College of Charleston faculty leaders are outraged over President George Benson's decision to overturn a tenure denial for a communication professor who is married to his chief of staff.
The college's Faculty Senate, made up of 50 elected faculty representatives, has called a special meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday to vote on a resolution that states that the steps Benson has taken have undermined the integrity of the tenure and promotion process. The resolution urges Benson and Provost George Hynd to "take every step necessary" to work with faculty to secure that process.
Tenure essentially guarantees a senior academic's contractual right not to have his or her position terminated without just cause.
Simon Lewis, president of the college's chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said "the tenure and promotion process really is the most important single thing as far as faculty is concerned." It should be "water-tight," he said.
Faculty Senate President Darryl Phillips said that Benson acted within his authority when he reversed an earlier decision by a faculty advisory committee to deny tenure for Deborah McGee. Benson had signed off on that decision, Phillips said, but he reversed the decision before McGee had completed the official grievance process. "It was an extraordinary action outside established procedures," Phillips said.
Deborah McGee is married to Brian McGee, Benson's chief of staff. Brian McGee was the chair of the college's Department of Communication until Benson created the chief of staff position last June and gave McGee the job. The new job bumped up Brian McGee's salary from $98,407 to $125,000.
"Just because the president has the power to do something doesn't mean he should do it," Phillips said, "especially in a case where there is a perceived conflict of interest."
In such cases, Phillips said, "we all ought to follow procedures with extra care."
Benson said he legally can't comment on a particular employee. But, he said, he did recently reverse a tenure decision after receiving new information on the situation in the early stages of the grievance process.
Making tenure decisions is part of his job, he said, and he made his recent decision based on new evidence. "I was perfectly justified in doing what I did," he said. "The process was followed to the letter."
Benson said he understands how the recent situation could appear to be a conflict of interest. But, he said, it would appear to be conflict of interest no matter when he made his decision. "I don't think I could avoid that appearance," he said.
He said he doesn't know if he will reverse any other tenure decisions this year because the process isn't yet complete.
Benson also said that he plans to meet with faculty leaders to discuss the matter. "We'll work this out," he said. "This is the way of doing business in the academy."
Deborah McGee said she has read the Faculty Senate's resolution and talked with the presidents of the Faculty Senate and the college's chapter of the American Association of University Professors. She has been transparent through this process, she said, and plans to attend the meeting this afternoon in case anybody has questions.
The letter she received from Benson after he decided to grant her tenure stated that he was doing so based on his review of her tenure packet, consideration of the recommendations he had received, and review of the new facts contained in her letter of appeal, she said.
"I have shared my notice of grievance with the past chair of the Faculty Senate and my AAUP representative, along with other faculty who have asked," she said. "All have found the grievance significant and persuasive."
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491.