College of Charleston faculty leaders condemn tenure decision

Deborah McGee

College of Charleston faculty leaders turned their outrage to action and approved a resolution condemning 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 50-member Faculty Senate at a special called meeting Tuesday approved the resolution by a voice vote. The overwhelming majority of members voted to support the resolution with apparently only one voicing opposition.

The resolution states that the step Benson took undermined the integrity of the tenure and promotion process. It urges him to refrain from circumventing the process in the future. But if a diversion from standard procedures is required, the resolution urges the president to seek advice from appropriate faculty leaders before taking action.

Tenure essentially guarantees a senior academic's contractual right not to have his or her position terminated without just cause. Most faculty members believe a solid tenure and promotion process is essential to a quality academic institution.

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.

Phillips and other faculty members questioned whether it was wise for Benson to intervene in the process, even though he has the final say on who is approved for tenure.

Claire Curtis, a political science professor, called Benson's move "an unorthodox insertion of the president's power."

She also said his recent action indicates he "doesn't care about the appearance of impropriety."

She was referring to Deborah McGee's case. Deborah McGee is married to Brian McGee, Benson's chief of staff. Brian McGee was the chairman of the college's Department of Communication until Benson created the chief of staff position last June and gave him the job. The new job bumped up Brian McGee's salary from $98,407 to $125,000.

Benson previously said that he reversed his earlier decision to deny Deborah McGee's tenure because he received new information in the grievance process.

He could not attend the meeting because he was meeting with Gov. Nikki Haley and other higher-education leaders in Columbia. But he wrote a letter to faculty members which was distributed at the meeting.

In that letter, he first stated that conferral of tenure is his responsibility and he has not acted outside proper procedures.

But, he stated in the letter, he understands that some faculty members would prefer that in the future he not intervene before a grievance process is complete. He said he plans "to adopt that course of action in the future."

Deborah McGee attended the meeting and encouraged Faculty Senate members to support the resolution.

She said was careful to be as transparent as possible through the entire tenure process because she knew her husband working in the president's office would draw scrutiny and concerns about a conflict of interest.

She was prepared to go through the grievance process, and thinks she would have prevailed.

Philosophy professor Larry Krasnoff said actions such as those Benson took in McGee's tenure case place a professor's tenure under "a tainted cloud."

If the president must exert his power, Krasnoff said, he should do so "cautiously, judiciously, and after all procedures have been followed."

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