Committee reaches decision on French professor

VERDICT Report says hearings reflect internal conflicts in language department.

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Committee reaches decision on French professor

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Committee members from left to right: Munski, Combs, Poochigian, Murphy and Bridewell. Photo by Jaye Millspaugh.

A faculty-based committee has determined that UND assistant French Professor Sarah Mosher should be able to continue on her path toward tenure, after colleagues in the department voted to have her terminated because of her lack of collegiality.

They have submitted a final document to UND President Robert Kelley explaining its decision.

The University Senate’s Standing Committee on Faculty Rights decided it’s the Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures Department as a whole that lacks collegiality. The committee is recommending an intervention by Kelley.

“This grievance identifies a symptom of a greater problem in that this committee has observed evidence that there is discord, dysfunction, chaos and interpersonal conflict within Languages and the French section,” according to the document’s closing remarks.

Mosher, who would’ve been starting the sixth year of her tenure track now if it weren’t for the “terminal contract” she received in April, appealed to the committee and chose to keep her hearings open to the public. This allowed a glimpse into the languages department’s internal conflict.

What followed was 32 hours worth of hearings over the course of six days in early September. Their final report was written Oct. 7  following discussion. Kelley received the report Tuesday.

“In order for the university to reach its full potential, (the committee) recommends the President take a proactive stance to resolve the underlying departmental issues surrounding this grievance,” the document said.

Kelley has until the end of Nov. 4 to vote for or against the committee’s decision.

Hearings similar to this happen on college campuses all across the U.S., according to UND spokesman Peter Johnson.

Collegiality

Mosher’s denial of tenure was voted on by her colleagues in her department.

That recommendation then went through to the department chairman, a dean and other academic officers, which ultimately led to her contract being terminated.

Mosher allegedly lacked “collegiality.” She was accused by other members of the languages department of slamming doors, arguing with them, competing for students and rolling her eyes a faculty meeting when she disagreed.

The committee agreed with Mosher’s argument that her department, and most other UND academic departments only look at the traditional “three pillars” to determine tenure status. These three pillars are: teaching, research and service.

“Every year she was evaluated, she met or exceeded the three pillars,” said Barbara Combs, associate dean of teacher education, during discussion.

The committee agreed that there were no documents or testimony provided that indicated Mosher not meeting the criteria for the three pillars.

Defense

The committee discussed an implied “fourth pillar” during their sessions, “collegiality.”

Although some of Mosher’s colleagues in the languages department criticized her personality and behavior at work, there was also some evidence that she “demonstrated significant collegiality” by covering for classes of French professors Virgil Benoir and Sherrie Fleishman when they were “incapacitated for an extended period of time,” according to the document.

The document said there was no evidence provided of Mosher being “intentionally disruptive” or “substantially detrimental” to the well-being of her department.

“There has been no decrease in the amount of students,” said Eric Murphy, associate medical professor, during discussion. “The amount of French majors has actually gotten four times greater since Mosher was hired.”

A “claim of ‘not a good fit’ is insufficient grounds to justify non-renewal,” according to the document. “This conflict appears to be highly inflated.”

The committee consists of five members from a variety of departments: Doug Munski, geography professor; Donald Poochigian, philosophy and religion professor;  John Bridewell, associate aviation professor; Combs and Murphy.

Jaye Millspaugh is the multimedia editor at The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected]

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