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Professors Without Pay

May 12, 2005

Faculty members at Knoxville College say they have not been paid in nearly a year, and now they have filed lawsuits against the college and its president.  

Twelve professors, including nearly all of the full-time faculty members, sued the college last week and all but one of those are also suing the president, Barbara Hatton.  

The lawsuit against the Tennessee institution claims the dozen professors are owed about $330,000, ranging from about $6,000 to over $40,000 per individual, in back pay since June 2004, plus interest and benefits. The faculty members also say that Knoxville College failed to properly maintain pension funds and that faculty members with health insurance through the college received an unexpected letter in February saying it had been cancelled.

Despite the lack of pay, the professors involved in the suit continued to teach. They were in class Wednesday for final exams.

“The faculty is reasonably mature, and we wanted to cope with the situation in a way that would not affect how we deal with the students,” said the Rev. Thomas O’Connell, a professor of religious studies. “We’ve all shown a dedication to students, and that in itself is why we kept coming day after day.”

When, sporadically, some faculty members were paid, it was in a seemingly arbitrary manner, according to the suit. “That exacerbated the situation, that some people were paid. Some of them were paid after they begged for it,” said Father O’Connell, who added he believes that the entire faculty has  “absolutely no confidence in [Hatton’s] ability to lead academically or financially.”

Professors have also become frustrated with what they see as a general lack of communication with Hatton. “Our input on scheduling and curriculum has often gone nowhere,” said Donna Sherwood, a professor of English.  

A historically black college, Knoxville has faced dire financial problems in recent years, losing its regional accreditation in 1997 because of those troubles. The last available records for the college show that expenses exceeded revenue by about $1.7 million in the fiscal year ending in June 2002.  

In a statement, Hatton focused on the success of the current academic year, and conceded that Knoxville has well known financial problems. “It is a miracle the college is here today,” she wrote.  “The best interest of all of the college’s constituencies are better served by their successes than by any lawsuit about college problems that are already being addressed.”

In the suit directed at Hatton, the faculty members say she failed to give professors bonuses intended for them, calling her behavior “reckless and/or intentional.” The Board of Trustees gave money that was supposed to be dispensed as $100 gifts for the teachers, but the faculty members say in their suit that the money was accepted by Hatton, but the bonuses never given.

“All we know is that the money didn’t end up where it was supposed to end up,” said Richard Duncan, a lawyer for the faculty members.    

This is not the first time that Knoxville College faculty members have not received payment on time. In 2002, Knoxville was late in paying employees, and finally took a loan and began cooperative efforts with local companies to stay afloat. “That time, we were paid eventually,” Sherwood said.

Tax records from 2002 show that Hatton was paid $85,000, and had another $14,000 in expenses.  It is unclear whether she, like the faculty members, missed paychecks during the last academic year.  “We’ve asked that question,” Duncan said, “and we have not been furnished a response.”

Before coming to Knoxville, Hatton served as the president of South Carolina State University, where she was fired in 1995 following a faculty survey that documented low employee morale.  

 

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