On the Secret Trial and Invisible
Persecution of a Stanford Law Fellow
About Academia, Gaslighting,
Young Scholar’s Fall from Grace
When I step aside from moralizing, however, I have to tell you that I loved this new book. It might be mad, bad and dangerous to know, but I want to read more from this author. … I kept getting valuable new insights and tremendous entertainment value as I read and reread. Within 20 minutes of opening my Kindle, I had received joy that greatly exceeded the $8.49 purchase price. I expect I’ll be wrestling with arguments in this book for many months to come. I plan to read his other works such as Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression and The Critical Theory of Academia. … A book unlike any I have ever read.
Luke Ford, Stay in Your Lane
This is a fascinating memoir that is written in a voice that is as compelling as any can be. … The author writes about the manner in which he was gaslighted with forensic clarity, allowing readers a clear image of an underdog rising up against a selfish group of powerful elites. The book is written in prose that is gorgeous and captivating and the author offers powerful insights into the inner workings of academia, crafting a tale that is legally nuanced and that features compelling political themes.
Franklin Bauer, The Book Commentary
Intriguingly, it’s actually a book-within-a-book that chronicles the making of Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression, written during Guldmann’s time at Stanford Law School between 2006 and 2011. The memoir portion of the story dovetails with an author’s study in ideology, academia, and firsthand experiences with cultural oppression, offering readers far more depth than the usual educator’s memoir contains. … The result is an exposé, memoir, and study in academic philosophy, all in one.
D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
It’s a delicate balance that must be struck in putting forward your version of events when that testimony seems far-fetched and contradictory to the accepted truth of a situation. Fortunately, Rony Guldmann’s legal background leads to him constructing his narrative in a logical and carefully evidenced manner, helping readers to understand that the seemingly incredible suggestions aren’t as far from realistic as they initially appear. It’s a commendable act of bravery to speak up against a large and well-trusted institution to show people that something we all accept at face value should absolutely be challenged and pushed back against.
K.C. Finn, Readers’ Favorite
The Court of Star Chamber
In this academic memoir, Stanford Law graduate Rony Guldmann recounts his own star chamber trial at the hands of his alma mater. His tribulations begin after graduation when he is offered a fellowship to stay on at the law school and pursue research on conservatives’ alleged cultural oppression by the liberal elites. Hoping to achieve a foothold in academia, he seizes the opportunity. But things go awry when the project metastasizes into an all-consuming obsession that thrusts Guldmann into headlong conflict with his milieu, and he soon finds himself gaslighted by a cabal of elites seeking retribution for his transgressions against the ideologies of academia and the chattering class.
What had started as an academic thesis now bleeds into the real world, as Guldmann comes before an invisible tribunal whose rules and proceedings will not be disclosed to him. Formerly a standout student and rising young scholar, Guldmann is steadily reduced to a mere conspiracy theorist. Yet this fall from grace becomes a philosophical awakening whereby he grows conscious of his systemic oppression by academia. Armed with this knowledge, he survives his gaslighting while scheming to unmask the perpetrators. The Star Chamber of Stanford is an all-American tribute to the renegade and underdog.
The resulting dissonance only aggravated my mounting alienation from the ambient culture, my solipsistic retreat into a self-enclosed conceptual universe, a black hole from which no light escaped. What Joe had feared most was now coming to pass. I would manage to overlook my descent into insularity and obsession, however, as this vortex would take shape in small increments, each of which I could readily minimize. Even so, the cumulative truth of my steadily percolating estrangement and anomie would be communicated to me from myriad directions during the winter and spring of 2009. Like my advisers’ disquietude in December, these incidents were subtle portents of things to come, incipient materializations of institutional headwinds that would in time place me in intractable conflict with the might of Stanford itself.
So what was going on here? Barbara was positioning herself as on my side, offering ostensibly well-intentioned constructive criticism in order to advance our mutual interest in the timely progression of my academic career. But “the truth of euphemism,” Bourdieu notes, “is revealed in the use made of it by professorial rhetoric any time that an unfavorable judgment has to be delivered within the limits of academic etiquette and/or prudence.” And here was that professorial rhetoric in all its subtlety and circumspection—as was to be expected of Barbara, whose prognosis was just as disingenuous as it was accurate. It was accurate inasmuch as it correctly gauged how the market would respond to my résumé. It was disingenuous, however, inasmuch as Barbara held herself out as merely tendering a prognosis, when what she was passing off as just educated guesses about others’ hostile reactions also constituted her own reaction, which was identical to those from which she was distancing herself rhetorically.
I didn’t know and didn’t really care, as I was far more interested in my research agenda than traveling down this dark, disagreeable road. And yet the question could not but come to mind in a law school setting, which my advisers understood just as well as I. The legalization of our relations had commenced with the knockout email, was then ramped up by me in the works-in-progress email, and had now been cemented by the situation at hand. The existence of a controversy concerning the veracity of my dossier had been entered into the email record only the previous night. With the day’s events coming right on the heels of that deed, the question naturally presented itself. Nothing was certain beyond Barbara’s disingenuity, which was a by-product of my own disingenuity and not unlawful. But an inference of defamation was scarcely capricious on a stylized Law School 101 kind of level. Indeed, it was quintessential LSAT reasoning in action. Everyone involved had more than enough schooling to put two and two together.
