Department elimination spurs more allegations of unfairness

By Melissa Prentice

Arizona Daily Wildcat

In the wake of another round of recommendations to eliminate the journalism, physical education, statistics and nuclear engineering departments, one UA professor said he recalls too clearly when it happened to his program.

Michael Rieber, mineral economics professor, said he was treated unfairly by the university during the process of eliminating the mineral economics program and said he plans to hold various administrators responsible.

Armed with hundreds of documents during the last of a series of hearings Tuesday, Rieber made claims of unfairness and discrimination against Paul Sypherd, provost, and Ben Sternberg, head of the Mining and Geological Engineering Department. Ernest Smerdon, dean of the College of Engineering, and Jack Cole, former provost, addressed Rieber's allegations in previous hearings. The hearings are a prelimi mid

nary step in filing a lawsuit against the university.

Rieber said that Sypherd did not follow proper procedures when disassembling the mineral economics program and unfairly failed to consider alternatives proposed by the professors. The mineral economics professors had proposed a transfer to the office of Arid Land Studies, which was not approved by Sypherd.

"When all the alternative possibilities were cancelled and we have no place to go, we are going out of the university," Rieber said.

However, Sypherd said he "fails to understand the anger" expressed by Rieber because all three of the mineral economics professors still work at the university.

"(He) and his colleagues still have jobs, in good departments, in good colleges," he said. "He is able to publish, able to consult and his salary has increased, not decreased."

Rieber works in the economics departments as well as advising the remaining mineral economics graduate students.

Sypherd said he did not approve the transfer because the professors involved focused on teaching, while the office of Arid Land Studies was a "research unit."

"The professors are in three separate departments that are more appropriate to their backgrounds and publishing and I thought it was a better fit (than the Arid Land Studies office)," he said.

Also, Sypherd said he believes the offer was rescinded by the office. However, Rieber maintains that this never happened and criticized Sypherd for failing to produce the "missing document."

Regarding the accusation that he failed to follow correct procedures, Sypherd said this is impossible since "(Arizona Board of) Regents policy does not apply to dissolving units smaller than departments."

The administrators involved in dissolving the department "tried to do something logical" and followed the regents' rules that applied to dissolving departments, Sypherd said. He said these procedures were only abandoned when he "thought we had found a suitable alternative transferring the professors to other departments.

"Every effort was made to accomplish elimination of the department without release of faculty," he said.

Sypherd said he believes that Rieber's accusations are unfounded.

"(Rieber) came here with fragments of conversations from hundreds of documents, most are trivial, just spitting things out to see if anything sticks," he said.

Rieber alleged that Sternberg defamed the program in a "warning letter" to mineral economics students and discriminated against the students, who fall under his department, in regard to tuition, fee waivers and computer usage.

Rieber said that by referring to the program as "weak, low demand and unnecessary" in the letter, the program would lose prospective students.

Although Sternberg said he agreed that sending the letters may hurt the program, he said both he and his supervisors believed that it was necessary to warn the students.

The wording of the letter came directly from the elimination proposal and was submitted to faculty for suggested changes, Sternberg said. However, the only input he received in response was that no warning letter should be sent, he said.

Regarding alleged discrimination in distributing tuition waivers, Rieber said in both 1989-90 and 1990-91, mineral economics students received a large percentage of available waivers. In the first year, mineral economics students received 66 percent of the tuition waivers although they only represented 38 percent of the department. The next year, the students, who represented 41 percent of the department, received 61 percent of the waivers.

Computers that are purchased with grant money to be used on research projects are only used by the students working on those projects during the duration of the project, Sternberg said. The mineral economics students are welcome to, and often do, use the other computers, he said.

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