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Papadopoulos v. Oregon State Board of Higher Education

June 27, 1973


Appeal from Circuit Court, Marion County. Val D. Sloper, Judge.

Michael Papadopoulos, Corvallis, pro se, for appellant-cross-respondent.

Lee Johnson, Attorney General, John W. Osburn, Solicitor General, and Al J. Laue, Assistant Attorney General, Salem, for respondent-cross-appellant.

Herbert W. Titus, Cooperating Attorney, Eugene, American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, Inc., amicus curiae.

Hans A. Linde, Eugene, Interinstitutional Faculty Senate, Oregon State System of Higher Education, amicus curiae.

Donald W. Brodie, Cooperating Attorney, Eugene, and Stephen R. Goldstein, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for American Association of University Professors, amicus curiae.

Schwab, Chief Judge, and Foley and Fort, Judges.


Petitioner was employed as a Professor of Mathematics at Oregon State University from September 1967 to June 1970. In 1969 the respondent State Board of Higher Education or its subordinate officials at Oregon State decided to deny petitioner tenure and

to terminate his employment. By way of this judicial review proceeding pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act, ORS ch 183, petitioner challenges those decisions. The circuit court upheld the Board and both petitioner and the Board appeal.

Literally dozens of issues have been briefed at length by petitioner and three amici supporting his position. The issues all relate to the substantive and procedural statutory and constitutional rights of public employes. For example, petitioner contends he was discharged because he engaged in First Amendment-protected activity or, alternatively, that his discharge was arbitrary; that he was entitled to a pretermination hearing on the reasons for his discharge; that the hearing he was accorded by the Board by order of the circuit court did not comply with the Administrative Procedures Act; and that the Board's discharge decision is not supported by substantial evidence. The Board, by its cross-appeal, contends the circuit court erred in ordering that petitioner be accorded a hearing on the reasons for his discharge. In our view the dispositive issue is whether petitioner was entitled to a hearing before being discharged effective June 1970.*fn1


This record reveals, at the least, confusion on the part of the State Board of Higher Education and its subordinate officials at Oregon State University. To document this observation, we set out the facts in detail.

One source of confusion is the Board's regulations.

See, Parts II and IV, infra. These regulations provide that academic personnel, like petitioner, are employed with "yearly tenure" or "indefinite tenure." For the three years petitioner taught at Oregon State, he had only yearly tenure.

Petitioner assumed his duties as a Professor of Mathematics in the Department of Mathematics of the School of Science at Oregon State in the late summer of 1967. When he was offered this position by the Chairman of the Mathematics Department, before accepting it, petitioner inquired about the Oregon State tenure system. This was of some significance to petitioner, since another university had offered him a professorship with immediate tenure. The Chairman advised petitioner that under the Board's regulations it was not possible to be granted what those regulations term indefinite tenure when first hired. However, at the administrative hearing in this case several professors testified that they had been granted indefinite tenure at Oregon State when first hired.

In any event, correctly or incorrectly petitioner was informed it was not possible that he be granted indefinite tenure immediately. The Chairman did at least imply, and petitioner was led to believe, that the granting of indefinite tenure would be little more than a formality in his case.

Relying in part on these representations, and in part on the intent of the Mathematics Department to expand its programs in applied mathematics -- petitioner's area of specialization -- petitioner turned down other job prospects and accepted the offer from Oregon State. In fact, during the conversations that culminated in his employment at Oregon State, it was agreed that petitioner would devote a substantial

amount of time to building the Department's applied mathematics curriculum. All indications are that petitioner diligently and effectively did so.

In December of 1968, after petitioner had been at Oregon State about 1 1/2 years, the Mathematics Department began processing a recommendation that petitioner be granted indefinite tenure. A four-member departmental committee unanimously recommended indefinite tenure for petitioner. The tenured faculty of the Department voted 20-1 in favor of indefinite tenure for petitioner. The Chairman of the Department added his own personal favorable recommendation.

