Report of an Ad Hoc Committee to the Executive Committee on
Three Faculty Complaints Which Have Been Filed in
Washtenaw County, Michigan, Circuit Courts

(Two of the cases discussed in this report are described in an article published in the September 12, 1997 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Click here to view that article.)

July 15, 1997

Committee Members: E. Chudacoff, E. Feingold, R. Loomis

The ad hoc committee has reviewed the complaints submitted to the courts in all of the three cases, and defendants' responses in the Landefeld and Smith cases. For each case, the committee focused on whether a complaint raised issues in which AAUP would appear to have special interests or special expertise which would provide the basis for an amicus curiae brief. The committee members agreed that, before taking any action of this sort, the chapter should consult with the national office of AAUP. (Ideally, the national office would join in the brief and would prepare it.) We feel that each of the three cases raises at least one issue on which an AAUP amicus brief would be appropriate; such a brief could state AAUP policy, describe standard practice at the University of Michigan, or explain the special significance of certain actions in the academic context with which the court might not be familiar.

In reviewing the documents, the ad hoc committee made no effort to determine the factual accuracy of the complaints or the responses, nor can the committee speak with authority on the motivation of any of the plaintiffs or defendants. The brief description of each complaint that follows is limited to allegations in which AAUP may have special interest, and does not necessarily include all of the issues raised by the plaintiff.

Hollingsworth, Peggie J.

  1. Dr. Hollingsworth claims that after having been recommended for a tenure-track position by the department committee on appointments and promotions, a special committee (consisting of the original committee and the Chairman's advisory committee) was convened to reconsider the recommendation, a step which had never (presumably in her department) been taken before. Dr. Hollingsworth alleges discrimination on the basis of race and gender.
  2. Our ad hoc committee thinks it likely that special second reviews do take place in the university, but we believe that such treatment of a favorable recommendation could be a reflection of discrimination, or of personal animus. In our view, second reviews of favorable recommendations should take place only when there is substantial evidence that the first review was seriously flawed, perhaps because the committee ignored or did not know about important negative evidence. AAUP might choose to develop this idea. AAUP might also discuss the role of faculty in peer reviews and the use of second reviews at the University of Michigan. If we do the latter, we should seek formal and informal information about university and medical school practices regarding second reviews, and especially what kinds of criteria enter into decisions by administrators who call for second reviews.

  3. Dr. Hollingsworth alleges that an "ongoing series of retaliatory actions" has been taken against her by former Provost Whitaker and other agents of the University. She specifically cites the distribution by Provost Whitaker of confidential information relating to her grievance "protesting the discriminatory handling of consideration of her promotion." She alleges that these disclosures have resulted in her suffering "further retaliation because she was considered too controversial to be considered for promotions or other professional advancement at the university or in her field elsewhere." Without judging the extent of injury stemming from the release of this confidential information, the ad hoc committee believes that the administration, as a party to the procedures on faculty and research scientists' grievances, is bound by the procedures' rules on confidentiality and should be held accountable for any flagrant violation of those rules. An AAUP brief could describe the grievance procedure and the confidentiality expected or required in that procedure.

Landefeld, Thomas D.

  1. Dr. Landefeld alleges that, because of his widespread efforts to promote the inclusion of minorities in the higher educational process and his outspoken criticism of "the University of Michigan's lack of diligence in rooting out overt racism in the Medical School faculty," he was brought "into a very public dispute with the highest levels of administration within the University of Michigan." As a consequence, during the period "from early 1993 through mid-1996, Defendant Bole retaliated against the Plaintiff" Landefeld in the following ways.
  2. "a) The systematic diminution of the accoutrements of tenure." The defendants deny that they deprived Plaintiff of any rights protected under law or that they retaliated against Plaintiff and state that they don't know what is meant by the "accoutrements of tenure." The AAUP could play a valuable role in preparing a statement of these accoutrements. The AAUP might also argue that the denial or diminution of any of these requires a full tenure hearing under Regents' Bylaw 5.09.

    Some of the more specific instances which follow might appear on such a statement of accoutrements.

    "b) The denial to Plaintiff of normal salary increases." The defendants deny this.

    The ad hoc committee does not know what the word "normal" means; perhaps average? However, the committee believes that, while probably rare, each year some faculty do not receive any salary increase. Also, the plaintiff does not indicate whether he has ever been given any explanation for what he considers an inadequate salary increase. While his salary treatment may be unfair, the committee does not see a compelling AAUP issue on this point.

    "c) The lowering of Plaintiff's status as perceived by his cohorts and colleagues through the denial to him of his tenure rights, not the least of which was the directive to Plaintiff that he not engage in any form of recruitment of minority students to the University of Michigan." (In subsequent verbal response to this report, the Plaintiff said that the communication from Dean Bole referred to recruitment of any students.) The defendants deny this.

