Tensions rise over procedures

HEARING: Teacher faces possible termination of her contract.

UND is holding hearings to determine whether or not one French professor will be returning next fall.

Hired in 2008, assistant French professor Sarah Mosher has found herself the subject of a hearing that started on Sept. 5, according to Faculty Rights Committee chair Doug Munski; the procedures had taken over 20 hours at the time this article was published.

Mosher’s contract was terminated after colleagues complained about her performance during her annual review earlier this year.

“It’s been very intense so far,” UND Spanish Professor and Reappointment Committee member Gene DuBois said. “They definitely don’t prepare you for this kind of thing in grad school.”

According to DuBois, all of the witnesses have taken the process very seriously. Everyone had planned to stay for only about an hour each night and ended up staying for two to three hours.

Each evening, the members of the Faculty Rights Committee deliberated to search for facts on Mosher’s case before coming up with a recommended solution and submitting a report to UND President Robert Kelley, who will have the final say in whether or not she gets to remain at UND. Mosher is being represented by Fargo-based attorney Leo Wilking.

Even if the committee provides a favorable response to Mosher, Kelley can still override it, effectively terminating Mosher’s contract, or vice-versa.

“The committee only has a narrow scope of each situation,” Munski said. “We serve merely as an advisory board, a neutral body that has the responsibility of listening to the faculty member seeking appeal and hearing their case and the university’s response. We’re intended to be fair and impartial.”

The appeal process is the last step a faculty member must take before filing a civil lawsuit. After going through Kelley, a case could be brought to state and, eventually, federal court.

According to Munski, a few previous cases at UND involving sexual harassment and discrimination have been appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. There have also been instances where President Kelley has provided an in-between solution, such as giving a faculty member only half a year before their next progress review.

“I’m very happy UND has this appeal process and that it’s very open, instead of just simply firing people” DuBois said. “Everyone wants to be fair and come up with a decision that affects facts. Nothing is being hidden. A lot of other universities don’t have a system like this and this has led to many lawsuits.”

Peoples’ Reactions

So far, there have been mixed reactions to Mosher’s case for appeal.

“Based on the vote tally, people don’t like her,” said DuBois. “They based their vote on whether or not they want her around though and a lot of it was based solely on hearsay and gossip.”

Some of the accusations toward Mosher include that she created a competitive environment among the department by promoting her sections of multiple-section classes and her student advisorship.

DuBois has been acquainted with Mosher since her arrival and has never witnessed any of the unprofessional conduct that others in the language department have mentioned.

“She was always very professional and dedicated to her position” DuBois said. “She always receives excellent teacher evaluation scores.”

DuBois said one of the reasons for Mosher’s popularity among students is her energetic personality and her enthusiasm for what she teaches.

Marketing professor and department chair Mary Askim-Lovseth, who mentored Mosher for three years after her arrival, agrees with DuBois.

“Her service level is extremely high, and she’s very well-liked by her students. She’s very wonderful, energetic and enthusiastic,”  Askim-Lovseth said. “These accusations have to be proven, and a lot of people can say things they don’t mean. Some people just don’t like her energy or don’t like change.”

The main argument though, according to DuBois and Askim-Lovseth, is how fair it is for a professor’s personality outside of the classroom to be held against them.

“The language department seems to be saying that it’s OK to assess on personality and not renew someone’s contract because of it, but do you really want everyone in the department to be similar?” Askim-Lovseth said.

When professors are evaluated during their yearly reviews, the three determining factors are their teaching skills, department research and service throughout their department and the community. Mosher has consistently scored high in these three areas.

Mosher has a Ph.D in French and Francophone Studies from the University of Arizona, and she has lived and studied in France and Switzerland for over four years, according to her biography page on UND’s website.

She has researched and led courses in French literature, film and culture, the French-speaking Arab and Caribbean regions, immigration in France and global human rights. She also works as an advisor to the student organization, Club Francophone, a co-director of the Language Department’s film series and a board member of the International Studies Program.

“Pretty qualified for her job is an understatement. She’s one of the most productive people I know,” DuBois said. “If everyone had to go through what she’s gone through here, most of them would be kicked out.”

This drama hasn’t gotten in the way of Mosher completing her duties as a professor. Her students, such as Senior French major Renae Hildy, did not know about the hearing. Hildy has taken a few classes from Mosher and said she enjoyed them.

“I really liked her” Hildy said. “She was always very nice to me and very helpful. If she couldn’t help me, she would direct me to where I needed to go. Her energy and enthusiasm made me enjoy her classes more and want to learn more.”

After the Hearing

If a faculty member’s contract is renewed and they do well on their next review, they are eligible to apply for a promotion or for tenure, which will increase their job security.

The university’s policy regarding tenure involves a professor’s teaching skills, research and service, but each college and department also has their own individual policies, according to UND Provost Thomas DiLorenzo.

“Every department is different in their views, but the person would be evaluated mainly on their teaching skills,” DiLorenzo said. “We also often look at their service and involvement locally and professionally, but the criteria for these varies by department.”

Every professor at UND receives a yearly review of their progress and those who receive poor reviews often resign from their positions. Many of those who receive positive reviews do eventually apply for tenure.

“Tenure means more ambiguity,” said Askim-Lovseth.

The final session about Mosher’s tenure is scheduled for tonight from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. in the Memorial Union’s River Valley room, and since it is an open hearing. The hearing is open to the public. If needed, another session will take place tomorrow morning.

“At the end of the day, what happens will happen,” DuBois said. “No one thought it would go on this long, but it shows how seriously they’re considering the outcome.”

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