Faculty members disagree over whether controversial report about researcher was ever adopted

By Kyle Swanson, Daily News Editor
Published June 6, 2010

Members of a sub-committee of the University’s leading faculty governance body are at odds with each other after questions were raised about a report that may or may not have been formally approved by the committee earlier this year.

The controversy involving the Faculty Hearing Committee of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs centers around a report meant to investigate a situation between University administrators and a former medical school researcher, Andrei Borisov.

According to the FHC’s report, Borisov was forced to resign by his department chair in a meeting where University Police were present. That incident came after Borisov alleged scientific misconduct against a fellow researcher. The report states the situation escalated to the point where University Police injured Borisov and arrested him for trespassing in his office.

And while the FHC’s report does exist and does recount many of the events surrounding Borisov’s ultimate dismissal from the University, there is disagreement within the three-person committee over whether the report was ever accepted by the committee in a final form.

At the center of the controversy is an argument between Engineering Prof. Wayne Stark, chairman of the committee at the time the report was produced, and Statistics Prof. Ed Rothman, who served on the committee at the time and now serves as the chair of SACUA.

In interviews with The Michigan Daily, Stark said the report was formally adopted by the FHC while Rothman said that only Stark had voted to move the report forward and the two other committee members opposed such action.

In a signed affidavit sent to the Daily, Rothman and Architecture Prof. Mojtaba Navvab, the third member of the FHC, swore that at no point in time did they ever vote to formally adopt the final report of the FHC on the Borisov case.

“As two of the three members of the 2009-2010 SACUA Faculty Hearing Committee, we state that at no time did we endorse in final form any version of the FHC report in the case of Dr. Borisov and, therefore, there was no such report ever endorsed by a majority of the FHC,” the affidavit states.

However, in a letter to Rothman accompanied by e-mail records, Stark wrote that Navvab did vote to approve the FHC report.

“I disagree with your statement that there is no final SACUA Faculty Hearing Committee (FHC) Report,” Stark wrote in his letter to Rothman. “I find the events you describe regarding the operation of the Faculty Hearing Committee to be incomplete and the logic used to draw your conclusions to be faulty.”

“Last Friday, you told me on the phone you approved the report of the FHC,” Stark added in an e-mail conversation to Navvab, then continuing in his e-mail to outline additions to the report he had made since the vote.

In his response, Navvab said he agreed with the additions Stark had made, though Navvab did not explicitly reaffirm or counter his alleged support for the final report as a whole.

Navvab, who was traveling last week, did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.

Stark’s letter continued to detail what he alleges to have happened, including a unanimous vote by the FHC to adopt a draft of the report and a 2-1 vote to accept the final report, which did not receive support in a SACUA-wide vote.

“The fact that SACUA voted against SACUA accepting the report on April 19, 2010 does not change the Faculty Hearing Committee’s vote,” Stark wrote.

He added, “Because a member of the FHC voted to approve the final report as a FHC report does not mean they will necessarily vote to have it accepted as a SACUA report.”

Stark's comment refers to what he said was a change in position by one FHC member who allegedly voted for the report in the FHC, but voted against it in SACUA’s vote.

Stark also alleges that the recorded tally of the SACUA vote, reported in the group’s April 19, 2010 minutes as 5-1 not to accept the report, is inaccurate and that in actuality two people voted to approve the report.

Stark told the Daily that SACUA voted in executive session 5-2 not to accept the report. However, Stark said he had to leave to catch a flight before the group came back into open session and re-voted on the issue. Nonetheless, Stark said he informed those at the meeting that he wanted his vote to be in support of the report and that his vote should have been recorded as such.

Asked about the SACUA vote, Rothman said he couldn’t comment on whether the vote count was accurate, but said that the vote was recorded by the other person Stark believed was supporting the report. All votes of SACUA are recorded by the SACUA secretary, who at the time was Biology Prof. John Lehman.

In either case of a 5-1 or 5-2 vote, the motion not to accept the report would still have carried. What remains unclear is why the report was sent to SACUA if it was never initially approved by the FHC.

According to Rothman, the report was sent to SACUA against parliamentary procedures used in bodies like the United States House of Representatives and Senate because SACUA is a small body and many members were already aware of much of the committee’s work and had an interest in reviewing the issues.

Tom Schneider, director of faculty and operational support activities, said though SACUA generally follows parliamentary procedures, it doesn’t always do so perfectly.

He added that he didn’t believe it mattered whether the FHC had approved the report and said the minutes from SACUA’s meeting, which classified the vote as one that would “not accept the report of the FHC,” could have been clearer in identifying that the report had never been formally adopted by the committee.

And while disagreement continues over whether a formal report was ever adopted by the FHC, which would end the committee’s work on the case, both sides say they agree that Borisov deserves a response to his claim filed with the Faculty Hearing Committee.

“As I’ve promised the members of SACUA, I won’t rest until we get some resolution to the issues that surround this,” Rothman said in an interview Friday, adding that Borisov’s litigation against the University doesn’t make the process of resolving the issue internally easy.

Similarly, Stark said he believed Borisov deserves closure on this issue, which Stark said was supposed to be brought out in the formalized FHC report.

“Dr. Borisov deserves some type of answer from faculty governance as to what it found,” Stark said. Stark also said he thinks it’s interesting that no one is questioning the facts of the report.