UAA loses in tenure arbitration

UAA was ordered Sept. 22 to compensate a former School of Engineering professor for the year of work she missed after the school denied her tenure last year.

The university alleged Cherie Northon’s unprofessional work ethic and disrespectful attitude toward peers was enough reason to deny her tenure May 2004.

M. Zane Lumbley, who served as the arbitrator in the case, said in his report the decision to deny tenure was disciplinary; although the university has the authority to reprimand an employee, the Collective Bargaining Agreement forbids the practice of using tenure as a form of punishment.

Lumbley ordered Northon be paid for the 2004-5 academic year, which she missed due to her resignation after tenure denial. The exact amount of the award has yet to be determined.

The university is also required to pay Northon an additional year of labor, regardless of whether or not she is working, and must remove all of the extraneous materials from her original tenure application file.

If Northon chooses to accept the additional terminal year, she must be allowed to reapply for tenure.

Lumbley’s report did not address the subject of whether Northon should have been granted tenure, but rather focused on the university’s denial of her tenure was for the wrong reasons. He was not judging Northon’s perceptions of a hostile work environment and, therefore, did not make a decision regarding whether her grievances had merit, Lumbley said in his report.

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In fact, Lumbley agreed with the university on several points, including the abusive e-mails between Northon and her husband Thom Eley, former UAA professor, warranted her tenure denial.

Northon said the school’s failure to respond to multiple issues inspired the comments in her and Eley’s e-mails.

“We were in their face, out in the open, unlike the other faculty members,” she said. “The frustration level was hitting its limit.”

Her frustration stemmed from issues covering a wide range of subjects, from students not getting paid to diesel fumes in one of the classrooms. Northon said her complaints were not adequately addressed, and so she felt she had to get people’s attention.

Mark Ashburn, the university’s lawyer, said UAA thinks all of a professor’s attributes should be considered during the tenure process, and the university acted within the guidelines set forth by the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The agreement is a contract between United Academics, the faculty union, and UAA detailing the process for handing tenure evaluations.

“The university believes the ruling of the arbitrator was in error and is weighing its options,” Ashburn wrote in an e-mail response to The Northern Light. “A chancellor should be able to consider a faculty member’s treatment of her colleagues in deciding whether to grant tenure.”

As part of the arbitration, Northon requested compensation for reduced retirement benefits, mental anguish and attorney’s fees. These requests were denied in accordance with Collective Bargaining Agreement specifications, which say parties of arbitration must share equally in its cost.

Carl Shepro, the United Academics union representative on campus, is pleased with the decision.

“This was a case where academic freedom was an issue, and she prevailed,” he said. “You don’t have to be friends with everybody to be a successful and productive faculty member.”

Norhton said she is open to the idea of returning, but is unsure if it would be in the SOE.

“I consider myself to be tainted by this situation-they won’t want to touch me. I don’t think I can find an impartial group in the SOE,” she said.

Robert Lang, dean of the SOE, refused to comment.