In court, former KU professor alleges policy violations led to her termination

photo by: Chris Conde

Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus is shown on Sept. 13, 2018.

A former tenure track professor at the University of Kansas claimed during a hearing Tuesday that violations of faculty evaluation policy and procedures led to her being terminated.

A lawyer for the university, however, argued that her allegations of policy violations were “harmless errors, if that,” and rather that she was terminated because her research progress was insufficient.

Catherine Joritz, a former professor in KU’s Department of Film and Media Studies, has filed lawsuits against the university both in federal court and state court. Douglas County District Court Judge James McCabria heard her arguments during a bench trial Tuesday.

Joritz used a timeline in Powerpoint slides to present her case. She said that mistakes and violations of policy carried from an initial faculty evaluation on up through a tiered process, resulting in her eventual termination.

For instance, Joritz said an early evaluation inaccurately stated that a department committee thought she was not on track with her research. She said the committee had the opportunity to raise such a concern if it had one; instead, the evaluation said her work, once completed, would contribute to her reputation and to the department’s.

She also said she had not been allowed to see a letter from a supervisor recommending to the dean that she be terminated — in fact, she said she didn’t even know the letter existed until far later into the process. When she finally did see the letter, she said, it contained misstatements about her research and false allegations about her behavior.

In addition, Joritz said she believed KU administrators did not take into account the research she had in progress or various awards and accolades she had received, including a Hall Center for the Humanities fellowship. She said she did not have adequate time to appeal the provost’s recommendation of termination and that she couldn’t have filed a complete appeal within the two weeks allotted because she was not given documents she needed to do so.

Attorney Derek Teeter, representing KU, said that even without taking the supervisor’s letter into consideration, the chancellor had made a ruling to terminate Joritz based on insufficient research progress.

Teeter argued that the department committee had said that if Joritz completed several projects she had in the works, then she would be demonstrating sufficient progress to remain on tenure track.

Part of the requirements for that track include having sufficient research and projects completed and peer-reviewed at least one year prior to tenure review; he said Joritz didn’t expect a book to be completed for a few years, which would have been beyond that deadline, nor would she have completed another short film project within that timeframe.

Teeter said for tenure track professors, a “creative monograph” of research is required — “not just some short films and some short papers.”

Joritz said she would like to be reinstated to have a chance as a professor for a few more years. She told the judge that if he rules in KU’s favor, he would be giving the university “a free pass to destroy every faculty member.” She said she didn’t want the university to be sent the message that “it can do what it wants at every turn.”

McCabria said he would issue a ruling on the suit on or before Nov. 18.

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