Conservative Con Law teaching, part III
s-gerber at onu.edu
Thu Nov 18 07:21:55 PST 2004
I thought the attached might be of interest.
Ohio Northern University
Natelson-Law School Debate Churns On
By BETSY COHEN of the Missoulian
November 16, 2004
The Montana Commissioner of Higher Education has been asked to step in and
resolve matters regarding the spring teaching appointment of University of
Montana law professor Rob Natelson.
Natelson's attorney, Gregg Smith, filed the appeal recently asking the
commissioner to clarify the university's Aug. 25 decision to allow Natelson
to teach constitutional law, starting spring semester 2005.
Specifically, Smith is seeking a clearer understanding of how long UM will
allow Natelson to teach the course in the future. The question arose after
Smith read a series of October letters exchanged between Law School faculty
and UM President George Dennison.
In reading Dennison's response to faculty concerns about the law course,
Smith believed Dennison revealed changes to his original decision which
weakened support of Natelson.
Dennison, however, said he has not changed his decision about the matter.
"Professor Natelson and his attorney can make an appeal if they choose,"
Dennison said. "But I haven't I changed anything."
The appeal is the latest development evolving from a summer grievance
Natelson filed against his employer. The matter was heard in a 15-hour,
two-day hearing in which Natelson, a tenured law professor who has twice
run as a Republican for governor and led ballot-issue campaigns to limit
taxes, claimed he was unfairly denied the opportunity to teach
constitutional law because of his personal politics.
After reviewing the hearing officer's recommendations, Dennison handed down
the final decision in favor of Natelson.
Although Dennison did not decide on Natelson's political discrimination
charges, he agreed the Law School gave preference in the past to a few
faculty members seeking internal transfers, and created a practice which
the hearing officer described as "collegial preference."
Natelson was treated unfairly, Dennison said, when at the same time he
asked to teach constitutional law, the school's Faculty Appointments
Committee and law faculty at large voted to adopt a written policy to
conduct a national search to fill all vacancies.
Dennison determined that Natelson would be allowed to teach constitutional
law spring semester 2005. Dennison also determined that the faculty's new
national search policy would not be applied to Natelson, but that an
independent evaluation committee would be assembled to review Natelson's
teaching performance during the course and determine if Natelson should
teach the course on a permanent basis.
At the time Dennison made his decision, Natelson and Smith were satisfied
with the outcome and believed the course of action was clear and the matter
However, as fall semester rolled on, Law School faculty members were
concerned by the outcome of Natelson's grievance. They believed Dennison's
resolution bypassed the school's tradition of faculty governance in
deciding how to best use a vacated or new faculty line.
Law faculty expressed their concern in a letter to Dennison, in which 12
full-time professors signed.
Nothing in the faculty letter was surprising, Smith said. What he found
unsettling was the ambiguity in Dennison's response.
Particularly worrisome were Dennison's statements: "In my decision, I
focused on the fiscal year 2005 teaching assignment and not the new or
newly written policy. ... I continue to believe that Professor Natelson has
the right to fair and objective treatment. In that regard, I requested
special procedures for the evaluation of his teaching constitutional law
next semester. Nothing in my decision, however, precludes national searches
to fill all vacancies - not just some - within the School of Law."
When Smith asked Dennison for clarification, and received a letter filled
with what he believed to be more, equally vague verbiage, he filed his
appeal to the commissioner's office.
"If Dennison were to have come back and said, 'Constitutional law is
Professor Natelson's course to lose. If he teaches it competently and the
committee supports him, then he'll have the course as a permanent
assignment for however long he wants it,' I would have no reason to make
the appeal," Smith said. "But in every response he's made since the
original decision, Dennison has emphasized the need for a national search.
"That's a concern for us."
Commissioner Sheila Stearns said her office is just becoming familiar with
"My hope is Commissioner Stearns will clarify Dennison's order so that
Professor Natelson can move on and do what he does best, which is to teach
law to law students in Montana," Smith said. "Hopefully Commissioner
Stearns can resolve these questions once and for all."
Ohio Northern University
Ada, OH 45810
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