MU Faculty Council reacts to chancellor's move in Engel case

Thursday, March 8, 2012 | 8:01 p.m. CST; updated 7:24 a.m. CST, Friday, March 9, 2012

COLUMBIA — MU Faculty Council members said they were disappointed and, in some cases, upset that Chancellor Brady Deaton decided to send the case of Greg Engel, a suspended MU engineering professor, back to a committee to be heard again.

At a meeting Thursday, three members of the council denounced the chancellor's decision in a written statement.

The Campus Committee on Faculty Responsibility, which heard Engel's case, decided that there was not "clear and convincing" evidence to support charges of faculty irresponsibility against him. 

At its Feb. 23 meeting, the Faculty Council voted to send a letter to Deaton asking him not to send the case back to the committee, as Provost Brian Foster had suggested he do.

The next week, Deaton wrote to the Faculty Council saying that he asked the committee to hear Engel's case again under a lower standard, "preponderance of evidence." That standard requires only that evidence show accusations are more likely to be true than not.

Engel's case has provoked a debate about how difficult it should be to remove a tenured professor.

"I'll be honest — I was a little disappointed," said Faculty Council Vice Chairman Joe Parcell, who wrote the letter the council sent to Deaton. "A little confused here by the chancellor's letter."

The MU faculty bylaws do not specify what standard of evidence the Campus Committee on Faculty Responsibility should use. Deaton wrote in his letter that he saw the lower standard as appropriate.

"A higher standard might serve to deter faculty who are genuinely concerned about the conduct of their colleagues from bringing charges," he wrote.

Deaton's move to send Engel's case back "has the appearance of a prejudicial action against Professor Engel and a violation of fair play," professors Gordon Christiansen, Sudarshan Loyalka and Eddie Adelstein wrote in the statement.

"We count on (the administration) to be fair, and it's never fair, at least in my opinion," Adelstein said at the meeting, adding that he thinks Deaton's move was a "cheap legal trick" that will put pressure on the committee to not act in Engel's favor.

Christiansen said he thinks it's the Faculty Council's job to guard the process used in faculty hearings, and that in Engel's case, there had been too much interference and back-and-forth to call the process legitimate.

"In my opinion, we've effectively shredded the bylaws," he said. "They mean nothing."

Parcell said the administration had ample opportunity to discuss the standard for evidence before the hearing took place, especially since both general counsel and Deputy Provost Ken Dean, a licensed attorney, were on hand.

Some faculty members took issue with the statement denouncing Deaton's move, particularly its declaration that "the Chancellor's directive effectively amends the Faculty Bylaws," going around the process to formally amend the bylaws through a vote of all MU faculty.

Douglas Wakefield, a professor in the Department of Health Management and Informatics, asked whether Deaton had really violated the bylaws or whether the council was just unhappy with his decision. He asked if the standard of evidence had initially been low and Deaton had moved to make it higher, would the Faculty Council's reaction have been the same?

Johannes Schul, an associate professor of biological sciences, said that if the case was heard again with a lower standard for evidence, a lower level of faculty irresponsibility might be found, and there could be outcomes less severe than dismissal.

Christiansen asked council members to bring the issue to faculty in their departments for further discussion.

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