Colleagues in the College of Education honored him with a chocolate cake and hacksaw blade. The secretaries decked his office with red and black ribbons, the school colors normally strung up for the victorious "hairy dogs" who defend the University of Georgia's honor through football mayhem. TV news cameras clicked and whirred.
The hero's welcome last week was for a pipe-smoking professor named James Dinnann, a stubborn Irishman and ex-Marine who defied a federal judge and spent 90 days in prison for contempt. The professor refused to talk -- more specifically, he refused to tell how he voted on the promotion of a faculty member who is a woman.
Almost as an afterthought, the TV crew moved across the sleepy campus and found the feminist ex-teacher who has been played as the villian, Miaja Blaubergs. She was sitting on a bench outside the law school, where she enrolled after being fired when her promotion was turned down.
She might as well wear a scarlet letter. Old friends have shunned her. Her marriage has gone down the drain. Once a $19,000-a-year psycholinguist, she subsists on $80 a month, on a diet heavy on orange juice and crackers, still proud but grateful for the occasional lunch inquiring reporters buy for her. Blaubergs, a tall, willowy California Ph.D. who came to Georgia with women's liberation on her mind, encountered a place where magnolias and soft-spoken southern belles are still the vogue.
Her sin: Suing the University of Georgia on sex-discrimination charges after being denied tenure. She recently expanded proceedings catapulted him to stardom. But how he played to the campus, and to much of the nation, was perhaps inevitable: he was upholding a longstanding anti-federalist southern tradition when he refused to reveal his vote on Blaubergs promotion.
The Dinnann case represents the latest chapter in a bitter, long-running feud between the federal courts and the nation's universities over who reigns supreme as the final Solomon of America's academic affairs -- hometown educators or federal judges and Washington bureaucrats.
It also highlights the controversy over the tradition of secrecy that cloaks "peer review" -- faculty members' subjective judgment of their fellow professor. But beneath those issues the case highlights a clash of values and culture, a southern college campus still struggling to digest the women's movement more than a decade into its rebirth.
Dinnann was fined $100 a day for 30 days and sentenced to three months in federal prison at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida for contempt. He wore his scholar's robes to jail to symbolize the academic freedoms he claims are at stake, and he still maintains it is his "constitutional right" to keep secret his ballot.
"The entire university is being locked up," asserted Dinnann, tears in his eyes, as he was led off to jail July 3. "If academic freedom is not the right to judge one's peers free from outside pressure or intimidation, then what is it?"
Dinnann, a 13-year professor specializing in reading and adult literacy, last week taught his first class since his release. A husky six-footer, he lost 40 pounds washing 11,000 dishes a day at the steaming dining hall of the Florida panhandle prison.
"Hello, I'm James Dinnann," he said with a laugh as if students didn't know. "I've taught some in high school and college and I've taught some in jail."
He says he'll go back to jail if the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, scheduled to hear his case Nov. 3, fails to reserve the ruling of U.S. District Court Judge Wilbur Owens Jr. of Macon and he is asked once again to reveal his vote. This time, his refusal could mean up to 18 months behind bars.
"God help us all if his [Owens'] ruling is upheld," said Dinnann, puffing his ever-present pipe of Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco. "Once the courts control the schools of America, you're heading toward totalitarianism, Big Brother, 1984. Destroy the educational system and you destroy the very fabric of this country.
"I'll never tell how I voted . . . Whether I was for her [Blaubergs] or against her is irrelevant. My vote belongs to me."
"You've got to give him credit for his guts," said Paul Harvey Gullery, a student working his way through graduate school by pushing pies in a downtown bakery. "He didn't ask anyone to run to the barricades for him. He took the responsibility himself. That's what people admired about Winston Churchill, too, against all odds, he stood up and dared Hitler to come across the English Channel. In a time of very bland national characters, Dinnann has put the University of Georgia on the map again."
But many faculty members and students say that the drama of one man's stand for what he feels is right has eclipsed the issues surrounding a volatile sex discrimination suit.
Blaubergs worked out of an office down the hall from Dinnann in the education psychology department. He doesn't remember bumping into her in the hall; she recalls passing him "at least 100 times."
