GW’s top academic administrator has given in to criticism that he may be personally biased against the tenured professor the University has been trying to fire.
Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Donald Lehman agreed last month to step down as the decision-maker in a historic tenure revocation case amid attacks to his objectivity. Lehman has repeatedly declined to comment on the case; he is a co-defendant in a lawsuit filed against the University. Law School Dean Frederick Lawrence is now responsible for rendering the decision.
Debabrata Saha, an electrical and computer engineering professor who arrived at GW in 1986, has been the subject of three suspensions and internal proceedings by the administration to revoke his tenure. Attorneys representing the University say the instructor has engaged in “persistent neglect of professional responsibilities” over the last decade.
Lehman and Timothy Tong, dean of the School of Engineering Applied Sciences, initiated the proceedings to revoke Saha’s tenure in September 2005. Tenured professors sign an agreement with the University allowing them to teach until they choose to retire.
Saha’s attorney, John F. Karl Jr., has argued that Lehman is personally biased against his client.
“I think Vice President Lehman was the primary instigator of this effort to get professor Saha removed and so, therefore, he could not be an objective decision-maker,” Karl said.
Saha, who has been on paid administrative leave for a year and a half, appealed the July decision of a faculty panel to revoke his tenure, and his appeal was denied in December. The administration argued – and the hearing panels have unanimously found – that Saha neglected many of his professional duties throughout the past decade. Such failings include: not attending faculty meetings, not serving on committees, not submitting annual reports or student evaluations and not conducting research.
In January, University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg appointed Lawrence to render the final employment decision. Trachtenberg wrote a letter last month informing Saha that Lehman removed himself from the process, Karl said.
“We are the ones that (were) requesting that Vice President Lehman recuse himself and that a neutral decision-maker be appointed,” said Karl, who was happy to see Lehman distance himself.
Thomas Morrison, senior associate dean for administrative affairs, spoke on behalf of Lawrence, who did not return several calls from The Hatchet Friday.
“He is continuing to work on this particular problem, and I’m sure he’ll be able to render a decision on the matter relatively soon,” Morrison said. “This is obviously a serious matter and he wants to give it full consideration and he’s doing that.”
Morrison added that he does not know when Lawrence will make his decision on Saha’s employment. “He’s not bound by any particular time frame other than to make sure the job is done fully.”
Media Relations Director Tracy Schario, who has spoken on behalf of the University throughout the Saha deliberations, doesn’t know when a decision will be made.
“It will be timely. It will happen in due course,” said Schario, who declined to comment on case specifics. She added: “A timely conclusion to this will be what all parties hope for.”