An explicit reference to Stanford wouldn’t have been an admission of wrongdoing, but it would have confirmed that any suspicions thereof were grounded in some underlying reality—the unofficial reality that now enveloped me. I wasn’t demanding such a confession, and Dick had no interest in volunteering it, so he acknowledged the situation by way of logical implication within the confines of the tacit dimension. Just like me when I fired off the works-in-progress email, Dick was resorting to allusion, intimation, and ambiguation (the willful creation of ambiguity) to communicate a clandestine meaning inaccessible to the casual bystander not privy to the situation’s subterranean background. For reasons of both law and academic etiquette, his real meaning had to be histrionically encrypted in conversational irregularities that could then be decrypted into the actual message by those in the know.
I had reason on my side, but faith—the social faith that such things just can’t happen—would override the reason of others. These San Francisco liberals could no more envisage Stanford professors machinating as alleged than could a medieval peasant envisage the village friar molesting the choirboys. They couldn’t question Stanford because that would be to question themselves and their value system. Entranced by the facial outlandishness of it all and my attendant disorientation, they reflexively discounted my arguments as the rantings of a tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist. I may as well have been contending that the moon landings were faked or that the World Bank had been infiltrated by an alien race of reptilian shape-shifters. Gone were the high hopes of making vital contributions to Establishment Clause jurisprudence. Instead all my intellectual energies might now be occupied with the daunting task of defending my own sanity, a low bar for most.
There was, then, but one way to wiggle my way out of my subaltern status as one “most lacking in symbolic capital,” and that was to mint symbolic capital out of my very oppression, a tried-and-true strategy in modern America. … Only by blowing the whistle on my own gaslighting could I rescue myself from the professional and intellectual oblivion to which my alma mater might seek to consign me. I would have to criticize and climb over the university itself by latching on to its symbolic capital in a gambit to appropriate some of it as my own.
Moreover, it was readily apparent that everything I had stood for over the years pointed ineluctably toward this Promethean feat. As I related in chapter 1, my first, abandoned dissertation topic took up Nietzsche’s counsel “to examine and dissect the men of learning themselves for once, since they for their part are quite accustomed to laying bold hands on everything in the world, even the most venerable things, and taking them to pieces.” Here was an opportunity to do just that, to fulfill a now-manifest destiny that had been lying in abeyance for a decade until crystallizing before me like a long-forgotten revenant. … Stanford was awash in both plausible deniability and cultural authority, but I had a liberal arts education, which I could at long last put to good use.
My own hands were hardly unsullied, so I couldn’t sanctimoniously deplore my gaslighting as an unpardonable injustice. There was in fact an argument that I had it coming, some of which I have outlined for the reader. But there was another side of the story, too, and that it might never get aired would be an unpardonable injustice. This airbrushing from history of the unofficial reality was precisely the outcome willed by the star chamber of Stanford, and it would have to be averted by any means necessary. My advisers had excised their pound of flesh. With their claims now satisfied, I would advance my counterclaims and rescue my Stanford legacy from the memory hole in which they would inter it.
“Professionalism silently installs the New Class as the paradigm of virtuous and legitimate authority,” notes Gouldner. But the unprofessional path of the fellowship had uncovered contingent power relations where the elites would see virtuous authority and deterministic social structures where they would see individual agency and desert.
Notwithstanding the authenticity of the works in progress, there was an underlying fraud. My advisers were within their rights to feel misled and betrayed because I had never truly been a “rising young scholar.” That was just a socially respectable disguise, provisional camouflage under whose surface something darker was gestating perfidiously, something too primitive and barbarous to ever be welcomed by the highly civilized mandarins of the Wednesday faculty luncheon. Bob Weisberg’s incandescent rage that Wednesday afternoon in September 2009 was the direct physiological expression of this bitter pill, which that day’s fallout would teach me to swallow.
Rony Guldmann is a New York attorney who has fought the good fight against the twin scourges of product mislabeling and unsolicited commercial texting, setting his crosshairs on purveyors of fraudulent manuka honey, diluted olive oil, and deceptively oversized food packaging, among other villains. He received his B.A. in philosophy from the University of Michigan, his Ph.D. in the same from Indiana University, and his J.D. from Stanford Law School, where he was the James C. Gaither Fellow after graduating. In a former life before the tribulations of The Star Chamber, Rony taught philosophy at Iona College, Hofstra University, and Fordham University in a bid to enlighten easily distracted young minds about human nature, ethics, and other lofty matters. He is the author of Two Orientations Toward Human Nature, published by Routledge and applauded in The Review of Metaphysics for doing “an impressive job of pulling together a considerable range of historical and contemporary reflection into a well-crafted, synthetically-rich, and engaging tour of human nature.” He lives in Astoria, Queens.