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Thursday, November 19, 2009

The longing for competence: the death of Morgan Lewis

Daniel Zwerdling is a professional journalist for National Public Radio.  He came up with a document that shows that Maj. Nidal Hasan, the killer of 13 soldiers at Ft. Hood,  had raised questions about his competence among his superiors.  An evaluative memorandum lists problems with Major Hasan's performance and his personality.   The memo does not say anything about any tendency in Hasan toward becoming a violent jihadist against his fellows, although it notes that he did some inappropriate religious proselytizing.  Here is a transcript of the relevant evaluations and conclusions in the document:

3. The Faculty has serious concerns about CPT Hasan’s professionalism and work ethic. Clinically he is competent to deliver safe patient care. But he demonstrates a pattern of poor judgment and a lack of professionalism. In his PGY-2 year, he was counseled for inappropriately discussing religious topics with his assigned patients. He also required a period of in-program remediation when he was discovered to have not documented appropriately an ER encounter with a homicidal patient who subsequently eloped from the ER. He did successfully remediate this problem. At the end of his PGY-2 year, he was placed on administrative probation by the NCC GMEC for failure to take and pass USMLE Step 3 and to obtain an unrestricted state medical license by the end of his PGY-2 year; as a result he was not promoted to PGY-3 on time. He did eventually complete step 3 and get a license and was promoted to PGY-3. He was counseled for having a poor record of attendance at didactics and lower than expected PRITE scores. One year he failed to show for his PRITE examination at all.  During his PGY-3 year, he was counseled for being consistently late to NNMC morning report. During his PGY-4 year, he was discovered to have only seen 30 outpatients in 38 week of outpatient continuity clinic. He was required to make this missed clinic time up using his elective. He failed his HGT/WGT screening and was found to be out of standards with body fat % and was counseled on that.  Lastly, he missed a night of call for MGMC ER and then did not respond to numerous pages by my office the next day.

4. Taken together; these issues demonstrate a lack of professionalism and work ethics.  He is able to self-correct with supervision. However, at this point he should not need so much supervision. In spite of all of this, I am not able to say he is not competent to graduate nor do I think a period of academic probation now at the end of his training will be beneficial. He would be able to contain his behavior enough to complete any period of probation successfully. My purpose in writing this letter is to give the credentials committee the benefit of full disclosure and the opportunity to modify CPT Hasan’s plan of supervision following initial privileging.

Some people are reported in the press and are using blogs to use this document as the basis for tirades about the incompetence of big government.  In so doing, they misrepresent the facts.  The facts are that a superior of Major Hasan's did note the problems with his performance, but also noted that further disciplinary action at that point would seem counterproductive.  The memo was made part of a record to be used in consideration of Major Hasan's future assignments and evaluations.  There may be further documents that bear on whether Major Hasan's alleged eruption into a murdering jihadist could have been predicted.

There are those who are misportraying this document as evidence of  bumbling when, in fact, it is a careful assessment that shows attempts are being made to correct Major Hasan's deficiencies of performance.  Unfortunately, some of those making the false portrayals are in the teaching profession.  One can only hope that their superiors are  putting on record their incompetent and slovenly performances in representing what very competent reporters publish and that appropriate remediation or disciplinary action is taken in those cases.

I am not defending the Army or government in this matter.  I am pointing out the absurdity of the incompetent and devious calling someone else incompetent.  I decry the incompetence of all huge bureaucracies, including the higher education bureaucracy for which I once worked.  My own take on the Army is supplied by my father, who carried U.S. mail for 34 years.  When I was inducted into military service, my father drove me to the train station, and used the F word the only time I ever heard him do so.  He commented that I tended to attempt to rectify what I pereceived as wrongs, and he said, "Just remember that the government and the Army are so f**ked up so far back and so high up that there is nothing you can do to  change it."   I listened and remembered, although that did not keep me from joining in some efforts to change some wrongs, which resulted in the courts martial of some people who were mistreating recruits.   But for the most part, my father was right and there is little one can do to fix incompetence.  Or perfidy and mendacity and malice in those who hold those qualities as  basic tenets of their value system. 

And that is not to say that I did not also come across instances of brilliance and unparalleled competence in the service.  Or in higher education.  But they are subverted by those who dwell in the lower regions of human sensibility.

In yesterday's news was also the announcement that the last chance to examine the death of Dr. Morgan Lewis, an assistant professor of German at Northern State University who was found dead at the doorway of Seymour Hall Nov. 1, 2004, of a gunshot wound in the back of his head.  The Aberdeen Police Department eventually labeled the case a suicide and closed it.  The Police Department or other authorities never released the evidence or investigative record on which they based their conclusion.

Some litigation ensued.  It was over insurance,  which the agencies involved would not have to pay if suicide were proven.  The latest suit against Prudential Life Insurance was settled to the satisfaction of  the parties, according to the news report, but it closed off what is probably the last opportunity to examine the evidence and the investigative record for veracity and competence in the handling of the case.

In the case of Major Hasan, his personnel records, at least in part, are being made available.  In the case of Dr. Lewis' death, the records are not released because some bureaucrats have the authority under South Dakota law to keep them from public knowledge.

Dr. Lewis' death came during a time of chaos and controversy in the Aberdeen Police Department.  A chief of police had recently been forced to resign.  The reasons are kept confidential because they are "personnel" matters.  Two detectives were fired and protested their firings, on which some kind of settlement was reached.  The reasons for the firings and the settlement were never explained to the public because they are personnel matters.  The policeman who patrolled the NSU campus at the time of Dr. Lewis' death was forced to resign  The reasons, which had something to do with the handling of the Lewis case, were never revdaled because they were "personnel matters."

Still, at the federal level of government, when a time of great tragedy and concern occurs as in the Ft. Hood shootings, the personnel records of Major Hasan are released as a mater of pubic information so that the record can be examined and appropriate action taken.

The Hasan case will go on for years.  But at least we can take assurance that some people involved have performed competently and professionally.  However, in South Dakota in the handling of the Hasan personnel documents and in the withholding of information on the Morgan Lewis case, we are left to long for integrity and competence. 

We can only long for disclosure and freedom of information laws that the federal government and other states have.  But that would  be relying upon big government to enforce the rights of tax-paying citizens to know what their tax-paid employees are doing.  And if they are competent enough to hold their positions. 

1 comment:

RealFakeNews said...


I think Maj. Hasan should never have been made major based on his appraisal that you cite. Seems clear to me. It's up or out in the military and clearly Maj. Hasan wasn't cutting it. Still, that doesn't mean anyone knew or had any indication he'd go nuts and kill a bunch of people. At least there is some transparency here.

As to Morgan Lewis, as you point out, there hasn't been any transparency, just the NSU Hardy Boys poking around in something over their heads. The Lewis tragedy is compounded by the lack of transparency that the ABD has engaged in. And that does not give confidence to the public.

And I also agree. Bureaucracies are bureaucracies, where ever they are found--the military, government, education, business. The premium is on perpetuating the power of the bureaucracy at the expense of the individual.

Todd Epp
Middle Border Sun

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