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UB dean faces censure vote by faculty

University at Buffalo faculty members are considering a vote to publicly censure a university administrator for alleged unfair treatment of an assistant professor whose contract wasn't renewed in 2016.

Members of the university's Faculty Senate on Tuesday discussed a proposed resolution that would formally censure Robert G. Shibley, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning.

The censure resolution accuses Shibley of ignoring school policies and procedures in determining in June 2016 that the assistant professor's contract should not be renewed. A counter resolution called upon the Senate to remove the censure measure from the Senate agenda. Neither resolution was voted upon.

Robert Shibley

A faculty vote to censure Shibley would not have any binding authority and would not force the dean to alter his decision. But within a campus governance structure, censure is considered a faculty's last resort in expressing dissatisfaction with how a department or the university in general is being operated. Censure has seldom been a topic in recent years at UB, so a vote in favor of censure would be an embarrassing moment for university administration.

Shibley is widely known and respected on and off campus for his work as an architect, including overseeing public design for Buffalo's waterfront, the growing downtown Medical Campus and for UB's own campus master plan.

Other university officials said the Faculty Senate's executive committee was out of bounds to forward a resolution to the full Senate for a censure vote.

Shibley did not respond to an email request for an interview. His office forwarded the request to a university spokesman, who gave a written response, saying that Shibley's leadership of the School of Architecture and Planning "is exemplary and he has the full support of the university's leadership."

At the Senate meeting, UB Provost Charles F. Zukoski said the faculty non-renewal case in question was a confidential employment matter in which that Senate has no standing, per the policies of the State University of New York Board of Trustees and a collective bargaining agreement. Zukoski consulted with a SUNY attorney, who advised that the executive committee's actions were inappropriate and not legal.

But members of the executive committee point to a section of the university's Faculty Staff Handbook that states faculty who are not renewed may pursue a grievance if there is convincing evidence of a serious procedural error.

The assistant professor, who has not been identified, maintained that the dean and the interim chairwoman of her department, Despina Stratigakos, had not yet received a two-year review letter from her mentoring committee before making their decision, as per the school's standard operating procedures.

The assistant professor appealed the June 22 written nonrenewal notice to Zukoski, who upheld Shibley's decision.

The executive committee voted unanimously, with one abstention, last April to hear the complaint of the assistant professor.

A separate panel of five senior faculty members investigated further and found in May that Shibley should grant the assistant professor a new employment review and that her contract should be extended until the review is completed.

"It was determined that the dean ... and the chair blatantly did not follow the schools' and departments by-laws regarding renewals," the censure resolution reads.

Shibley and other university administrators disregarded the findings of the panel. The assistant professor's contract ended Aug. 23.

M. Beth Tauke, a Faculty Senate executive committee member, put forth the competing resolution that calls upon the Senate to remove the censure resolution from the agenda.

New members of the executive committee voted upon the censure resolution based upon one person's accounting of what had transpired, and if they knew the full story at the time of the vote, the measure would not have gone forward, she said.

"They did not have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the case prior to the vote," she said.

Stratigakos also spoke at the meeting and defended Shibley, saying she "saw firsthand his integrity and compassion" as a dean during her time as interim chairwoman of the architecture department. Stratigakos said she could not discuss details of the non-renewal case due to privacy concerns. But she cautioned that the Senate was heading down a road of airing "a big wad of dirty laundry" through deliberations that could threaten the confidentiality of tenure and promotion proceedings that are supposed to be private.

But two members of the subcommittee that investigated the assistant professor's complaint said they stood by their findings.

"We weren't looking for dirty laundry," said Stephen L. Dyson, professor of classics and chairman of the subcommittee. "Not everything has to be hidden. The more that is hidden the more likely injustice is done."

"We did the best job we could," he added. "We believe there was a procedural problem here. That's all we're concerned about."

The Faculty Senate will reconsider the resolutions at a future meeting.




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