The material generated in the Mathematics Department passed up the chain of command to John Ward, Dean of the School of Science. There had been previous instances in which Dean Ward displayed some displeasure toward petitioner. Between 1967-68, petitioner's first year at Oregon State, and 1968-69 most faculty members in the Mathematics Department received at least cost-of-living salary raises; through Dean Ward's efforts, petitioner did not receive any salary increase. Also, witnesses at the administrative hearing attributed to Dean Ward some highly defamatory statements about petitioner.*fn2

Dean Ward consulted with his informal six-member Advisory Committee on all recommendations for indefinite tenure. When petitioner's case was discussed, some question was raised about petitioner's progress on a monograph he was writing. Dean Ward then asked the Chairman of the Mathematics

Department for an answer to this question. The Chairman responded by letter:

"* * * Professor Papadopoulos is working on a research monograph on the topic of the theory of distributions as it pertains to the study of hyperbolic partial differential equations with particular applications to diffraction problems. I know enough of this topic to recognize that this would fill a significant gap in research literature. I have heard Professor Papadopoulos deliver a one-hour colloquium on some aspects of these questions; my impression from his sketch was that he had some very interesting contributions completed and also there remained much work to be done before he could achieve the degree of completeness demanded by a monograph. He estimates that he has about 1/3 of a completed first draft and, of course, notes and sketches of later parts."

Dean Ward did not tell his Advisory Committee of this letter; instead, purporting to be passing on an oral report, Dean Ward told the Committee there was no evidence that petitioner was making significant progress on his monograph. Also, Dean Ward told the Committee he had informally asked unidentified deans at other unspecified universities whether they would hire petitioner, and their answers were all in the negative. Not surprisingly, based on the information Dean Ward had furnished them, the Advisory Committee unanimously voted against recommending indefinite tenure for petitioner. The Committee was not asked to express any view on retention or non-retention of petitioner on an annual basis, and did not do so.

On February 25, 1969, Dean Ward then sent a letter to petitioner that stated:

"As you have been aware, the Department of Mathematics, and especially the faculty of the Department,

have undergone intensive evaluation and review by an outside evaluation committee and internal committees. After many hours of discussion and evaluation of the recommendations of all groups concerned, I have had to make several decisions concerning recommendations for indefinite tenure for non-tenured faculty members as well as informing faculty members not necessarily considered for tenure that they will not be reappointed to their positions * * *.

"* * * In your particular situation, you will not be recommended by this office to the Dean of Faculty for reappointment to the faculty of the Department of Mathematics after the academic year 1969-70."

In so far as it discloses a reason for his decision, Dean Ward's letter implies that petitioner's contributions to the Department of Mathematics were believed to be inadequate by various evaluation committees. The only evaluation reports to which Dean Ward could have been referring are in the record before us. There is nothing in those reports that is any way critical of petitioner.

After receiving Dean Ward's letter, petitioner protested to the Faculty Senate Committee on Review and Appeals that he was being dealt with unfairly. That Committee considered petitioner's case along with two others. The Committee reported:

"* * *

"In the opinion of the members of the Review and Appeals Committee, faulty judgment was evident on the part of the previous chairman of the Department of Mathematics when he implied, during appointment negotiations with the appellants, that the granting of indefinite tenure was a routine matter and would occur in the natural course of events even though based upon 'mutual satisfaction.' * * * [S]tatements made to prospective appointees

probably should have spelled out more carefully the process by which indefinite tenure was granted and the ultimate responsibility for such decisions.

"Nevertheless, inquiries made by the Committee of the appellants and others disclosed that, while tenure matters were discussed (either orally or in writing), representations of the routine nature of indefinite tenure recommendations were such as to lead the appellants to believe that indefinite tenure would be granted as a matter of course. * * * Such implied commitment on the part of the department chairman apparently was not unique but, rather, appeared to be the prevailing practice at the time of the appointment of, or negotiation with, the three appellants.

"By the same token, questionable procedures were followed by the Dean of Science in reversing the recommendations of the Department of Mathematics, especially in the instances of Drs. * * * and Papadopoulos whose recommendations carried nearly unanimous approval, solely on professional grounds, by the tenured members of the Department.

