A former computer engineering professor who sued GW when he was denied tenure a decade ago says that a court ruling that denied him a position at GW harms the University. But GW officials disagree.
Apostolos Kakaes, a former professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department, was denied tenure in 1993. He then sued the University, arguing that he had not received notification about his status before the June 30 deadline mandated in GW’s Faculty Code.
Tenure offers professors job security, making it difficult for universities to fire them except in certain circumstances, such as breaking University or government regulations or being unable to perform their duties, said Timothy Tong, dean of School of Engineering and Applied Science.
According to court documents, the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Personnel Committee, made up of EECS faculty, voted in November 1992 to recommend that Kakaes be granted tenure, but engineering school Dean Gideon Frieder disagreed and asked the committee to vote again. In March 1993 the committee maintained its position.
In June 1993 the case was sent to the Faculty Senate, which recommended that GW deny Kakaes tenure and asked that the Personnel Committee to reverse its opinion. The Personnel Committee reaffirmed its position in September 1993, after Kakaes received notification he was officially rejected.
Kakaes received a letter on June 30, 1993, telling him that he would not be granted tenure because Frieder disagreed with the Personnel Committee and that Kakaes would be notified when the Board of Trustees decided on the matter, according to court documents. Kakaes used this as the crux of his argument, saying this was not a clear answer on whether or not he would receive tenure.
In a phone interview, Kakaes said he is not sure why Frieder refused to grant him tenure. Kakaes suggested his role on an earlier search committee for an engineering school dean might have played a role. He had argued against promoting Frieder to the position.
“I hope I’m not too cynical, but it’s a small world and news finds ways of getting from place to place even though those deliberations were private,” Kakaes said.
Frieder, who now serves as the A. James Clark professor of engineering and applied science, said he voted to deny tenure based on Kakaes’s record but declined to elaborate.
“It was not anything personal,” Frieder said. “Indeed, I like him as a human being, I like him very much, but (tenure cases) are not done on whether you like or don’t like somebody.”
The Board of Trustees did not decide to deny tenure until Feb. 10, 1994. On July 5, 1994, the District court ruled against Kakaes, claiming that the letter was not ambiguous even though the board had not decided until after the June 30 deadline.
Kakaes appealed the decision, and on Sept. 26, 1996, won $75,000 in compensation, in part because the court ruled the letter was ambiguous because the Board of Trustees was not just a “rubber stamp.” The court cited another suit against GW about awarding professorship that was written by then D.C. District Court Judge and GW graduate Kenneth Starr, who later served as Whitewater special prosecutor.
Kakaes appealed again, arguing that the Faculty Code mandated the University owes him a tenured position as well as more than the $75,000 the court offered. On Jan. 31, the judges disagreed, saying a court should not force a University to make personnel decisions.
“Administrative errors and oversights should not result in a tenured appointment for a person whom the responsible University officials consider unsuitable to receive it,” according to the court’s January decision. The judges said Kakaes did not deserve more money because he offered no expert testimony about lost earnings and because of “his extremely lucrative business endeavors after leaving GW,” according to the court documents.
Kakaes said he disagreed with this verdict, which he said would harm tenure by forcing the University to pay damages instead of granting a position to the denied professor.
“I think it’s wrong for me personally and more importantly for the faculty at large,” he said. “It gives the administration a blank check to terminate tenured and non-tenured faculty at will, totally disregarding the faculty code.”
University Deputy General Counsel Bill Howard disagrees.
“We don’t believe it harms tenure at all,” he said. “This has nothing to do with firing faculty. We followed the procedure spelled out in the Faculty Code. If anything, it validated it.”
Howard said the University has no plans to appeal.