Archive for Tuesday, October 24, 1989

FACULTY TESTIFY AGAINST WILLNER

October 24, 1989

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Two Kansas University anthropology professors testified Monday that for years the teaching staff in their department operated under a siege imposed by their colleague, Dorothy Willner.

The professors, Alfred Johnson and Michael Crawford, both testified during an ongoing hearing to determine whether the university has sufficient cause to dismiss Willner, a tenured professor who has been on the KU faculty since 1966.

During five hours of testimony Monday, Johnson and Crawford said that they and other members of the anthropology department were consistently threatened with lawsuits by Willner, often over things they considered trivial. Willner unsuccessfully sued the university in 1982, claiming sex discrimination and other violations of her civil rights.

Willner is challenging KU's claim that she should be fired for failing to carry out her academic duties and for violating professional ethics.

BOTH JOHNSON, who was chairman of the anthropology department from 1983 to 1986, and Crawford, who has been with the department since 1971, said they had participated in the process that led to the hearing.

Both said they wrote negative reports about Willner when former department chairman Robert Squier asked for their comments in April 1988.

Squier testified previously that he had been asked by Del Brinkman, vice chancellor for academic affairs, to compile a list of complaints about Willner. Testimony has indicated that after receiving information from Brinkman, Chancellor Gene Budig suspended Willner with pay from the faculty in August 1988.

Under questioning from Rose Marino, associate general counsel, Crawford said Willner did not fulfill any of the three duties of every professor: to teach, do research and offer service.

CRAWFORD SAID Willner did very little advising of students and had produced few research papers. He also said he had heard from students that her teaching was confusing.

"She lapses into soliloquies on various theories on her philosophy of life," Crawford said. "Students are often confused.

"One student told me he had to get up and dance; he didn't know what to make of it."

Crawford, who was himself involved in legal action against two research assistants and a fellow professor at KU in 1984, also said Willner often threatened lawsuits.

JOHNSON, WHO also is director of the anthropology museum at KU, said that when he was elected chairman of the department his goal was to develop a working relationship with Willner. But Johnson said his attempt failed from the outset.

The first thing Johnson said he did as chairman was to call a departmental meeting to try to work things out. But he said Willner demanded that she be able to tape record the meeting or have a court reporter present.

"Every attempt I made to solve the problem became a major hassle," Johnson said. "It came to the point where it was obviously impossible to work with her or interact with her.''

UNDER QUESTIONING from Marino, Johnson said the effect Willner had on the faculty hindered their ability to recruit students.

"The constant strife created a situation where many students wouldn't think of coming here," he said.

Under questioning from Donald Koster, Willner's adviser for the hearing, Johnson said he believed the problems that anthropology department professors began having with Willner started when the department hired Associate Professor Don Stull.

Johnson said everyone in the department wanted to hire Stull, who had been a visiting faculty member in the department, except Willner, who raised affirmative action issues. He noted, however, that the university's affirmative action office approved the hiring.

Johnson, who supported Stull's hiring, said that Willner stopped speaking to him after the hiring.

Koster also asked Johnson about the impact Crawford's lawsuit had on the department, and Johnson said it had a disruptive effect.

"But it was not a situation where an individual threatens the rest of the department over a long period of years," he said.

Koster will continue questioning Johnson Wednesday afternoon. However, before Johnson resumes his testimony, Brinkman will be called to testify, Marino said.

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