"The 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities jointly formulated by the American Association of University Professors, the American Council on Education, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, states in part V. The academic institution: the faculty --

"'Faculty status and related matters are primarily a faculty responsibility; this area includes appointments, reappointments, not to reappoint, promotions, the granting of tenure, and dismissal. The primary responsibility of the faculty for such matters is based upon the fact that its judgment is central to general educational policy. Furthermore, scholars in a particular

field or activity have the chief competence for judging the work of their colleagues; in such competence it is implicit that responsibility exists for both adverse and favorable judgments. Likewise there is the more general competence of experienced faculty personnel committees having a broader charge. Determinations in these matters should first be by faculty action through established procedures, reviewed by the chief academic officers with the concurrence of the board. The governing board and the president should, on questions of faculty status as in other matters where the faculty has primary responsibility, concur with the faculty judgment except in rare instances and for compelling reasons which should be stated in detail.'

"In light of the foregoing statement and assuming that the dean of a school falls within the class of a chief academic officer, statements received from members of the Mathematics Department indicate that reasons for failure by the Dean of Science to concur with the departmental recommendation were not clear other than that the department of mathematics at certain unidentified universities would not appoint these persons as full professors to their staffs.

"In addition to the failure of the Dean of Science to state in detail compelling reasons for failure to concur with the judgments of the departmental faculty, it is the opinion of the Committee that evaluations based upon whether or not a department at another university, (even if such were specified) would appoint an individual at a given rank is at best a questionable practice. Such practice becomes more suspect when one does not know the questions asked or the information presented in requesting such an evaluation. In addition, the question arises as to whether the same or similar standards necessarily apply for the determination

of eligibility for indefinite tenure as those which might be employed in evaluating an individual for initial appointment. Again, the validity of the procedure followed is at best controversial.

"It further appears (but not verified) that the procedure of requesting an evaluation by the chairman of department of another university in terms of qualification for appointment to that university's staff was followed only in the three cases in question and was not a routine step in the evaluative process carried out by the Dean of Science's office. While it may be agreed that the evaluation of the three cases in question might present special problems because of the academic rank involved, the unusualness of the procedure and the significance placed upon such conclusions drawn therefrom raises the question as to whether such represents a significant departure from accepted practice.

"While it can be taken as a responsibility of the dean of a school, within the context of the above statement of primary faculty responsibilities, to attempt to insure excellence of departmental faculties, it would also follow that in doing so due regard must be given to the judgments of departmental faculties. In view of the care and thoroughness which appear to have been exercised by the faculty of the Department of Mathematics in making their evaluations of staff members being recommended for tenure and that such recommendations represent the opinions of a substantial majority of the departmental tenured faculty, it would appear that failure by the Dean of Science to concur with such recommendations would necessarily have to be supported by compelling reasons stated in detail to the tenured departmental faculty. In the instances in question, such detailing of reasons for failure to concur was not apparent to those members of the Mathematics Department interviewed in the course of the Committee's investigations.

"The Review and Appeals Committee concludes and recommends to the President:

"That Indefinite Tenure be granted to Dr. Michael Papadopoulos on the basis of:

"1. The near unanimous and positive recommendation of the tenured members of the Mathematics Department, based solely on the professional competency of Dr. Papadopoulos and the failure on the part of the Dean of Science to state compelling reasons for lack of concurrence with the departmental recommendation.

"2. Prior commitment."

After receiving the above report and recommendations, the President of Oregon State, by letter dated September 24, 1969, advised petitioner he had reached a contrary decision. This letter stated in part:

"With some regret we must advise you that we do not support the recommendation of the Review and Appeals Committee that you be granted indefinite tenure as a Professor of Mathematics at Oregon State University. The principal reasons for our decision are summarized below:

"1. To the best of our knowledge and understanding, the action of the School of Science in not recommending the granting of tenure and in recommending your non-reappointment after the academic year 1969-70 does not involve prejudice or other violations of your academic freedom. A request to review the possibility of violations of academic freedom was implicit in our charge to the Committee. The Committee's report and supplementary letter support our belief that no violation of academic freedom occurred and that no personal prejudice or discrimination was involved on the part of any individual or group who participated in the decision.

