Michael Tracey, CU prof in Ramsey family-John Mark Karr debacle: Negative job evaluations
Remember Michael Tracey? He's the CU journalism professor whose obsession with the JonBenét Ramsey murder helped lead to a media frenzy over false confessor John Mark Karr back in 2006. Could his apparent disinterest in actual student instruction have finally caught up with him? One possible indication: two consecutive negative job evaluations, which will trigger what's termed an "extensive post-tenure review."
The info comes to us courtesy of CompleteColorado.com's Todd Shepherd, whose report, headlined "CU Professor Involved in John Mark Karr Arrest Rated 'Below Expectations'" features the pair of evaluations; they appear below. Shepherd also spoke with CU Boulder spokesman Bronson Hilliard (disclosure: a longtime friend of yours truly), who confirms that two consecutive below-expectations evals typically trigger a review of the individual in question.
For his part, Tracey declined to speak with Shepherd -- but back in 2006, he was plenty talkative. Prior to that date, as we noted in the 2008 post "Media Slut Michael Tracey Gets Camera Shy," the prof had been communicating with Karr, a disturbing young man who'd been sharing his creepy thoughts about the JonBenét slaying.
Tracey was fixated on the case, too; his certainty parents John and Patsy were innocent led to a series of documentaries that had precious little to do with the sort of journalism he was ostensibly paid to teach at CU. No surprise, then, that he shared his Karr back-and-forths with Boulder law enforcement types, who eventually arranged for Karr to be collared in Thailand and dragged back to the states as a suspect in JonBenét's murder. When Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy called a news conference to talk about this bogus break circa August 2006, Tracey turned up and practically leapt into the media swarm, eager to soak up every last drop of attention, glorious attention, as can be seen in the accompanying photo.
The Karr case fell apart shortly thereafter for reasons outlined in the October 2006 Alan Prendergast feature "Made for Each Other," which Shepherd describes as the definitive article on the Ramsey-Tracey-Karr fiasco. He also cites a quote from the piece in which Tracey griped about teaching undergraduates ("They drive me goddamn crazy") and references Prendergast's characterization of Tracey's docs: "glaring examples of shoddy, agenda-driven reporting and the packaging of speculation as fact."
Since then, the CU School of Journalism has officially shut down*, with a transition underway that's intended to ready graduates in the field for its changing demands. Does Tracey have a place in this new paradigm? And could the negative evaluations be used as a pretext to shoehorn him out of his cushy gig? Clearly, jettisoning a tenured professor is mighty difficult and can lead to ugly repercussions, as the continuing saga of Ward Churchill demonstrates. And Tracey couldn't be expected to go quietly, even if he's keeping his lips zipped for now.
*Update: The above reference to the School of Journalism tweaks the original reference in this post. CU-Boulder's Hilliard points out that while the previous journalism school has been shut down, the journalism program continues to operate at the university.
Access the CompleteColorado.com piece here and look below to see the Tracey evaluations.
More from our Media archive: "Ethically Dubious CU Prof Michael Tracey to Lead Ethics Symposium."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.