Fired faculty speak out

Tenured professors who were given the pink slip last week by the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston said they felt "shocked" and "betrayed" by the action, and have been given little rationale for why they were singled out, and little direction on what to do until they leave. In total, the medical school fired more than 3,000 people -- around one-third of its total staff, including 83 tenured and tenure track faculty and 44 non-tenure track researchers -- after Hurricane Ike

Elie Dolgin
Dec 3, 2008
Tenured professors who were given the pink slip last week by the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston said they felt "shocked" and "betrayed" by the action, and have been given little rationale for why they were singled out, and little direction on what to do until they leave. In total, the medical school fired more than 3,000 people -- around one-third of its total staff, including 83 tenured and tenure track faculty and 44 non-tenure track researchers -- after Hurricane Ike tore through the campus in September. Tenured and tenure-track professors who were fired will be paid though August. Until then, however, whether they keep working or not to finish up research projects or teaching obligations is between the fired researcher and their department head, according to William New, UTMB's associate dean for research administration. Associate professor linkurl:Malcolm Brodwick;http://www.utmb.edu/ncb/faculty/MalcolmBrodwick.asp worked at UTMB for 35 years before being...
betrayed" by the action, and have been given little rationale for why they were singled out, and little direction on what to do until they leave. In total, the medical school fired more than 3,000 people -- around one-third of its total staff, including 83 tenured and tenure track faculty and 44 non-tenure track researchers -- after Hurricane Ike tore through the campus in September. Tenured and tenure-track professors who were fired will be paid though August. Until then, however, whether they keep working or not to finish up research projects or teaching obligations is between the fired researcher and their department head, according to William New, UTMB's associate dean for research administration. Associate professor linkurl:Malcolm Brodwick;http://www.utmb.edu/ncb/faculty/MalcolmBrodwick.asp worked at UTMB for 35 years before being sacked last week. Although he doesn't have his own research grant at the moment, he is actively engaged in collaborative biophysics research and is the course director for the cardiovascular/pulmonary graduate program. That's why, when he heard there were going to be layoffs, "I thought that I was going to be immune," he told __The Scientist__. His department chair called him into his office last Monday (Nov. 24) to tell him the bad news. Around 10 people from his department -- neuroscience and cell biology -- were fired under the so-called "reduction in force" (RIF), but Brodwick was the first to know because his department chair told everyone in alphabetical order. "I was a little shocked when I learned I was RIFed," he said. "I wasn't prepared." Brodwick's department chair, linkurl:Henry Epstein,;http://www.bscb.utmb.edu/faculty/epstein.php told him there were external guidelines for choosing who was given the boot, but these directives have never been made public, Brodwick said. "I think [I was fired] because I'm 64 and close to retirement." Epstein declined to comment about the specific guidelines, saying only: "It was a very careful, thoughtful process. It wasn't done overnight." Responding to Brodwick's allegation and to requests for the criteria used in choosing faculty in the layoffs, UTMB spokesperson Raul Reyes sent __The Scientist__ the following statement: "Faculty decisions were made in accordance with the UT System Regents Rules, which require committee review for the elimination of academic programs and positions. The rules specify the factors to consider, which include academic qualifications and talents, the needs of the programs, past academic performance and potential future contributions. Tenure was considered only if two or more individuals were equally qualified." Brodwick said he now plans to fulfill his teaching obligations through mid-January, and then he will start looking for new work. In the meantime, however, Brodwick said he feels "like a leper, a pariah on campus. I'm not 100% a faculty member." linkurl:Nancy Wills;http://www.utmb.edu/ncb/faculty/NancyWills.asp -- a tenured professor also in the department neuroscience and cell biology, a member of the faculty senate, and the director of UTMB's systems physiology graduate course -- has had a tough year. After a financially difficult divorce, two salary cuts, a family illness, the loss of her home in the hurricane, and a major car accident, she learned of her termination in an email. Wills, 59, said she plans to retire when her contract runs out in August. Despite years of grant funding, including being one of last year's grant recipients from the blindness-research foundation linkurl:Hope For Vision,;http://www.hopeforvision.org/ her highest salary was at the lowest quartile for her field, and she in unsure how she'll make ends meet. "Everyone is so fearful," linkurl:Kay Sandor,;http://www.utmb.edu/imh/faculty.asp?FacID=55 a tenured associate professor of nursing, told __The Scientist__. "Whether we speak or not, our jobs are at risk." Sandor was not fired last week, but was one of the co-claimants -- along with the Texas Faculty Association, a local merchant, and a retired UTMB employee -- who filed a lawsuit Tuesday (Dec. 2) against University of Texas officials for breaching the Texas Open Meetings Act. "I took a big risk," she said, "[but] I think it's important that at least one faculty person was in that suit." linkurl:Mary Kanz,;http://www.utmb.edu/pathology/profiles/?user=mkanz an associate professor of pathology who has worked at UTMB since 1979, realized she was being fired "as soon as my chairperson's secretary called and said he needed to speak with me," she told __The Scientist__. Kanz's meeting with her department chair consisted of three sentences: One, she was told her faculty position "no longer existed." Two, she'd continue to be paid through August, but was expected to perform her regular duties. Three, "I want to thank you for your contributions to this department," Kanz recalled. Kanz's grant funding ran out in January 2007, and she's mostly been teaching since then. "If you don't have grant funding, you're basically considered a second-class citizen," she said. At 65, she said she plans to retire when her contract runs out. "I had hoped to have one more year to put more money in my savings account, but that won't be happening now." Another newly out-of-work faculty member, a tenured associate professor and director of a graduate program who asked to remain anonymous, told __The Scientist__ that she felt "bitter and betrayed and thrown away." "I kind of feel like I've spent most of my career in service to UTMB," she said, noting that like many of the other faculty fired, she does a lot of teaching and administrative work. "It's a horrible feeling." The linkurl:Texas Faculty Association is asking;http://txfacassn.typepad.com/utmb_galveston_chapter_te/2008/12/time-for-utmb-faculty-to-file-those-appeals.html fired faculty members who wish to appeal the termination decision to contact them. Under of the University of Texas Board of Regents linkurl:rule 31003,;http://www.utsystem.edu/bor/rules/30000Series/31003.pdf they have 30 days from the date they were first notified of the layoff to do so.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Texas profs sue university;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55255/
[2nd December 2008]*linkurl:Texas med center to lay off 3,800;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55187/
[13th November 2008]