Stace Hall, KSL, File

Senators call for audit of DSU as ‘concerned faculty’ seek investigation into violation of academic freedom

By Joseph Witham, St. George News | Posted - Sep 21st, 2018 @ 11:00am

ST. GEORGE — Faculty at Dixie State University and a group of Utah state senators are seeking an investigation into the school’s administration in light of the way the university has handled the termination of tenured professors.

On Thursday, a request for a performance audit of DSU to examine compliance with the university’s policies regarding employee termination was submitted by five state senators to the Legislature’s Audit Subcommittee. The request comes just one week after a group of faculty members drafted a letter asking the school’s Faculty Senate to review policies intended to safeguard faculty rights and due process.

The calls for investigation come after two music professors, Glenn Webb and Ken Peterson, were fired for allegedly violating university policy. Both were later reinstated after appealing their termination, but the university would only agree to Peterson’s reinstatement if he signed a “Last Chance Agreement” that would have prevented him from teaching in his specialized field and otherwise restrict his ability to work on campus.

Citing what they call “unreasonable demands,” the senators’ letter says the university is failing to meet its legal and ethical obligation to follow consistent and fair practices in human resources.

The letter posits that the action taken against Peterson appears to be “part of a larger pattern” of punishing school employees who speak out against the leadership of the administration and university President Richard “Biff” Williams and that DSU is hiding behind university policies “in order to punish dissent and undermine academic independence.”

Music professor Glenn Webb addresses supporters after he was fired from his tenured position at Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, March 2, 2018. Photo: Joseph Witham, St. George News

“The principle of academic tenure is of vital importance to the quality and vibrancy of our higher education system,” the letter reads. “Any attack on this academic independence and open debate in order to silence dissent is a dangerous road and one that should be chilling to anyone who values free speech, whether you stand on the political left or the right.”

The senators – Karen Mayne, Gene Davis, Luz Escamilla, Jani Iwamoto and Jim Dabakis – are asking the Audit Subcommittee to determine whether DSU has enacted policies that reflect best practices formulated by, among others, the American Association of University Professors.

Read the full story at St. George News.

Joseph Witham

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