Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A closer examination of the "accusations" against Professor Safranek

Fumare has posted a complaint that appears to be the main accusation against Professor Stephen Safranek in the proceedings to terminate his employment as a tenured professor at AMSOL. Accompanying the complaint on Fumare is a letter from a fellow concerned faculty member to a member of the AMSOL Board of Governors that shows how Dean Dobranski used a rather tepid and ambiguous "complaint" by a female staff member and by purposeful implication, turned it into an allegation of improper "touching" and sexual harrassment.

I propose that while there are other lesser accusations made by Dean Dobranski against Safranek to try to terminate him, this complaint is what the Dean's whole case rests upon.
Why is this so?

Let's first look at the relevant provisions of the AMSOL faculty handbook. According to the handbook, tenured faculty can only be dismissed for cause. Among the factors listed for "Cause", only two appear to be likely candidates under which Dobranski is seeking termination:

* "Dishonesty, moral dilenquency, or moral turpitude"; AND/OR
* (the catch-all) "Actions otherwise inimical to the best interests of the Law School"

I would argue that the only colorably plausible claim the Dean could make (with real, legitimate evidence) against Safranek would be under the second (catch-all) factor. Under this reasoning, the Dean would claim that Safranek's public statements in the media that questioned the Florida move and the governance of the law school were "inimical to the best interests of the Law School". However, the Dean must have realized that this claim alone was in all likelihood a complete loser.
1) Because a majority of the faculty (11-3) voted no confidence in the Dean, and effectively, in the governance of the school and a majority of the faculty have been on record against the Florida venture (of course, many of these have since left or been fired by the Dean)
2) The alumni board voted no confidence in the Dean, and effectively, in the governance of the school
3) A great number of students and alumni have expressed no confidence in the Dean, the Florida move, and a large amount of faculty, staff, current students, and a majority of alumni have demanded the reinstatement of the three fired professors
4) The first feasibility study of the proposed Florida move strongly recommended against moving the school
5) An ABA investigation into the governance of AMSOL initiated by a formal complaint of AMSOL faculty has found merit in the complaint (and issues with governance of the school) as proven by the rare move to send an investigative team to the law school, and a formal request for more information after the investigative team already visted the school regarding the issue of faculty hiring and retention.
6) Charlie Rice, former founding BOG member, has issued a series of public letters that illustrate serious issues with the Florida move and the governance of the law school
7) The law school, under the Dean and the BOG, went from an objectively Tier 1 quality school to a Tier 4 school in less than 7 years
8) At least two AMSOL BOG members referred to AMSOL as a "failed experiment"
9) Over half of the AMSOL BOG members have left in the past year

What these points show is that, far from acting in a manner inimical to the best interests of the law school, Professor Safranek has joined the chorus of faculty, current students, alumni, former staff, and former board members in questioning the faulty governance of the law school and the serious issues raised with a move of the school to Tom Monaghan's Ave Maria Town.
Given this evidence, could the Dean really make a convincing case that Safranek has gone against the best interests of the law school? The answer is a resounding NO, and brings us to the path Dobranski has decided to take against Safranek (or otherwise known as the "moral turpitude" factor).

Let's first look at the timing of the complaint. This complaint is date Sept. 14, 2006. Why is that significant? Because Safranek first went public in the press with his concerns about the governance of the school and the problems with the move to Florida in August of 2006. Quotes from Safranek appeared in both the Wall Street Journal piece dated August 19, 2006, and in the American Lawyer article which came out in August 2006.
The relevant excerpt from the WSJ story:

The law school faculty, students and alumni disagree. Most of them are unhappy with the process by which the board has undertaken the decision, such as commissioning a second feasibility study when the first one suggested moving was a bad idea. But mostly the students, faculty and alums just don't want the school to go South. They like Ann Arbor, and being surrounded by people of all stripes. One professor, Stephen Safranek, echoed the sentiments of faculty members: "We have a very robust notion of Catholicism and we're out to show its value not only for Catholics, but society in general. Having the law school in Ann Arbor captures what we're all about."

The relevant excerpt from American Lawyer article:

By moving to Florida, the school would risk losing that accreditation, says Ave Maria law professor Stephen Safranek, a critic of the move, who contends that only a small minority of faculty members would be willing to relocate. (ABA accreditation is based in part on the strength of a law school's faculty.) Plus, the new campus will be much farther away from internship and externship opportunities and potential clerkships, say Safranek and other critics.

It is these two excerpts that drove Monaghan and Dobranski to seek to terminate the tenured Safranek. But when read in context there is really nothing extraordinary about them.

So one month after these public statements, the above-reference complaint was procured. As stated at the beginning of the post, referencing the faculty letter to the BOG member, there is not even anything the reeks of moral turpitude in the complaint. So Dobranski had to imply to the BOG that there was really improper "touching" and "sexual harrassment".
Nothing gets a Board's attention like moral turpitude or sexual harrassment (or has the potential to destroy a person's career as quickly as possible).

I know it has been difficult for many, on both sides of the AMSOL dispute, to publicly take a side in the Safranek affair, because no information on the allegations had been disseminated up to this point. But now that this is out, and placed in a proper context here, I call upon those to look at the complaint, the faculty letter, the faculty handbook, and the facts in this post and come to your own conclusion.
If that conclusion is to side against Dean Dobranski, I encourage you to join the fight and sign the petition.