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UCR Franklin Fellow Gets Rousing Welcome in Washington

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Only tenured Black business professor in the UC system saw a sabbatical rescinded

In July when University of California Riverside professor, Dr. Waymond Rodgers stepped into the U.S. State Department’s Washington offices marking the long awaited start of his Franklin Fellowship, there were cheers, applause, high-fives and hugs. For Rodgers, the moment was the high mark of an emotional ride that began more than two years ago when he won the coveted honor.

The welcome was in sharp contrast to the cold shoulder send off he received from UCR in June, months after reaching an accord in a contentious disciplinary scuffle with the university. Rodgers, an accounting professor at the UCR School of Business Administration, is the only tenured African-American business professor in the UC system and according to the State Department website the acclaimed scholar is the first Franklin Fellow from a California school. The State Department sponsors the fellowship, which encourages work between academia, business and government.

It was Rodgers' world class research at UCR and his international reputation on matters of corporate social responsibility, and ethical decision making principles that caught the eye of the U.S. State Department which awarded him the prestigious Franklin Fellowship in August, 2010.

In the spring of 2011 without explanation UCR abruptly revoked Rodgers’ approved sabbatical prohibiting him from taking the fellowship which holds national and international benefits for the recipient and sponsoring organization. Nine months later University of California lawyers launched hearings on charges that Rodgers was inadequate in the classroom (based largely on student evaluations) and performed unauthorized work outside the university. The allegations put Rodgers’ 20-year often tumultuous career at UCR on hold and threatened to derail his fellowship. Things changed rapidly after the case touched off a firestorm in the region’s African American community. The Riverside Clergy Association called the charges against Rodgers’, who won a discrimination lawsuit against the university in 1998, “retaliatory” and “racially-mot ivated”. The group formed a united front in support of Rodgers, intent on sending a strong message to the University of California system and all systems that injustice is intolerable. In mid December, 2011, the university dropped its investigation of Rodgers and restored his rescinded sabbatical, allowing him to take the Franklin Fellowship. Rodgers was at the center of a tenure and compensation battle when he came to UCR in 1992. A year later he sued the UC System for race discrimination in federal court. The UCR School of Business Administration has seen its share of conflict. In August 2011 David W. Stewart abruptly stepped down as dean of the school, at least in part because of infighting within the faculty. State Department officials watched the fray from the sidelines, calling UCR’s action’s “surprising” and “unprecedented” at the Franklin Fellowship Program. August, 2010, State Department Senior Advisor for Fellows, Joanne M. Martin, Franklin Fellows Program wrote: "Dr. Rodgers' leadership and expertise are essential to getting an important initiative off the ground. We look forward to him joining Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's team."

The university maintained its move allowing Rodgers a sabbatical had nothing to do with government or public pressure. Citing personnel confidentiality, Rodgers and UCR officials declined to discuss the case.

Clergy members said that while their group doesn’t specifically seek out causes to rally behind, they took up Dr. Rodgers’ case because it was a blatant example of injustice that couldn’t be ignored. Rodgers, a certified public accountant has written five textbooks including his new book Ethical Beginnings: Preferences, Rules, and Principles Influencing Decision Making. He has published numerous papers in scholarly journals, lectured extensively worldwide and is known for his cutting- edge research in ethics, trust issues, intellectual capital, and knowledge management.

“This is a great loss for UCR the entire UC system and the Riverside community,” said Silvia Martin- James chairperson of the Dr. Barnett and Eleanor Jean Grier Concerned Citizens of UCR. “In this period of global uncertainty, the need for ethics in society is such an important factor. The rare opportunity to partner with the State Department on such issues of vital importance to the Uni ted States has been squandered,” said Martin-James.

“Someone once said by ‘perseverance the snail reached the Ark’,” said Riverside Clergy Association president Rev. Paul Munford, recalling Rodger’s obstructed road to Washington.

“This case raises serious questions about UCR’s commitment to justice and equal opportunity,” said UCR Librarian Ruth Jackson. “We’ve not only missed a high profile opportunity to walk the talk on diversity, but it sends the wrong message to prospective corporate and academic partners and undermines our ability to attract research grants and monies for other noteworthy faculty and students,” said Jackson Uncustomary to UCR’s policy of publically announcing distinguished faculty, staff and student achievements, the university to date has made no announcement of the Franklin Fellowship awarded to Dr. Rodgers.

Ironically in July the UCR School of Business Administration issued a media release announcing the hiring of five faculty members who will start this fall. (None of whom are African American). “We are thrilled to welcome a high caliber group of faculty members to the UCR business school family,” said Yunzeng Wang, interim dean of the business school. “These five individuals come with impressive backgrounds and bring great promise. I am excited about the impact that their teaching and research contributions will undoubtedly make.”

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