The University of Southern Mississippi (which happens to be the alma mater of a few of my relatives) has been the subject of controversy lately. University president Shelby Thames fired tenured professors Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer in the middle of a semester, allegedly in retaliation for instigating a formal investigation by the American Association of University Professors into the professional qualifications of Vice President Angeline Dvorak.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article that details the story. It began on a December 11 afternoon, when a manila envelope was left anonymously in sociology professor Glamser’s office:
The envelope contained several documents purporting to show that Angeline Dvorak, vice president for research and economic development, had lied about her academic background. Specifically, an anonymous letter attached to the documents said that Ms. Dvorak had never been an associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky, as was claimed in news releases and a biography on Southern Mississippi’s Web site. (The identity of the person who left the documents is unknown.)
Glamser consulted economics professor George H. Carter, and agreed to send the evidence to Thames, who passed the buck to director of resources and risk management John Hanbury. The university seemed to be doing nothing about the matter. Glamser, who serves as president of the local chapter of AAUP, approached Stringer, an English professor, to lead a panel to investigate the matter.
Stringer concluded that “Ms. Dvorak’s credentials, as listed in two news releases, a curriculum vitae, and a biography on the university’s Web site, were misleading.” The central issue revolves around her relationship with the University of Kentucky:
Here is an excerpt from the biography on Southern Mississippi’s Web site: “Before initiating her work in Mississippi, Dvorak served as president and CEO of Ashland Community College in Ashland, Kentucky. She concurrently held a tenured academic appointment as an associate professor at the University of Kentucky.” The two news releases use similar language, and another curriculum vitae, obtained by a local television station, lists her as an associate professor of English at the “University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky.”
She was tenured at a time when a single system governed both the University of Kentucky and the community colleges. Now the two are governed by separate boards, each with its own standards for tenure. Why is this important?
For professors at Southern Mississippi, that is not a minor detail because Ms. Dvorak, who did not achieve tenure at a four-year institution, now has influence over tenure decisions at the university.
On March 4, Hanbury inquired of Glamser and Stringer about the AAUP investigation. Under advice of counsel, the two professors refused to answer. Thames fired them that evening and had the locks to their offices changed.
Since then USM has been rocked with protests, and the faculty members voted by huge margins to call for the reinstatement of Glamser and Stringer and to support an earlier no-confidence vote by the Faculty Senate.