But their destinies certainly crossed paths when her dossier for promotion to assistant professor reached the nine-member faculty committee he was sitting on. Her own department had recommended her for promotion three times -- the first time, in 1977, unanimously. But all three, her promotion was rejected by the higher-level faculty committee -- the last time by 6 to 3.
Blaubergs, who came to the University of Georgia in 1972, thus failed to make tenure in the prescribed seven years. She was given notice -- fired. This fall, she enrolled in law school here "to enhance my credentials rather than sitting and waiting."
Virginia Trotter, vice president for academic affairs, said that the decision was based on the faculty's assessment that Blaubergs had not done "enough high-quality research. I chaired the final review committee, and I feel Blaubergs had every chance of the way. Over a three-year period, her case was reviewed by nine committees. She did not present convincing evidence of her teaching skills and she displayed no sense of growth in her academic specialty."
But several professors who knew her well remain baffled. "I was never able to understand why the university-level committee denied her promotion," said Paul Torrance, the former department chairman who hired Blaubergs. "She was doing a good job with a great deal of dignity, winning many honors in her field for her research on language as it relates to women. She was reflecting very favorably on the university, doing a great deal to change the unfavorable image of a lot of people have of the University of Georgia . . . I'm very puzzled."
But Torrance feels that she was blackballed "not because she was a woman per se, but because she was speaking out for women at Georgia, carving out this specialty in the department of educational psychology . . . and for her involvement in the women's studies program, for being too activist."
Blaubergs claims her dossier was doctored by a hostile superior who was angry over her efforts to launch the university's first women's studies program.
Some say her tragic flaw was her nature, a fast-talking, "uppity" female out of place in a macho Beulah land of smiling homecoming queens.
"Here she comes to the school of education, where they expect women to wear white gloves and large hats, and she makes her graduate students read in the library and gives low grades," said Ellen Mattingly, a friend who presides over the Athens chapter of the American Association of University Professors. "She even lived with a man for six months before she married him. She did everything wrong so far as this place is concerned."
Nonsense, says Dinnann. "This concept of the 'good ol' boys' protecting some antebellum brotherhood is baloney . . . we can't go hang women because we are a university. But we have the right to judge the qualifications of our peers, men and women. If we can't judge, who can? Certainly not the courts. They have no knowledge of the university."
Nonetheless, the administration accepted the Dinnann committee findings and Blaubergs sued. Educators expect such lawsuits to become more commonplace, as women and minorities hired for faculty jobs under Titles VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 reach the years of service that normally precede a tenure decision.
Mattingly said that only 299 of the university's 1,851 faculty members are women, and only 188 of those are assistant, associate or full professors. "Women are paid $3,000 less than men," said Mattingly, who believes tenure committees are "stacked" against women.
The National Education Association in Washington is footing the bill for Blauberg's legal offensive. Dinnann is paying his own way, though his $3,000 fine was paid by friends, faculty and sympathetic strangers.
Blaubergs' lawyers, Andrew Marshall, sought through despositions to examine the votes and motives of committee members, to determine if they weighed in his client's promotion denial. At the urging of the state attorney general, five members cooperated. Then Marshall came to Dinnann and ran into a stone wall.
Judge Owens vainly lectured Dinnann that the committee's vote remained a personnel matter, not a policy matter, and served only as a recommendation, not as an election, making his secret ballot argument irrelevant.
When Dinnann, in definance of Judge Owen's order to do so, refused to reveal his vote, he was handcuffed, locked in the Bibb County jail and forwarded to Eglin. The 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans rejected his appeal on the contempt ruling, on the grounds that the professor "had the keys to prison in his own pocket." But it did set the Nov. 3 hearing.
Marshall, Blaubergs' attorney, conceded to a reporter that how Dinnann voted isn't crucial to his client's case. "Without it, we could still prove the allegations we have made on sex discrimination," he said. But he wouldn't say whether he would ask the court to compel Dinnann to reveal his vote again. s
Blaubergs, the daughter of a steelworker who worked her way up the competitive higher education ladder, feels no sympathy for Dinnann's prison term.
"The only complaint I have against Judge Owens is that his sentence was too lenient," she said, as a "Good Morning America" television crew corralled her outside the library and fellow law students at the celebrity in their midst. "I would have given him the maximum. Anyway, he needed to lose the weight."