately this hasn't been my experience here.


Alan Sondheim

I'll try to make all the crits. I have to apply for work
elsewhere at this point and there are a lot of deadlines in
January/February. Please excuse me if I don't make every one.
This semester is going to be difficult for Angel and myself; the
termination of the job and area has been finanically and
emotionally devastating for us. The union has taken an interest,
but this doesn't affect my termination; they want to try and
ensure this sort of thing (i.e. first year tenure-track) won't
happen again.

I worry about the art / art history department. Forgetting
whether or not I'm liked, the elimination of the new media area
is terrible - if you look at the CAA listings, this area is
becoming one of the most important in schools all across the
country/Canada. Given this, and the problems with the student
gallery, I'm surprised that tenured faculty aren't protesting
(again). The school has some of the best undergraduates I've seen
- What am I to tell my students who might want to major in new
media? My only option is to suggest they go elsewhere if they
really want to pursue, say, Internet studies, cdroms, etc. And
that's awful.

I want to thank those of you who have given us letters of
recommendation and emotional support through all of this. It's
been very difficult.

- Alan

I'm sending this out, somewhat for protection. I have told my
students about what happened - I felt I owed them this - and
that the new media area of the school is closing down - what
Satan said when she terminated my contract. Now the head of the
department is insisting I not pass on negative information, that
the area will continue. This woman has also written a letter of
recommendation for me which will be required, I'm sure, if I'm
to be hired elsewhere. She's lied consistently to me, as far as
I'm concerned; she wants me to lie to the students. Fact:
There's no one to teach new media, no money for hiring even
adjuncts. Fact: There's only one video camera still, 2 G4
stations, one half-working Sony station - and I have a total of
26 students. Fact: There's no budget for more equipment, the new
media line has been taken away, there's no budget for visiting
artists, there's no budget for software. I spend half the time
dealing with students groaning - in spite of which I get good
recommendations. There's no budget for technical support.
There's no budget for lab monitors. The students are barely
getting an education, and I'm the only one who can teach new
media or Internet in the Art / Art History area. I'm afraid of
lying; I don't want my better students to lose their own chances
at careers because the department head puts the university ahead
of the truth.

This woman has also threatened me, telling me I don't want to
know what the real reasons for the termination are - "Don't go
there" - and "I'm married to a lawyer, so I know when to keep my
mouth shut."

How in hell am I to get another teaching job? I've been getting
physically sick with stress at this point; I can't cope. I feel
like a victim in someone's paranoid fantasy. I've spoken to the
union who want to publicize things (and probably will) because
the situation is so unusual (and they want to prevent it from
happening again) - but that will make it even harder for me to
get work elsewhere, student evaluations notwithstanding. I keep
a partial paper trail, but so much of what's gone on has been
verbal - the meeting with the Satan, the woman's threats, etc.
I've never seen such an insane situation in my life.

What does one do? I'm a damn good teacher. I'm applying to
various schools. The first thing they'll notice is the one year
termination. How do I protect myself? How do I survive?


I am writing you to ascertain the reasons for my contract
termination. I understand my situation is unusual, and I need to
find out why I was let go at such an early date.

Thank you very much for your help in this matter.

Sincerely yours, Alan Sondheim

(End of quotations related to ******************** matter)

2002 During the second semester, as a result, I had a panic
attack and wet to the hospital overnight. I played with the
monitor sensors and managed to make it appear that I was dying or
in some state; the crescendo was placing the sensors in my mouth.
(There were various kinds, all connected to heart, blood, lung
monitors, etc.) GW visited at the time. Later that day - that
night in fact - we went back to Shark Valley in the Everglades
with just flashlight; it was amazing. It was then I saw the moth
- which I still haven't been able to identify.

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