A Kansas University mechanical engineering professor is asking a Douglas County District Court judge to overturn the university’s decision to deny him tenure.
According to court documents, Albert Romkes alleges that, though two university committees recommended to approve his tenure application, the university denied his application after several appeals that eventually reached the chancellor’s desk.
Because of the court filing, many of the documents relating to the tenure application have become public record, a rarity in tenure review cases.
A website, kualumni4romkes.org, has been created in support of Romkes’ tenure application, containing several arguments and documents in support of his position.
The site states that Romkes was the only openly gay professor in the school. Romkes said — as far as he knew — he was one of the first openly gay faculty members in the school. He added that while he had never experienced open acts of discrimination while working at the school, he felt he couldn’t rule out the fact that he was gay was used against him in the tenure process.
“I can’t exclude it,” he said.
A KU spokeswoman responded to the filing in a written statement.
“As is clear from Assistant Professor Romkes’ court filings, the department chair, dean, University Promotion & Tenure Committee and provost all recommended against tenure because his research record did not meet the university’s standard,” said Jill Jess, the spokeswoman. “There are no allegations of discrimination in Romkes’ court filings because the university does not discriminate.”
Two promotion and review committees —one at the department level and another at the school level — did, however, recommend he be approved for tenure.
In a letter denying his tenure application, KU School of Engineering Dean Stuart Bell wrote that Romkes had developed a “very good” instructional record and had met requirements relating to service for an assistant professor, and he was seen as “a valued member of the department and school.”
“However, there is the lack of clear evidence in Dr. Romkes’ record for establishing a sustainable independent research program,” Bell wrote. “Demonstrating sustainability and independence are paramount in the award of tenure as it speaks to long-term viability.”
Bell — and others — cited Romkes had not served as a principal investigator on an externally funded grant as a reason for his tenure denial.
But Romkes said he was never informed he would be evaluated using that criterion, and the rule was never approved by the university’s standards and procedures of promotion and tenure committee.
The tenure review file also includes several letters from external reviewers who supported Romkes’ tenure application.
In the court case, both sides are preparing briefs to be submitted to Chief Judge Robert Fairchild, who will use them to make a ruling. Oral arguments could be scheduled if Fairchild determines they would assist him in making a decision.