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Dean Robert Shibley faces possible censure

The Senate will take action at its next meeting, Nov. 14

shibley

A UB faculty committee found that Dean Robert Shibley mishandled a 2016 renewal case and wrongly dismissed a tenure-track assistant professor and should be censured.

The censure resolution accuses Shibley, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, of not following proper procedure before deciding the case.

The assistant professor has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and lost her health insurance after she was dismissed. She is currently residing in Canada and receives health care as a Canadian citizen through the Ontario Health Insurance Plan. The UB Faculty Senate will vote on the censure at its next meeting on Nov. 14.

Several faculty members and administrators gave emotional appeals in support of Shibley during Wednesday’s Faculty Senate meeting. Ernest Sternberg, chair of the urban planning department, Beth Tauke, associate dean for the School of Architecture and Planning and Despina Stratigakos, interim architecture chair, insisted the dean acted appropriately and ethically and that he consulted others in his decision not to renew the professor.

The committee disagrees.

The censure resolution accuses the dean and the School of Architecture and Planning of “blatantly violating” renewal procedures. The dean, the committee found, did not have all the needed paperwork when he decided not to renew the professor. Specifically, he did not have the report from her two-year mentorship committee.

The assistant professor, who does not wish to speak to reporters or have her name used, appealed to the dean, her department chair, and to Provost Charles Zukoski, who upheld Shibley’s decision. Then she turned to her United University Professions chapter and Human Resources before bringing her case to the Faculty Senate.

The public censure resolution would be embarrassing and a smudge on the record of the dean, a well-known architect who led the development of the UB 2020 strategic plan and the Medical Center and who has risen markedly in the UB ranks over the past five years.

But, it would be non-binding and would not require the dean to reverse his decision.

Zukoski attended the meeting and insists the Faculty Senate is acting inappropriately and illegally since it’s a personnel matter. He said it resides within collective bargaining and is, therefore, outside the Senate’s jurisdiction.

“When the Faculty Senate Executive Committee chooses a path that is not in keeping with the Policies of the Board of Trustees or the collective bargaining agreement under which we all operate, there is no choice but for the president or me to express our concern,” Zukoski said at Tuesday’s meeting. “That is our responsibility as officers of the university.”

Faculty Senate members point out that the university's Faculty Staff Handbook says that faculty not renewed can pursue a grievance if there is convincing evidence of a serious procedural error.

The Faculty Senate Executive Committee voted to form a subcommittee to investigate her grievance in April 2017. The committee was comprised of five senior faculty members: James Hassett, of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; engineering professor Marina Tsianou; law professor Matt Steilen; Fenice Boyd, professor emeritus; and Stephen Dyson, SUNY Distinguished Professor in classics.

Dyson chaired the committee, which in May issued a report agreeing with the professor’s grievance that the dean mishandled her case. The committee recommended that Shibley re-review the case and extend the assistant professors’ contract until the review was completed. Dyson said the professor’s mentorship report gave no indication that she was struggling or should not be renewed.

“There was some good, some bad, some things to improve on,” Dyson said. “But in the 50 years I’ve seen these reports in various contexts, I saw nothing in her report that was out of the ordinary for a young faculty member.”

Shibley and other administrators disregarded the panel’s suggestions and terminated the professor’s contract Aug. 23.

Tauke insists Shibley acted appropriately.

“The document at the center of the accuser’s case is entitled ‘tenure-track schedule’ and it’s just described as a typical six-year tenure track timetable. It is not a part of the school of Architecture and Planning’s bylaws, or department of architecture’s policies,” Tauke said. “The document is simply a guide for tenure track faculty so that they can see what a schedule would look like in a typical case. Given that it is not part of our bylaws or policies, it cannot be the subject of a serious policy violation.”

She also noted that Dyson’s committee spoke with the professor who filed the grievance, but not with any of the administrators who handled the case.

Dyson said the committee reached out to everyone, but only the dismissed assistant professor would talk to them. Neither the dean, chair or other administrators involved in the professor’s case gave reasons for not speaking, Dyson said.

Shibley did not respond to requests for comment.

Tauke insists administrators would not be able to speak to committee members because doing so would violate confidentiality rules. There is no point, she said, in a censure resolution that only has one side of the story.

“If the [Faculty Senate Executive Committee] had heard the full story, I would have no doubt that this situation would not be happening,” Tauke said.

Tauke put forward a second resolution that asks the Faculty Senate to take the censure off the agenda.

Despina Stratigakos, interim chair at the time of the case, said she could not address details of the case; but she has handled multiple other tenure-related cases with Shibley. She vouched for his “integrity and compassion” for the university and its faculty.

“Who does it serve to create a forum where you can only hear from one biased source and not hear the full story? This doesn’t help the school, it doesn’t help the person who is represented in this resolution,” Stratigakos said.

She finds the “public nature” of the resolution disquieting and said she’s worried the Faculty Senate is “creating a big wad of dirty laundry that is going to follow faculty members after they leave this university.”

Dyson disagrees, arguing this is a matter which should be in the public domain and should be discussed by the public.

“This is not IBM or Walmart, this is a university which has ideals and traditions of justice and decency and fair play,” Dyson said, in an interview after the meeting. “Should a situation arise in which a person’s employment can be terminated and possibly—in this job market—their career terminated, there should be some process and documentation, some amount of due process.”

The provost disagrees.

“The censure resolution is based on incomplete information and that has been recognized in a second resolution to rescind the censure resolution,” the provost said in an email. “Dean Shibley and the School of Architecture and Planning are known for excellence in their approach to education and scholarship.”

Dr. Philip Glick, Faculty Senate chair, said the purpose of the censure resolution is to “bring attention to the fact that a faculty member was not treated fairly.”

“We’re hoping that this will be an example to the remainder of the university community; that if they have policies and procedures, they have to be followed,” Glick said. “That is the main point of this. They need to be followed and cannot be ignored.”

Sternberg ended the meeting urging faculty members to vote against the censure resolution. He said he hopes to discuss a future resolution which reflects “both the committee’s empathy and our empathy” for the professor.

Sarah Crowley is the senior news editor and can be reached at  sarah.crowley@ubspectrum.com


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