Monday, October 10, 2005

Whatcom Independent, 7 October 2005

WWU Debates Firing Professor Mills
Meeting Closed to Public and Press
By Paul de Armond

BELLLINGHAM - Wednesday, Western Washington University's faculty hearing panel banned the public and all members of the press from a meeting called to debate whether to fire tenured WWU professor Perry Mills. If fired, Mills would not only lose his job, his pension benefits would be severely reduced.

Professor Mills' attorney James Lobsenz contended the Washington State Open Meetings Act and the state constitution promise citizens justice will be done openly.

After the hearing Lobsenz said, "There isn't a gag order. The hearing's procedure is clearly illegal. However, the panel has expressed their wish that the proceedings be private and out of politeness and deference to their feelings I will not say anything about what happens in the room until it is over."

At issue are the charges brought by the university against Professor Mills a year ago. The charges remained secret until last June. Last October, Professor Mills had been barred from campus and suspended with full pay for allegedly brandishing a pocketknife and speaking rudely to students and faculty. Mills contends he was suspended in retaliation for his exposure of what he alleges were financial irregularities in the theatre department.

In July, Professor Mills brought suit in federal court against Provost Andrew Bodman for violating his civil rights and ignoring the employment contract that spelled out the procedure for suspension. That case is currently in federal court in Seattle.

In September the university selected former King County Superior Court Judge Robert Alsdorf as its hearing officer and appointed five faculty members to the panel. "The hearing is not bound by strict legal rules of evidence and the panel may admit any evidence they find probative," Alsdorf said.

Mills' attorney James Lobsenz asked that the hearing be open to the public. "There are levels of authority regarding this hearing. First there is the faculty handbook, then there is state law and finally there is the state constitution," Lobsenz said. "Above the laws of the state is the constitution, which requires that justice be administered openly."

"Why should this hearing be secret?" he asked. "It would be a shame if the community is shut out."

University counsel Wendy Bohlke claimed the faculty senate had already decided the matter when they approved the handbook. She said, "The hearing is not secret. The proceedings are recorded and when the decision becomes final, the record of the decision becomes open." She noted the university already has a policy of closing quasi-judicial hearings by the Board of Trustees and the Associated Students.

Bohlke asked the panel to consider whose issues are at stake. "Witnesses' testimony could result in charges of slander or disparagement if they were open to the public," she said.

Lobsenz said, "The faculty senate cannot override the state constitution."

The panel retired for ten minutes to consider the issue. When the hearing reconvened, Hearing Officer Robert Alsdorf said the panel had decided to keep the hearing private. They then directed all members of the public to leave the hearing room, adding, "And that applies to the reporter present." This reporter was the only member of the public present.

Professor Mark Kuntz and Provost Bodman also left the hearing before it adjourned. It is not known if they left voluntarily or if they also were barred by a later decision of the panel. The hearing continued for another hour and a half, but the proceedings are now secret and as of the Independent's publication deadline no further information is available.

5 comments:

Jack Ketch said...

Heh. Nice shot of the mobster.

Christopher said...

Nick,

I was just alerted to your site by a friend and fellow WWU Theatre alum.

I vaguely recall someone mentioning Perry's situation a year or two ago, but regretably I paid little notice at the time, assuming in my irredeemable naivete that Perry would somehow prevail, as he usually did, by sheer force of will if nothing else. Frankly, It is disturbing to learn this "non-issue" has dragged on for so long without resolution.

Although one always hopes for the best, the pragmatist also prepares for the worst, and so I can only imagine that Perry has stocked his abode with sufficient resources of cigars, yeast packets, hops, and petrol to successfully outlast the hordes of conformist nimrods who no doubt will shortly be assailing the redoubts, with pitchforks and "Academic Rules Of Conduct" in hand, ready to stamp out the last vestige of individual, self-directed consciousness left in that lonely little 'burgh up north.

Best of luck, Mr. Mills - tell 'em for me to, in the words of our venal Vice President, to go "F**k themselves".

Spartacus O'Neal said...

Colorado university trustees tried to get rid of Ward Churchill by claiming he isn't really an Indian.
Maybe Western can try saying Perry Mills isn't an authentic pirate.

Anonymous said...

Mills is a douche. Scumbag just looking to milk some money out of the system.

Howard DeWitt said...

I was a friend and student with Perry Mills. He was two years behind me and he was a great guy. Brilliant. Iconoclastic and very caustic. His mind was first rate and I know he was a great Professor. That said he was devoid of social, critical and people skills. That is why we liked him. He is a man obsessed with image and I had the pleasure of seeing his Kendall Hunt book and it was wonderful. He is and always will be a fresh voice. While he appears nuts, he is simply what every college professor should be, go easy on him. Howard A. DeWitt, Phd, Professor Emeritus Ohlone College now retired in Scottsdale arizona