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Search halted for MU position sought by Larry James

Friday, February 15, 2013 | 5:29 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The MU College of Education has decided not to fill the position of division executive director right now.

The college declined to select either of two candidates, including former military psychologist Larry James, who were finalists for the position. The other candidate was Matthew Burns of the University of Minnesota.

James proved to be controversial because of his connection to the interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Since 2008, he has been dean of the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

According to a memo from Education Dean Daniel Clay, Mike Pullis will serve as interim director after John Wedman retires Feb. 28. Pullis will continue in that interim role until another director is found, Clay told faculty and staff. 

Wedman will assume a part-time role throughout the next year to help facilitate the transition, Clay said. As director, he was paid $162,314 during the 2011-2012 school year, according to UM System payroll data.

"The search committee completed its work by summarizing feedback from faculty, staff, students and other sources," said Pullis, who chaired the committee. "After receiving our input, Dean Clay made the decision not to fill the position.”

The college does not have a set time frame for any future hiring process, said Barbara Peterson, director of strategic communications.

"The college is going to take time to evaluate the best way to move forward," she said.

The division executive director leads a team of about 60 faculty and 29 staff in nine graduate academic programs, according to the job description.

James wrote a memoir, "Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib," as a chronicle of the events in Iraq and Cuba. Ethical situations in his book were cited by critics as key reasons to investigate his role in the interrogations.

James was deputy director of the behavioral science consultation team at Guantanamo Bay from January to May 2003 and served as director from June 2007 to May 2008.

He was director of a similar team from June to October 2004 at the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib prison, according to the curriculum vitae he provided to the College of Education search committee.

During those periods, reports surfaced about the abuse of the detainees in custody. Legal complaints were filed in Louisiana and Ohio seeking an investigation of James' role in the interrogations.

James has said that no adjudicatory body has ever found probable cause to initiate sanctions against him because of his connections to the interrogations in Cuba and Iraq.

His critics said a thorough investigation of his possible involvement in the abuses has never taken place. They also asserted that his ethical decisions at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib should disqualify him to practice psychology.

"There has never been any evidence whatsoever for any of these boards to have the slightest cause to investigate," James told the Missourian in early January.

MU Spanish professor Michael Ugarte said he was pleased with the outcome. Ugarte co-authored a letter directed to Chancellor Brady Deaton, requesting revocation of James' candidacy. 

"I commend the chancellor and search committee for acknowledging our letter and allowing community members to listen to James' talk," Ugarte said of a Feb. 5 public forum during the candidate's on-campus interview. "That speaks to the transparency of the process." 

Jeff Stack — coordinator of the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation, which helped organize a protest before James' visit — said he was elated about the decision. The fellowship and several other organizations were planning to hold another demonstration Thursday.

"We're happy to call it off and are thankful for the decision the College of Education has made," he said. 

Reporters on this story included GH Lindsey, Katie Yaeger, Caroline Bauman and Zach Strader.

Read more about Larry James and the hiring process here.


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