By Ronald W. Weathersby
Shields’ actions drive TSU into chaos. Davis arrested on campus. Community upset.
Faculty intimidation charged. Actions lead to more calls for interim president’s immediate ouster.
Final report of Senate subcommittee has not been published. School admits to mistakes.
Dr. Jane Davis, who brought allegations of wrongful student grade changes at Tennessee State University was arrested Monday morning and charged with a class B misdemeanor for “disorderly conduct by disrupting meeting or procession.”
Davis says she was attempting to ask TSU interim President Dr. Portia Shields the purpose of the meeting and why she did not have a role in the proceedings. She says that Shields alerted campus police to remove her from the meeting.
“I asked her was this a Faculty Senate meeting and she would not answer,” Davis told the Tribune in a telephone interview. “She asked me to be quiet and made it clear she wasn’t going to let me speak.”
When Davis refused to stop speaking campus police moved in, handcuffed and removed the English professor who earned a PhD from Stanford.
TSU spokesperson Richard DelaHaya issued a written statement which read in part:
“During the special meeting of the faculty senate called by the interim President of the University, Dr. Portia Shields, Dr. Jane Davis, faculty member and chairperson of the Faculty Senate, was arrested by campus police for disruptive behavior and verbally assaulting the President after continually being advised to remain calm. After several attempts were made by the President to calm Dr. Davis, she was asked to leave the room, which she refused to do, and continued being disruptive and confrontational. “
The list of people who were invited to the meeting was characterized as “rather odd at first glance.” by a faculty member and former Faculty Senate member who was invited but wished to remain anonymous. “There were several members of the Executive Committee included, but not all, and I’m pretty sure that some of the people called are not members of the Executive Committee.”
They went on to say that, “Although the Senate has 30 members, only about half that many (were invited). I’m not sure if this indicates that the administration is trying to intimidate a handful of people or is so out of touch with the Senate that they don’t know who is and who is not on the Senate.”
The Faculty Senate is an autonomous entity which is part of the university shared governance and there are many individuals on campus who question the interim President’s ability to call a meeting of the group. At the meeting 21 individuals voted to remove Davis from her position. She says that she will not recognize the vote.
“I am, in fact, still Senate Chair because the meeting was not an official Faculty Senate meeting, did not include an entirely correct list of Senators, and the vote was conducted in an atmosphere of complete and total intimidation of faculty,” Davis wrote in an email to the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) obtained by the Tribune. “There is no provision in university procedures for Administrators to remove Faculty government but this Administration cares neither for procedures nor law. Interim President Shields has attempted to destroy any faculty governance that may not agree with her. Her harassment, retaliation, and intimidation have no bounds.”
Davis then went on to say that Shields actions were retaliatory.
“Interim President Shields’ actions are completely unacceptable. The officer who removed me from the meeting told me, “Once I arrest you, I can’t unarrest you” and took me to the campus police building. He then told me that he was not arresting me but I am charged with a misdemeanor and must go to booking on September 12. Dr. Shield’s use of the police was a clearly retaliatory measure. The actions I have endured in the past week are very abusive and unlawful.”
When contacted by the Tribune, TBR spokesperson Monica Greppin-Watts issued the following statement.
“Questions about the processes for the Faculty Senate at TSU should be addressed by the campus. However, it is my understanding that activities related to the senate have been faculty-led… The state “whistle-blower” statute specifically states, “No employee shall be discharged or terminated solely for refusing to participate in, or for refusing to remain silent about, illegal activities. In this case, nobody has been terminated, and no illegal activities have taken place, so it would not be relevant to the issue at TSU.”
Davis and Shields have been at odds with one another since the grade changing allegations surfaced on June 27, 2012 with concerns that the Associate Vice Provost changed 270 grades of “Incompletes” to letter grades in two pilot math classes.
During a two-hour hearing called by Senate Higher Education Subcommittee Chairman Senator Jim Summerville (R-Dickson), last week Mike Batson, TSU’s Internal Auditor testimony indicated that of the 21 faculty whose grades were changed, only 17 responded, and 5 of those indicated that they were unaware of the changes. Although the Subcommittee’s report has not been released TSU administrators were observed cheering, singing the school’s fight song on a university bus outside Legislative Plaza and interim President Dr. Portia Shields danced on the bus.
Dr. Davis said there are several matters that were brought to the committee’s attention that have not been addressed.
In a written statement released immediately after the hearings Shields, said, “It was made clear today from testimony during the hearing and through the internal audit report that there was no indication that University administrators ordered, coerced or directly changed the grades of students.” She went on to say, “It is a shame, however, that so much energy has been spent addressing these unsupported allegations; energy that could have been better spent on students as we prepare for the beginning of a new academic year.
However Shields kept the controversy on the front burner two days after the hearing at a meeting of faculty, staff, and administrators. According to sources inside the meeting, Shields singled out Professor Davis as having damaged the reputation of the TSU “family” and violated the “spirit of unity” that she wished to foster at TSU. She then allowed Dr. Oscar Miller to make a statement calling for the removal of Dr. Davis as Senate Chair and the dismissal of the Faculty Senate’s executive committee. Dr. Miller also recommended that all senators complete training on proper protocol.
Additionally the meeting agenda excluded Davis.
“At the Faculty Staff Institute, not once was I given the chance to speak, though by custom, Faculty Senate Chair at least gives a short talk at Faculty Staff Institute, though I was talked about from the stage by interim Pres. Shields and Interim Provost Millicent Lownes-Jackson,” Davis wrote in an email.
American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapter vice-president, Elizabeth Dachowski, stated that she was “appalled and left speechless by the morning’s proceedings.” Ray Richardson, Professor of Mathematics, said “the university has descended into a police state.”
Their sentiments are shared by Dr. Phil Ganter, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and President of the TSU AAUP Chapter.
“The actions of the administration in wresting control of a math course from the math faculty and altering grades without the knowledge of some of the faculty who taught the course last fall have implications for the state of academic freedom on the TSU campus. In addition, the lack of communication during the development of the syllabus and the unilateral decision to ignore the policy on “I” grades raises questions already raised about the state of shared governance at TSU. As these are core principles of AAUP, we are involved.”
One TSU professor who asked not to be identified publicly said the intimidation factor on campus is at an all-time high.
“When the Faculty Senate Chairperson can be arrested for standing up to the administration it sends a message. Either fall in line or else. TSU is now under martial law and it seems that the majority media led by the Tennessean newspaper is merely serving as a cheerleader for the current administration. It seems that paper really doesn’t care about what’s going on here. Every time there is a controversy they take the administration’s side, period. We cannot speak up on campus. We cannot seek mediation from the state and, we certainly cannot get our story told in the majority media.”
Davis said the actions of the administration showed exactly why many faculty members did not want to bring their concerns to the administration as the mindset of the administration was clearly, “kill the messenger.”
Shields’ reign as interim President has been marked by controversy since she was appointed in January, 2011. She has fired more African-American professionals than 4 of the last presidents combined. She is scheduled to be replaced by a permanent president next January.