    It could be that the university administration might have strong, defensible reasons for denying a faculty member this "right." However, the university does not claim there were reasons, but simply that the allegation is untrue. (Some members of the AAUP executive committee report having seen a copy of the dean's letter to Landefeld containing those instructions.) The AAUP could address the significance of such a directive to a faculty member's status and career, as well as its relationship to his or her tenure rights.

    "d) The removal of Plaintiff from his assignment as Assistant Dean for Research and Graduate Studies."

    The ad hoc committee does not think that this action raises issues of relevance to the AAUP. Administrators, barring an actual contract with specified conditions for continuation, are not protected from non-renewal. Presumably, the Plaintiff's tenured status did not directly suffer from this change.

    "e) Following Plaintiff's service as Interim Assistant Dean for Student Minority Affairs, he was not encouraged to remain in or compete for said position."

    The ad hoc committee does not think that this action raises issues of relevance to the AAUP.

    "f) The false accusations to Plaintiff's colleagues that Plaintiff was misrepresenting his status as it related to recruitment of minority students in biomedical sciences." The defendants deny this.

    The AAUP cannot address the question of whether the accusations were made and whether they were false. We might address the significance of such accusations to one's professional status and career.

    "g) And the interference with Plaintiff's facilities and lab space as well as resources." The defendants deny this.

    The ad hoc committee believes this could be an important issue for an AAUP brief, which could explain the importance of such resources for a medical researcher's work and career.

  3. Dr. Landefeld also alleges that he was not granted a one-year leave of absence to take a position at another institution. The leave was requested so that he could "enhance his scholarly abilities as one who can assist in recruiting and maintaining successful minority students, and one who can assist in the process of remedying racism in faculty appointments and behavior." Instead of receiving approval for the leave, his employment at the University of Michigan was terminated. With regard to this issue, the formal complaint is especially vague for our purposes; presumably the Plaintiff will supply missing details in court. The defendants claim that they did not terminate the Plaintiff from his position but that the Plaintiff resigned from or abandoned his position at the University of Michigan.

On this issue, a number of important questions of fact, and especially chronology, remain unanswered. Among them are the following:

Are requests for leave of absence for purposes like this typically granted in the Plaintiff's department and college? What are the criteria for approving or denying such requests? [Is part 1., paragraph c), on page 3 of this report relevant?] Was the application for leave of absence submitted in a timely fashion? Did the Plaintiff actually receive a written response to his application? If not, why was the request not answered and did the Plaintiff make reasonable efforts to find out? Did the Plaintiff accept the temporary position before or after submitting his application for leave?

(In verbal response to a draft of this report, the Plaintiff claimed that neither the Medical School nor his department had written procedures for applying for leave of absence. He also stated that the University's Standard Practice Guide does cite procedures and offers two types of appropriate reasons for requesting a leave of absence; the Plaintiff states that he followed these procedures. The Plaintiff received an oral reply and, after asking again, a written reply turning down the request but not giving any reasons for the decision.)

Additional questions might be, does a tenured faculty member relinquish (or "abandon") his or her position by accepting (Orally? In writing?) a position elsewhere without notifying the University of Michigan in writing? If yes, at what point in this case did the Plaintiff's actions prove "abandonment"? What does the Standard Practice Guide say about abandonment? (The University of Michigan may have a written policy stating that accepting a position elsewhere without having been granted a leave of absence is equivalent to resigning.) Should the University have instituted Regents' Bylaw 5.09 hearings?

While this allegation clearly involves issues of tenure, without much more detailed information the ad hoc committee is unable to make any recommendations. As in the case of Landefeld's accusation in 1. c), and Hollingsworth's first complaint, an AAUP brief could discuss the usual practice (e.g., in Landefeld's case, under what circumstances leave requests are granted, how they usually are handled, etc.).

Smith, Charles B.

(Since the complaint was originally filed, three of the original eight defendants have been dropped from the suit.) Dr. Smith alleges 1) that two of the Defendants published a final report regarding the investigation of Dr. Peggie J. Hollingsworth's grievance regarding alleged racial and gender discrimination in promotion that "contained false and defamatory statements" to the effect that the "Plaintiff [Smith] had circulated a letter of support for Dr. Hollingsworth which contained forged and altered signatures of other members of the faculty of the Department of Pharmacology," 2) that the remaining three Defendants had provided this false information to the first two Defendants, and 3) that "at the time the report was published" the "Defendants knew or should have known that a handwriting expert had determined that the signatures on the letter had not been forged." Dr. Smith claims that, "as a direct and proximate result of this malicious defamation," he has "suffered injury to his reputation, public disgrace, indignity, and injury to his good name," and that he has "suffered and continues to suffer humiliation, embarrassment, anxiety, and great mental anguish and suffering."

This complaint appears to be a case of libel and thus, on the surface, doesn't seem to involve the special issues which have long interested the AAUP. However, an AAUP brief could address the significance of such accusations for an academic for whom intellectual honesty is especially important. Questions about intellectual honesty could, and probably would, destroy a researcher's chances of successfully competing for external funding. Without funding, a professor in a field like medical research might become unable to meet normal job requirements.

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