Tenure Denial Reversed

March 31, 2010

Overruling top administrators, Ohio University’s president has decided to award tenure to a journalism professor accused of threatening fellow faculty, Inside Higher Ed has learned.

Roderick McDavis, the university’s president, declared Tuesday that Bill Reader would be granted tenure after more than a year of contentious debate about his case.

Reader, a journalism professor since 2002, narrowly received a tenure recommendation from his colleagues in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism’s Promotion and Tenure Committee. The 7-5 vote, followed by allegations that he had threatened faculty who voted against him, turned Reader’s case into a university-wide phenomenon, pitting faculty against one another and raising broader questions about the extent to which professorial collegiality ought to be factored into tenure decisions. Amid the debate over collegiality and the complaints against Reader, administrators suggested he be denied tenure, citing a "pattern" of problematic behavior that they conceded had not previously led to any formal reprimands.

While sticky tenure debates are not uncommon to higher education, it's rare for a president to side with a faculty member over deans and school directors as McDavis has done in this instance. A college-level review committee had also suggested tenure be denied. In this instance, however, Reader had strong student backing, and many of his faculty supporters said that the harassment charges were an overreaction to understandable frustrations he had expressed over his tenure case.

The tide seemed to turn in Reader's case in February, when an ad hoc committee of Ohio’s Faculty Senate issued a report calling the process “tainted” and “compromised” with missteps and violations of due process. Chief among the committee’s concerns was that the separate processes of investigating harassment complaints filed by three faculty members against Reader had been conflated with his tenure case.

“The procedures for handling these allegations and violations are entirely separate from the promotion and tenure process,” the committee wrote. “Conflation of these independent processes jeopardizes the integrity of them both.”

University officials would not confirm or deny the president’s decision in the case Tuesday evening, but said they expected an announcement today. Asked for comment, however, Reader expressed pleasure.

"We are grateful to President McDavis for this decision, and I look forward to continuing my work at Ohio University with our amazing students and my excellent colleagues,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Tom Hodson, director of the journalism school, notified Reader in May that he was initiating formal ethics proceedings to explore the allegations against Reader, documents show. That investigation concerns the allegations of three female faculty members, who said they felt threatened by Reader upon hearing from other colleagues that he was “out for revenge” against those who had opposed his bid for tenure.

Reader said Tuesday that he hoped the investigation would move forward quickly, suggesting this was McDavis’s desire as well.

"I couldn't agree more with President McDavis on this point, as that has been my position from day one," he wrote. "Over the past year, I have repeatedly asked for mediation so that my colleagues and I can work out our differences in a collegial manner. I remain committed to mediation as the best approach for all involved."

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