"2. We believe that the action of the School of Science, by imposing additional standards and professional judgments in its review of your department's recommendation, was consistent with sound academic policy and involved significant and responsible faculty participation in the decision making process. In conducting its reviews, the School attempted to apply proper and uniform criteria to all recommendations in an effort to insure fairness and to develop and maintain high academic standards in all disciplines. Moreover, it is our belief that the Dean's final decision had the strong support of his faculty Advisory Committee * * *.*fn3

"3. Based on our review of both the departmental and school recommendations and also on our own attempt to evaluate your professional record, the executive office finds no sound academic basis for reversing the recommendation of the School of Science. Dean Ward has reported the reason for his decision to us, namely, the judgment that your professional record failed to demonstrate the degree of scholarly performance expected of a full professor in the School of Science. We consider this reason to be a proper basis for the dean's decision."

The President's letter concluded:

"* * * [W]e regard Dean Ward's letter of February 25, 1969, to you as a letter of timely notice of non-reappointment in accordance with the provisions of Section L-3-F of the Administrative

Code of the Oregon State Department of Higher Education."

Most prior attention had focused on whether petitioner would be granted indefinite tenure. Under the relevant regulations, see, Part II, infra, it would have been possible for petitioner to have been denied indefinite tenure, yet to remain at Oregon State on annual appointments for up to six years, perhaps being reconsidered for indefinite tenure at some future date. The record does not contain any clear explanation of why, in petitioner's case, the decision to deny indefinite tenure was coupled with a decision to also terminate his employment.

The President's reference to "the degree of scholarly performance expected of a full professor" was the first public reference to petitioner's termination being based on not having published a "sufficient" number of research papers. While it is clear this was a factor in the deliberations of Dean Ward's Advisory Committee, for some reason it had not been mentioned at all in the report of the Faculty Senate Review and Appeals Committee as being a stated reason for petitioner's termination.

Upon learning of the President's decision expressed in his letter of September 24, the Faculty Senate voted to conduct another, more detailed, investigation. The Faculty Senate created an Ad Hoc Committee consisting of three professors from outside of Oregon.

After spending two days at Oregon State in January of 1970, the Ad Hoc Committee reported:

"* * * Both * * * and Papadopoulos were, in the opinion of the two mathemetician members of

this committee, well above the average in the department and comparable with the most competent members. Hence they cannot be considered bad appointments * * *.

"That these appointments should have been offered and accepted without tenure requires separate discussion, for this was apparently connected with earlier university practice. Although opinion was not unanimous on this point, it seems to have been common before 1966 for tenure to be regarded as a certainty if one were more or less pulling his own weight in a department. * * * [B]oth * * * and Papadopoulos were apparently assured verbally that tenure was nothing to worry about even though the letter of appointment contained a caveat * * *.

"In 1966 with the advent of a new Dean of Science, Dean Ward, there was a sudden change in the attitude toward tenure and its granting, and this leads us into another aspect of the difficulty.

"When Dean Ward assumed his office in the fall of 1966, he apparently decided that one of his most important duties was to improve and upgrade the research quality of the various departments in the School of Science, and to increase also the quantity of research. This is, of course, a laudable goal and the time was possibly appropriate for taking some definite steps in this direction * * *.

"An important step [taken by Dean Ward] was the initiation of Departmental Review Committees consisting of distinguished men from outside the university who were charged with examining the department in question and making recommendations for its future development. One of the first such committees was appointed for the Mathematics Department. The three members (none of whom, by the way, were on a list of suggested persons given to the Dean by the Chairman) are outstanding mathematicians, spanning among them a large part of mathematics, and are also men of good will.

Unfortunately, their report was treated as a confidential report to the Dean and only portions of it shown to the Department members or to this committee. Those portions shown to us as a special privilege did not strike us as being unsuitable for general distribution. The parts not shown us contained among other things a rating of the department members on a scale of approximately 1 to 5 -- excellent, very good, good, fair, poor * * *.

"The Dean's treatment of this document as confidential has had an unfortunate effect. Perhaps unintentionally, it has been used as a weapon. Since no one knows where he stands, it is easy to imply that he is far down on the list and doesn't really deserve consideration in some matter or other. Whether such abuse is exaggerated or frequent is not the point. The situation should never arise and all future Visiting Committees should make their ...

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