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Regents fire Catangui for the second time

Posted: Thursday, Aug 26th, 2010

A South Dakota State University professor who was fired in a dispute with his department head has been fired for the second time – and the American Association of University Professors wants to know why the state Board of Regents and the university aren’t following procedure.

Former Extension entomologist Mike Catangui lost his job in June, partly as the result of a disagreement with Plant Science Department head Sue Blodgett.

Although he was notified that he was terminated June 21 “for cause,” Catangui, a tenured professor, was not given a faculty hearing, which is established protocol in dismissals of this type.

When the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) wrote a letter of complaint to the university, Catangui was reinstated pending a hearing on the matter.

The insect specialist got his peer review early this month – closed to the public – after which the Board of Regents apparently overruled his temporary reinstatement and fired him again. He was officially terminated Aug. 14.

The problem with that, according to the AAUP, is that the faculty committee that heard the Catangui case isn’t scheduled to deliver its report until Aug. 30.

“Since the hearing committee has not yet issued its report,” wrote AAUP’s Gregory Scholtz in a letter to SDSU President David Chicoine, “we urge that Professor Catangui be continued on faculty status with receipt of salary pending the hearing committee’s report and any resulting board action.”

Scholtz is the director of AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance.

In his letter, the AAUP executive also chided the SDSU president for not responding to the organization’s original statement of concern.

“We have yet to receive your response to our letter of July 8 …” Scholtz wrote. “… And we still look forward to receiving your response to the concerns we have registered.”

Although several job-performance matters were listed in Catangui’s dismissal, perhaps the most critical was his refusal to support regional soybean aphid spraying recommendations. His own research for South Dakota growers did not support the recommended timing and quantities of those pesticide applications, he said, and he couldn’t in good conscience advise his constituents to do something he knew to be wrong or at least ineffective.

That made his firing not merely a procedural issue but one of academic integrity and freedom of speech. It also raised questions about the protections afforded by tenure.

AAUP members voted in 1962 to censure the South Dakota Board of Regents for the 1958 dismissal of an agronomy professor who had served 15 years at SDSU. Censure was not lifted until 1991 when the regents adopted policies on tenure and dismissal in agreement with the Council of Higher Education, the union representing university faculty.

Censure by the AAUP could diminish a university’s status and could affect hiring.

Neither the university nor the Board of Regents can comment on the specifics of Catangui’s case because it is a personnel matter. Catangui has chosen not to speak publicly on the details of his dismissal.

Contact Ken Curley at kcurley@brookingsregister.com.

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