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UCR, Professor Rodgers Reach Accord

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Black community galvanized after sabbatical for fellowship was rescinded

By Chris Levister –

The contentious fight between UC Riverside and business professor Waymond Rodgers that raised the ire of the African American community is over.

Although specifics will remain confidential, sources familiar with the deal say the university has agreed to drop its investigation of Professor Rodgers and restore his rescinded sabbatical, allowing him to take the U.S. State Department sponsored Franklin Fellowship.

Reached by phone, Mr. Rodgers would not comment on the settlement saying, "I believe all parties came to an amicable agreement."

At press time UCR officials had not confirmed or discussed the agreement.

Campus spokeswoman Kris Lovekin said the university is following standard procedures and that personnel matters are confidential.

Rodgers, a professor of accounting and business management at UCR since 1992 is the only tenured Black business professor in the UC system and the first professor at UCR to receive the Franklin Fellowship.

According to Rodgers, he was named to the program in August 2010, and before his Washington D.C. based assignment was to begin, UCR rescinded its agreement with the U.S. State Department, without specifying why and subsequently revoked his sabbatical.

A UC disciplinary committee, was investigating the professor’s part-time research work at several international institutions without authorization and his alleged poor classroom performance based on student reviews. A disciplinary hearing scheduled to start December 13 was cancelled.

The university defended its case against Rodgers. Spokeswoman Lovekin said in an email, Rodgers filed a grievance with the Privilege & Tenure Committee regarding the rescission of his sabbatical leave and denial of other leave requests.

"Last June, this Academic Senate committee comprised of six professors and no representatives from the UCR administration - found that Professor Rodgers' grievance lacked merit," wrote Lovekin.

The case has angered and galvanized many in the African American community.

Last Thursday a group of community leaders held a news conference outside the university's administration building to complain about what they describe as a "disturbing pattern of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation" against Rodgers.

"We're here to get answers," said Rev. Paul S. Munford, president of the Riverside Clergy Association. The group sent a letter dated November 28, 2011 to UC President Mark G. Yudof claiming Rodgers has been treated unfairly at UCR.

"The circumstances surrounding the denial of Professor Rodgers' sabbatical and subsequent disciplinary hearing on charges of being a bad teacher is quite extraordinary," said Munford.

Community leaders also complained that Chancellor Timothy White has not responded to requests to meet with them and provide more details on the university's decision to single out the UC system's only tenured African American business professor.

"It is puzzling and disturbing that Chancellor White who enjoys considerable popularity among UCR faculty, staff, students and the wider Inland community has chosen to remain silent on this issue," said Rev. Levonzo Gray.

"It is not our intent to become involved in the university's evaluation policies, however, we want to be assured that Dr. Rodgers' 'instruction' is being evaluated in a manner consistent with other professors at the university with a similar profile," he said.

Even as a resolution between UCR officials and Rodgers makes its way to the Chancellor for signing, the case has generated more questions than answers.

"How can this be happening?" said James Whiting, of the J.W. Vines Medical Society which supports UCR's vision for a new medical school and helps African American students gain access to its medical programs.

In 2002 the organization wrote to then UC president Richard Atkinson expressing concern about a federal complaint filed by Rodgers alleging he was denied a promotion because of his race.

In the late 1990s Rodgers won a U.S. Labor Department discrimination suit against the University of California after an investigation concluded he "had been subjected to discrimination on account of his race and retaliation in the denial of merit raises, harassment and job assignments."

"Here we've got a full professor with outstanding credentials, who has written 5 textbooks, who is known for his world class research and last fall won a Franklin Fellowship, being paraded through a closed disciplinary hearing on charges of being a bad teacher. It just does not make sense," said Whiting.

"UC launched this disciplinary case against Dr. Rodgers even as the system struggles with unprecedented budget cuts, and soaring tuition. To use the people's money in such a capricious and harmful manner is troubling and deserves closer scrutiny," said Rev. Ralph Rivers.

Rev. Larry Campbell urged UC officials to work to change the disparity of African American and Hispanic tenured professors at UCR where Blacks represents 3.5% of 708 ladder rank faculty and there is no tenured Black faculty in the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.

"Instead of celebrating Dr. Rodgers' achievement, it appears that some individuals on this campus would rather diminish and undermine his work," said Campbell.

"Let's say no to the status quo."

Other leaders like Sylvia Martin-James, president of the Concerned Citizens of UCR questioned the university's justification for approving legal costs to defend its case against Rodgers.

"Who is footing the bill for the San Diego law firm retained by the Regents? How does UCR hold itself up to be one of the most diverse and inclusive universities in the nation justify this action against one of its own who happens to be the only tenured African American business professor in the entire UC system."

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