Professor sues University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Professor sues University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

January 22nd, 2009 by Joan Garrett McClane in Local Regional News

A UTC professor has sued the university, claiming he was demoted because he voiced concerns about a female professor who he said lied about her academic records and behaved unprofessionally.

Dr. Bill Harman, who came to UTC in 2001 to serve as head of the philosophy and religion department, was removed from his position as department head in June 2008, taking a 12 percent pay cut, after opposing the tenure promotion of Dr. Talia Welsh, who had worked in the religion and philosophy department since 2001.

He is suing to get his position as department head back.

According to the lawsuit, Dean of Arts and Sciences Herbert Burhenn told Dr. Harman to remove negative information from Dr. Welsh's academic evaluations. Dr. Harman was demoted when he wouldn't be silent about concerns he had about Dr. Welsh's academic performance, the lawsuit states.

"Around the time when the UT system is eliminating 700 positions, UTC gave a life-time job to someone who falsified her credentials," Dr. Harman said this week. "The person who committed the fraud got promoted with a raise in salary; the person who pointed out the fraud was demoted and lost salary."

According to UTC's response to the lawsuit, UTC officials deny Dr. Harman's claim that he was demoted because he spoke out against Dr. Walsh's tenure promotion. However, the university filing admits that Dr. Burhenn asked Dr. Harman to resign after he received an e-mail from the professor saying he "cannot any longer obey orders to cover up professional malfeasance on the part of any member of this department."

UTC officials said they did not have knowledge or sufficient information to determine whether Dr. Welsh misrepresented her academic publications. Although, administrators did convene a committee to investigate the matter.

Dr. Welsh, who is currently a UC Foundation Associate Professor, said she did not want to comment on the lawsuit.

After researching Dr. Welsh's application for tenure, Dr. Harman said he found 16 different instances where she had lied about publishing research. In her application to work at UTC in 2001, Dr. Welsh listed several "forthcoming" publications, some of which are still unpublished eight years later, Dr. Harman said.

Her resume in 2001 said a book to be published by Humanity Books was forthcoming. Yet, her current bio on the UTC Web site said the same book is still forthcoming, except it lists a different publisher, Northwestern University Press.

Officials with Northwestern University Press could not be reached for comment. However, academic officials have said they have seen documentation proving a contract between Dr. Welsh and Northwestern, according to a report by a committee convened to investigate the matter.

Dr. Harman said he documented his correspondence with publishers and Dr. Welsh's academic reviews and applications and provided a more than 200-page report to Dr. Burhenn and other administrators when Dr. Welsh was being considered for tenure.

In addition to his concerns about academic misconduct, the lawsuit states that Dr. Harman opposed Dr. Welsh receiving tenure because of unprofessional conduct, including a relationship with a student.

"This was, in part, because of her repeated and unannounced absences from the classroom and because she defied his advice when she conducted an extramarital affair with an undergraduate student of the university who was taking courses in the philosophy and religion department," the lawsuit read.

In response to the lawsuit, UTC said it doesn't have knowledge or enough information to form a belief about the allegations of classroom absences or an affair between Dr. Welsh and her student.

Dr. Burhenn, who has worked at UTC for nearly 40 years, said he did not receive documentation from Dr. Harman. He said he did nothing out-of-line when he demoted Dr. Harman, and said the demotion "was related to a long series of difficult relations with colleagues."

UTC Provost Phil Oldham convened a committee last January to review the accusation of misconduct in Dr. Walsh's research.

The committee determined that sufficient grounds did not exist for further investigation into the allegation of her misconduct in regards to her research. However, the committee did not disagree that some of Dr. Welsh's claims of publications were false.

"Although some of Dr. Welsh's explanations are not overwhelmingly convincing, it is clear that she did not receive the guidance and direction from senior colleagues at a time and in a manner that may have prevented this situation," read the committee's report. "It is our belief that the inaccuracies in documentation of scholarly activities by Dr. Welsh are the result of poor guidance, naiveté and honest error or honor differences in interpretations or judgments of data."

The committee report said Dr. Welsh, who received her doctorate from State University of New York, did not know how to cite her work because she worked on part of her doctorate in Germany.

She told the committee that she was never told there was a problem with listing a publication as forthcoming when there was no commitment from a publisher. She also said she was not taught at UTC to know better, according to the committee report.

However, almost all academics who graduate from accredited programs know how to properly cite publication and understand that listing a publication as forthcoming means you have a formal contact with a publisher, said Pedro Campa, faculty senate president at UTC.

Dr. Campa said he is not familiar with all the specifics of Dr. Harman's lawsuit but said Dr. Harman's concerns could have been addressed internally. In his 40 years at the university, Dr. Campa said he has not seen these types of allegations brought against a faculty member.

Dr. Burhenn voted to grant Dr. Welsh tenure and said there is nothing he can do in regards to accusations of misconduct because the committee has made its decision.

"The questions bypassed me," he said.