Dismissed instructors get short end of policy stick

In a last-minute shakeup, the university let five full-time professors go in the final week of August because they lacked master’s degrees, leaving school officials scrambling to cover classes a week before the semester began.

In a last-minute shakeup, the university let five full-time professors go in the final week of August because they lacked master’s degrees, leaving school officials scrambling to cover classes a week before the semester began.

“I do not feel that we should have [professors with only a bachelor’s degree] teaching,” said Provost Ira Schwartz.

The professors, members of the mathematics and computer and information sciences (CIS) departments, were let go due to their lack of an advanced degree, Schwartz said.

But a delay by the College of Science and Technology (CST) in filing forms to provide special approval for the professors prompted their late ouster, he said.

The professors were all Dean’s Appointment faculty, who are hired full-time for one-year contracts. The two math faculty, who were scheduled to teach 380 students in seven lower-level courses, were replaced by four first and second-year engineering graduate students, one math grad student and two faculty members.

The three CIS professors had their contracts renewed for one semester, but only after an influential alumnus intervened, said Frank Friedman, a CIS professor and former head of the department.

The alum, Mark Mendel, has received degrees from the university’s undergraduate, graduate and law programs and sat on Temple’s board of trustees for 28 years. He has also taught and coached here, and is a major financial contributor to Temple, Friedman said.

Schwartz and Vice Provost Stephen Zelnick said Mendel’s connections did not play a role in the professor’s contract renewal.

The CIS professors, who asked not to be identified, were rehired after their credentials were reviewed, Schwartz said.

Zelnick said Mendel did call Schwartz, but that Mendel was satisfied with Schwartz’s explanation that he was trying to hire the best-qualified faculty.
Mendel said although he agreed it was a reasonable goal to hire faculty with advanced degrees, he also told Schwartz the CIS professors had exceptional qualifications, including extensive experience in industry.

“[Computer science] is not a degree subject, it is an experience subject,” he said.

The three professors have a lot of commitment to Temple, Mendel said. One of the professors has taught at the university since 1985 and he referred to another as “Mr. Temple” at local companies like Verizon, where he used his industry connections to get his students internships and jobs.

“There are exceptions to the rule, and I think these people are the exceptions,” Mendel said.

The CIS professors had their contracts renewed due to their qualifications, Schwartz said, and not because of Mendel’s call.

Math department chair John Schiller said the two professors in his department, Heather Engle and Scott Stringfellow, also had their performance reviewed but were not offered new contracts.

The academic records of the two were not strong enough to justify a contract renewal, Zelnick said. One of the professors had a 3.76 undergraduate GPA but had withdrawn from a number of master’s courses, he said, and the other had a 2.7 undergrad GPA and teaching evaluations that criticized a lack of office hours. He declined to specify which professor was Engle or Stringfellow. Engle did not return calls and Stringfellow declined to comment for this article.

Schiller said the professor told him that the course withdrawals were due to extenuating circumstances and had never received a complaint about the other’s office hours.

“I have gotten nothing but positive feedback [on the professors],” he said.
The professors were “two of the best” teachers in the math department’s lower level courses, Schiller said. They were also working on separate programs with grants from the National Science Foundation.

“Both were doing an excellent job,” he said.

Schiller said one of the professors stayed for long office hours and worked closely with his students. He said the students of that professor, who he did not identify, never had the need to come in for math tutoring.

“I wish I had a semester’s notice,” Schiller said. “I didn’t find out until the Thursday before the [day] classes started We [had to] put green instructors in front of students.”

The provost’s office was “backed into a corner” when it made the late decision to not rehire the professors, Zelnick said.

The dean of the CST, under which both CIS and math fall, turned in the hiring packets for the five professors extremely late and without justifications for an exemption, after being asked a year ago to submit a justification before this academic year, Zelnick said.

CST dean Chris Platsoucas declined to comment on what he called “internal personnel matters.”

Zelnick said if Platsoucas had submitted the justifications in a timely manner there would have been more time to find full-time replacements for the math professors.

“All of the misery sits at [Platsoucas’s] door,” he said.

Brian White can be reached at zapata@temple.edu.

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