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Committee says no rights violated in Cal Poly agribusiness grievance 

A former chair of the Cal Poly Agribusiness Department, who alleged in a grievance that school administrators violated faculty members’ rights during a contentious department chair selection process last year, was unable to sway a faculty panel in a hearing on May 23.

The four-person committee unanimously concluded in a June 6 decision that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Professor Wayne Howard’s rights and Agribusiness Department policies were violated. At the same time, the committee characterized the administration’s behavior in the matter as “inconsistent with the spirit of shared governance.”

The conflict dates back to last spring, when the Cal Poly administration rejected the department’s internal choice for a new chair without an interview, appointed an external faculty member as chair, and in the process, aimed to shake up the department’s leadership structure.

Cal Poly Provost Kathleen Enz Finken; Dean of the College of Ag, Food, and Environmental Sciences Andrew Thulin; and current chair Cyrus Ramezani provided testimony at the hearing that the Agribusiness Department previously lacked cohesion, was a stressful environment for junior faculty members, and was being financially mismanaged, which supposedly necessitated the changes that took place.

In the end, the faculty committee ruled that department leaders are “ultimately appointed by and serve at the discretion of the president as well as the provost and dean.”

“While unusual, the administration’s rejection of the Agribusiness Department’s recommended candidate does not appear to violate any of the department’s policies and procedures, the CBA, or the Campus Administrative Manual,” the committee stated.

Yet, the committee criticized the Cal Poly administration for failing to effectively communicate, consult, and engage in “real listening” with faculty members in the department. The committee urged administrators to abide by shared governance or risk the university “devolving into a more inhospitable environment for faculty.”

“Because the implications of this grievance could stretch beyond the Agribusiness Department, we urge the administration to follow [shared governance] when considering departmental and college governance,” the committee concluded.

The committee also noted that department policies can only go so far in their authority, and therefore, “it is incumbent on deans, provosts, and presidents to help ensure that shared governance is followed.”

Howard, the grievant, told New Times following the decision that he concurred with the sentiment expressed in the decision’s conclusion.

“It’s a troubling precedent [set by the administration],” Howard said. “The last paragraph I think is quite telling.”

Cal Poly sent a statement to New Times in response to the decision.

“University administration respects the decision rendered by the faculty committee,” said Haley Marconett, Cal Poly director of communications.

When asked by New Times what, if anything, could be learned from the schism, Cal Poly declined to comment further.

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