Tag Archives: Father John Leary

Highway 101

In a recent post (The Day JFK Was Shot) I mentioned an interview on RTÉ radio (Highway 101) in August 2007, in which Myles Dungan talks to Daniel Cassidy, fake scholar and fake etymologist, about his life and works. In that post, I pointed to several factual inconsistencies. However, they weren’t the only problems with Cassidy’s account of his life, so I decided to listen to the podcast again and make a few notes.

First off, it is amazing what Cassidy leaves out. He makes no mention of his association with Andy Warhol, one of the few genuinely impressive parts of his CV. He talks about ‘when I got out of Cornell’, but makes no mention of the fact that he flunked his degree. Indeed, he even says ‘I was reasonably good at academics … you know … I just took to it …’ Really?

Later, he talks about being in ‘graduate school’ in Columbia. Obviously, as a non-graduate, he couldn’t have been in graduate school, though he may well have taken some evening classes.

One of the most dishonest bits is in relation to his career as a merchant seaman. In some descriptions of Cassidy, this is almost used to define him – he is ‘the former merchant marine’. I have expressed doubt before about this episode of his life, which I think didn’t happen, or was very short, or took place later, in the late seventies. This interview confirms that there is something very suspect about his claim to have been a merchant seaman in the 1960s. When Dungan says, ‘you became a seaman’, you would expect a natural storyteller like Cassidy to really give it his all. However, you would be disappointed. There are no tall tales about being lashed to the wheel with a marlin spike pondering the nature of the stars, or doing the horizontal hornpipe in a cathouse in Surabaya, or listening to the mermaids and merrows singing songs to the dog-headed men at the edge of the world where cartographers fear to tread. Cassidy simply says ‘I hit the road’ and tells an anecdote about hitching a ride to California in 1967, the Summer of Love. Then he talks about playing in a bar in the Mission District in San Francisco. Then the narrative moves on to getting in with musicians and releasing an album. His career as a salty seadog is ignored and forgotten, as is the 23 months he spent in rehab in New York, at some time between 1967 and 1972. In other words, he might have spent slightly longer as a seaman than Malcolm Lowry, but he was no Joseph Conrad.

There is also a problem with the idea that he played R and B in bars in the Mission District. According to other sources, he learned guitar in Phoenix House, the rehab centre, at the end of the sixties or in the early seventies. Before that, he played the saxophone. Now, the guitar is an R and B instrument. One person can be a modern troubadour, singing songs of love and protest and accompanying themselves on the guitar. But it’s hard to imagine anyone doing solo gigs on the saxophone. So did this happen? And if it did, when? Was it later, after his music career was on the skids, when his album failed to sell?

Dungan seems to regard Cassidy as a harmless crank, and gives him an easy ride, even when it becomes obvious that Cassidy can’t pronounce Irish and knows nothing about the language. Dungan challenges him over spiel, which he rightly says is German or Yiddish, but he doesn’t challenge Cassidy when he claims that speal (which he mispronounces to make it sound more like spiel) is Scottish Gaelic and Irish for a hoe. (It’s a scythe, or course.) However, Dungan does say: ‘Are you not letting your imagination run away with you and claiming far too much for the Irish language?’ Cassidy blethers his way round this one, claiming that in fact he is being conservative and that the Irish influence is even greater than he claims.

However, the thing that really shocked me was his spiel about how New College of California was founded by a Jesuit called Father Jack Leary, who came from Gonzaga University. The thing he doesn’t mention at all is that Leary had already been exposed as a predatory paedophile by (amongst others) Matt Smith in SF Weekly in October 2006 (http://www.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/the-double-life-of-john-leary/Content?oid=2161211).

Daniel Cassidy and Martin Hamilton

One of the strangest things about the Cassidy Scandal is the fact that someone as stupid, untalented and underqualified as Cassidy was able to get a professorship in an academic institution. However, a quick look at that academic institution, New College of California, is sufficient to show that it was unlike any other centre of learning in the western world.

Founded in 1971 by a paedophile Jesuit, Father John Leary, who was fleeing a scandal in Gonzaga involving, amongst other things, an assault on a 12 year old boy, New College quickly became a centre for radical, left-leaning Catholics. After Leary’s death, control passed to Martin Hamilton, whose name is in third place in the Acknowledgements in Cassidy’s daft book, after Peter Quinn and Cassidy’s brother Michael. Throughout its history, New College had very poor governance and was frequently in trouble with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

I found this comment on a blog by a poet who taught in the College, Adam Cornford:

“NCOC programs operated as separate fiefdoms in a kind of academic feudalism with Hamilton as king. He doled out money and set salaries in a completely arbitrary way, altered budgets without notice, created entire new programs with little or no process, and spent college money on pet projects (like the Roxie cinema) that were quixotic at best. He rewarded two categories of faculty: those who sucked up to him, and those he feared. He repeatedly and persistently undermined the governance structures set up in advance of each WASC accreditation visit by disempowering or simply ignoring them, despite the fact that WASC had repeatedly criticized NCOC for lacking such governance. The patronage system and wild inequality in treatment of programs predictably combined with the lack of authentic academic governance to create suspicion and resentment between programs. It’s pretty clear at this distance that this was deliberate divide-and-rule.

Likewise, Hamilton repeatedly appointed totally unqualified people he just happened to like to two of the most important positions in the College: Registrar and Development Director. NC only had one properly credentialed Registrar in its history, and the last two or three were so bad that when the US Dept of Ed came in to do an audit, they found that academic records were a complete shambles (which accords with my personal experience). Hamilton resisted even having a Development office for many years, preferring to schmooze small gifts out of a few acquaintances he presumably felt were no threat to his power. The next-to-last “Development Director” was a very nice jazz musician who confessed freely that he had absolutely no fundraising experience. In general, there was a culture of cronyism and complete lack of accountability in the administration, again commented on by WASC in repeated visiting team reports and Commission proceedings.”

I wonder who the ‘nice jazz musician’ was? Could this be Cassidy? Whether it was or not, it is quite clear that this atmosphere of cronyism and lack of governance was a situation entirely suited to a silver-tongued jackass like Cassidy, who was able to schmooze his way into a professorship in 1995 without proper qualifications, publications or skills. In 2007, WASC finally pulled the plug on New College and Cassidy was left unemployed.

However, the final days of New College were marked by a much bigger scandal. The full details can be found here: http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/I-am-a-predator-ruin-follows-him-everywhere-3187513.php For those who can’t be bothered following the link, here is a thumbnail sketch. A young Nepalese man called Niroula claimed to be a relative of the Nepalese royal family. He conned Martin Hamilton into thinking that he would eventually bail out the college with a million dollar donation, if Hamilton would just allow him to continue his studies. Meanwhile, Niroula was conning a Japanese woman who he pretended to be in love with out of her life savings (in spite of the fact that he was gay) and his activities eventually even led to the murder of a lonely old man with money. Along the way, there were allegations that Hamilton gave him fake grades, though Hamilton denies that he signed the papers.

Whatever happened, this scandal was one of the factors which finally convinced the authorities to close New College down. Niroula is currently serving a life sentence for his crimes. Amazing though it may seem, there was actually an even bigger con-man on the campus of New College during its last days than ‘Professor’ Daniel Cassidy.