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Archive for Thursday, November 9, 1989

WILLNER

November 9, 1989

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An emergency sabbatical and unusual raise mandated by a Kansas University administrator in 1982 were attempts to "buy off" anthropology professor Dorothy Willner, whom the university is now trying to fire, a faculty member said Wednesday.

Allan Hanson, professor of anthropology, criticized both moves during testimony as a university witness before the KU Faculty Senate Committee on Tenure and Related Problems. The committee must decide whether there are sufficient grounds for KU to dismiss Willner.

Willner, a tenured faculty member at KU since 1970, was granted paid eave in the spring of 1982 by Deanell Tacha, then vice chancellor for academic affairs. Willner wasn't required to go through the normal approval process required of other faculty, he said.

In addition, Tacha approved a merit salary increase for Willner in 1982 that exceeded the recommendation made by the merit salary review committee in the department, which was charged with examining her teaching, research and public service.

HANSON SAID Tacha's actions were "another case of an attempt at appeasement by the administration. I found it very distasteful." The decisions were an effort "to try to buy her off" and encourage her to be a productive member of the faculty, he said.

After she returned from her research sabbatical to Israel, Willner filed a sex- and race-based employment discrimination and unlawful retaliation lawsuit against seven of her colleagues and five administrators. She lost the suit.

In other testimony Wednesday, a former secretary in the department said she felt intimidated by Willner, because "nothing was ever good enough." Cindy Riling, who worked for the department from 1981 to 1985, is now employed as registrar by the School of Law.

Riling said Willner could be verbally abusive. After Riling was promoted to head secretary in the department, Willner accused her of removing material from her resume.

"SHE SAID I was an abrasive young woman who was corrupted by power," Riling testified.

Although Riling said she was "tired of the verbal abuse and tired of being afraid," she decided against filing a grievance against Willner. There didn't appear to be a mechanism by which a faculty member could be told to "back off," she said.

The third witness to testify Wednesday, anthropology professor James Mielke, said Willner had a "chilling" effect on academic life in the department. Her actions affected the work of every faculty member and caused faculty to waste a tremendous amount of time, he said.

Mielke said he never quite figured out how to deal with Willner and in the past four years tried to limit his contact with her.

"It got to a point that if I saw Willner going to a room I was going to go to, I'd deviate from my path," he said.

Willner is charged by KU with willful failure to carry out academic responsibilities and behavior in the discharge of her duties which violates commonly accepted standards. KU has never before used the hearing process to fire a tenured professor.

The hearing is scheduled to resume Friday afternoon.

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