MD

2010-05-24

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Advertise with us »

Faculty groups allege misconduct by ‘U’ officials in case of former researcher

Jake Fromm/Daily
University President Mary Sue Coleman at the May Regents' Meeting at the UM-Dearborn campus on Thursday, May 20. Buy this photo

By Kyle Swanson, Daily News Editor
Published May 23, 2010

Two investigatory committees have formally endorsed reports that call out University administrators for violating the freedoms and rights of one former University professor, sources tell The Michigan Daily.

The reports detail a series of incidents surrounding Andrei Borisov, who used to work at the University as a research faculty member. One report was adopted by the Faculty Hearing Committee of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and another was adopted by both the Executive Committee and Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the University’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors,

The local Executive Committee of the University’s chapter of AAUP endorsed its report earlier this month following the chapter’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure's — known as Committee A — formal adoption of a 21-page report late last month.

SACUA’s Faculty Hearing Committee formalized its own 55-page report last month, calling out University officials for violating Borisov’s rights and academic freedom. The report also examines steps taken by University officials in handling Borisov’s departure from the University.

According to the Faculty Hearing Committee’s report, the committee found evidence that University officials violated Borisov’s rights to personal and academic freedom and intellectual property. Additionally, the report says the officials broke established University policies surrounding academic integrity, wrongfully damaged Borisov’s reputation and retaliated against him.

The reports’ findings stem from an incident in 2008 in which Borisov was allegedly forced to resign in a meeting with his department chair and two University Police officers.

According to a pending lawsuit Borisov filed against the University, officials at the University retaliated against his allegations of scientific misconduct within his department by claiming he was not bringing in enough outside funding to support his research. Prior to the allegations, Borisov had reported that his research collaborator had begun claiming Borisov’s work as his own after receiving tenure and had illegally reduced Borisov’s effort on their grant. This reduction, which Borisov alleges in the suit was done illegally, made it appear as though Borisov was bringing in less money for his research.

The chair of the Faculty Hearing Committee confirmed that the committee accepted the report’s findings last month despite SACUA’s vote not to accept the report.

And while SACUA, the leading faculty governing body at the University, chose not to adopt the report, it did draft a memo that included aspects of the report to send to University Provost Teresa Sullivan.

SACUA President Ed Rothman told The Michigan Daily he would not comment on SACUA’s letter to Sullivan because he felt it was a confidential communication.

“A letter was created and sent off to the Provost’s Office in lieu of the report,” Rothman said. “It takes the elements of the things that were agreed upon and sent those off, and left out those elements that we didn’t agree upon. Beyond that, I can’t tell you because it was a letter that was from SACUA to the provost and wasn’t addressed to the general public.”

Rothman also said he didn’t believe that formally accepting the report presented by the Faculty Hearing Committee — of which he was a member — would be in the best interest of current faculty members.

“We all have the same purpose and that is to make this a better institution and to protect the faculty who are here and that purpose was not well served by taking that report and sending it to a bunch of people — that’s why it wasn’t accepted,” Rothman said. “You can imagine that if you’re trying to affect changes so that other people are protected and treated properly, having a report released that presents a narrow view of what really happened can undermine your ability to negotiate change.”

Referencing ongoing litigation in the matter, Rothman said, “It isn’t that we didn’t accept what was there, it’s that there’s a lot that is left out and by its very omission undermines what we wanted to say.”

“The Provost’s office and SACUA are not in opposite camps on this issue, we agree,” Rothman added.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald declined a request for comment on behalf of the provost about the letter from SACUA.

“The Provost has nothing more to add on this topic,” Fitzgerald wrote in an e-mail.

When comment on the report endorsed by the Faculty Hearing Committee was sought, Fitzgerald told the Daily that because the full body of SACUA did not vote to approve the final draft of the report, he didn’t feel there was basis for comment.

“There’s really no report to comment on,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald also declined to comment on the copy of the report that was accepted by the University’s chapter of the AAUP.

Sullivan had previously reviewed a draft of the Faculty Hearing Committee’s report sent to her by then-SACUA Chair Michael Thouless.

The draft included several recommendations to University administrators, including that compensation be awarded to Borisov for economic damages, efforts be made to rehire him, the trespass order that bans Borisov from campus be lifted and that the Michigan State Police be called to further investigate the incident.

The draft also recommended that appropriate disciplinary measures be taken against those who allegedly broke University policies — including Valerie Castle, the chair of the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases where Borisov worked. Castle was reappointed to her post as the Ravitz Foundation Professor of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases last week by the University’s Board of Regents.

After reviewing the draft, Sullivan sent a one-page letter back to Thouless in which she said that she was against formalizing the report as it could be harmful to SACUA and some tenured members of the faculty.

“As I read the report, I came to the conclusion that the report would be damaging to the reputation of SACUA and potentially (and unfairly) damaging to the reputation of one or more tenured faculty members,” Sullivan wrote in her response letter.

In an interview with the Daily in March, prior to the formal adoption by the Faculty Hearing Committee of the final report, Sullivan said the report overlooked the other perspectives underlying the issue.

“When this faculty group was empanelled to begin the investigation, no litigation had been filed. Shortly after the panel started its work, a number of people from the University were sued,” Sullivan said. “And so, as was completely foreseeable, counsel said you can’t speak to this faculty panel. So the faculty panel has heard one side of the story.”

Sullivan continued by saying she believed there was another side to the story, but that she wouldn’t comment on the report.

“The first thing you learn as an administrator is there’s more than one side to every story, and there aren’t even just two sides to every story, you know, there are many sides to every story,” Sullivan continued. “That tends to be true in personnel situations as well, so both because it’s a personnel situation and because it’s a litigation situation, I’m not going to be inclined to talk about it.”

However, when responding to follow-up questions from the Daily, Sullivan called the report problematic.

“I think inevitably, the report can talk about what they heard,” Sullivan said. “As I said, the first thing you learn as an administrator is that there is more than one side to every story so almost by definition when one side can’t speak to you, you’re hearing one side of the story. I think that’s a problem.”

In an interview with the Daily earlier this month, Charles Smith, the past president of the University’s chapter of the AAUP and a professor in the University’s Pharmacology Department, confirmed that the AAUP’s report would be forwarded to the regional chapter of the AAUP — which covers all schools in the state of Michigan and is led by Smith as its president.

From there, if the regional chapter adopts the report, it could be forwarded to the national AAUP for consideration, Smith said. However, consideration from the national organization may not be easily gained given the number of cases they receive each year.

Smith explained that the national AAUP typically only takes four to five cases each year, adding that they typically are cases that can have “enormous impact.”

“That does not mean that the AAUP would not take the Borisov case because it involved one person who’s not a tenured faculty member,” Smith said. “If they find that whatever happened in that case violates a principal of the AAUP … they could take the Borisov case.”

However, Smith explained that the National AAUP is already aware of the Borisov case, saying the organization has been in contact with the University already.

“I understand that the National AAUP Committee A staff sent a letter to the University of Michigan,” Smith said. “They did receive a response from General Counsel and the general counsel said do not do anything, because SACUA has now created a faculty hearing committee and you should wait until the faculty hearing committee has completed its deliberations before you do anything, before you intervene in anyway.”

The national AAUP’s compliance with the request was normal, Smith said, because the AAUP prefers that matters be dealt with at the local level.

Upon learning of the steps being taken by the AAUP chapters, Rothman said he didn’t feel such actions would be appropriate.

“It can only do harm to the people involved and I think it’s really shortsighted,” Rothman said. “I’m sorry to hear that they are proceeding with this because it’s not the whole story and it’s misleading. I certainly can’t tell them what to do, but I would recommend against doing that.”

Borisov is currently in the process of making his case in public, having brought litigation against the University in 2009. The case is currently awaiting further proceedings in the Washtenaw County Circuit Court.

The case is currently on hold due to an extension granted by the court to Borisov, who is in the process of finding a new attorney. He was previously represented by Christine Green, who is now running for the Michigan House of Representatives.

His suit includes seven counts, including defamation, interference of contract, fraud, false imprisonment, assault and battery and malicious prosecution. According to court documents, Borisov seeks compensation with interest, attorney’s fees and other relief as may be deemed appropriate.

Borisov is not a stranger to battling the University in court. In April 2009 he was acquitted of criminal charges brought against him by DPS, which alleged that Borisov ignored orders given by officers and attempted to leave his office with property whose ownership was in question.

After the acquittal, University Police spokeswoman Diane Brown told The Ann Arbor News that DPS had given Borisov ample opportunities to avail himself, but that he continued to intensify the situation.


|