A four-year-old lawsuit against the University expected to go to trial Aug. 4 was postponed last week. The case, in which a University professor alleged that his superior stole his intellectual property, will now be heard before Judge David Swartz in the Washtenaw County Circuit Court on Nov. 19.

The suit originated Oct 31, 2000, when aerospace engineering Prof. William Kauffman sued the department’s chair, David Hyland, for allegedly stealing an educational proposal he had written to bring aerospace design professionals to the University as part of a new design center for students.

The trial was postponed because the plaintiff changed the charge of plagiarism and theft of intellectual property to fraud and denial of due process on the University’s behalf.

The trial comes after at least one failed attempt between the parties to settle, in which the University offered Kauffman $300,000 on the conditions that he retire and sign a gag order.

Kauffman refused the proposal, but provided a counter offer in January which involved a $600,000-a-year settlement lasting seven years. Kauffman said the University did not respond to that proposal, adding that he will not agree to a gag order or forced retirement.

Kauffman said he is refusing a gag order because he feels that in order to prevent other faculty and staff from being mistreated, the public must know about the problems he believes are occurring.

“It would have been a lot easier for me if someone before me had fought it. … I am not the only one,” he said. “The University has intimidated probably hundreds.”

Another settlement conference has been scheduled for late October, Kauffman said.

“It would have been a lot easier for me if someone before me had fought it. … I am not the only one,” he said. “The University has intimidated probably hundreds.”

Another settlement conference has been scheduled for late October, Kauffman said.

When the lawsuit began in 2000, Kauffman had been working at the University for 23 years and had been a tenured professor for five. He was well-liked by many of his students and known in the department for being more focused on teaching than research. Hyland had become the department chair four years earlier.

“In general, they have very different personalities, Professor Kauffman was always willing to help us find jobs, to provide career advice or to call a friend of his in the industry for us,” University alum Aaron Mendenhall said. “Like Kauffman, [Hyland] is very knowledgeable and incredibly intelligent. From my experience he leans more to the research side than he does the classroom.”

According to Hyland, the two experienced conflicting interests ever since he took over as department chair. They argued over teaching methods, the use of technology in the classroom and the lack of research grant proposals Kauffman was submitting.

The conflicts came to a head in 1998 when Kauffman accused Hyland of using his curriculum proposal — which was first written in 1993 and resubmitted in 1996 — for his own benefit and without Kauffman’s permission. Kauffman said he believes his idea was used when the FXB Center for Rotary and Fixed Wing Air Vehicle Design was initiated.

At the time, the aerospace engineering department did not have a program where guest speakers or lecturers were brought to the University for significant periods of time, a curriculum practiced at several other universities. Kauffman said he wrote his proposal because he felt University students would benefit from the additional expertise, and because he felt he knew of a way to make such a program plausible here.

“Because of the end of the Cold War, a unique opportunity exists at this time to enhance significantly the training of engineering students,” Kauffman wrote in his proposal. “The science, engineering, and technology community in Russia is significantly underemployed. Many individual designers who participated in the design of vehicles and systems involving leading-edge technology are currently seeking employment and they are willing to accept relatively modest but fair compensation.”

But Hyland claims the idea the University used to start the department’s design center was not Kauffman’s, but rather the work of University professor Peretz Friedmann.

Hyland also said Kauffman’s idea was not an official proposal. According to Hyland, it was written only as a memo and with the aid of three other professors, and should not be considered Kauffman’s property. But one of those professors, Joe Eisley, told the Daily he did not write the memo. He said he and his colleagues simply helped critique it and made minor changes, if any. He added that his name was only on the proposal because of his expertise in design.

“It differs in detail and specificity, it differs in its scope and it even differs in the fundamental objectives. Friedmann’s write-up was a comprehensive description of what the FXB Center would do, how it would be done, with a realistic budget and schedule, while the four-author memo was a three-page, vague sketch with no specifics,” Hyland said. “In Friedmann’s plan, the main purpose of the FXB Center was to advance the research capabilities of the department by adding research projects to the center — projects funded by recognized research agencies. The four-author memo only involves getting outside experts to visit and speak to students and faculty. It has no research component whatsoever.”

Friedmann declined to speak with the Daily for this article.

Instead of going through the normal University channels and submitting a complaint to a grievance committee, Kauffman went to then-University Provost Nancy Cantor and, after feeling as though his concerns were being ignored, eventually decided to sue.

He said the decision to sue instead of going through proper grievance procedure was based on his belief that the University’s grievance procedure is not properly followed and mistreats faculty members who submit the complaints.

After filing suit against Hyland and the University, Kauffman said he believes he was retaliated against. Among other allegations, Kauffman claims the University lowered his annual salary raise by a substantial proportion and purposefully denied him sick leave after doctors diagnosed him with diabetes, which he believed to be stress-induced.

Hyland said the sick leave Kauffman was asking for was inappropriate for the given illness and that the pay raises were lowered based on student and faculty evaluations and the alleged lack of research being performed by the professor.

“He has had no research grants in over a decade,” Hyland said.

But Kauffman said his performance did not warrant a negative change in his annual pay raise. “The first thing the University does is attack you as a person — saying you are crazy and a lousy professor,” he said.

Several aerospace engineering students said they believe Kauffman’s teaching performance and style to be above and beyond their expectations.

“I found him extremely able to provide practical engineering knowledge and useful insight into the ‘right’ way to approach real engineering problems,” University alum Dan Berkenstock said. “He helps represent a very important point of view in education, that engineering students should learn how things are actually engineered in the real world.”

Other professors said they have also been retaliated against as a result of filing similar lawsuits.

“My teaching evaluations were very high until I had problems with the administration, and then they became low,” said one University professor who openly disagreed with an administrative decision. He spoke to the Daily on condition of anonymity because he fears future retaliation.

“The University decided to be very harsh on me because certain members of the faculty supported promotion of another member who I did not feel should be promoted, and I went public with it. The University did not like that I went outside their channels,” he said.

Several students told the Daily they believe the argument has negatively affected their education and the department itself.

“The division caused by the current situation hurts students,” University alum Brian Kahl said.

“It seems that two professionals, and particularly the chair of a highly respected engineering department, should be able to handle the situation more diplomatically without negatively impacting the rest of the department,” Mendenhall said.

Both Hyland — who was dismissed as an individual defendant May 14 but could still face separate retaliation charges — and Kauffman agree that they would like to bring the argument to a close.

“It is not fun being dragged through the gutter and called all sorts of names,” said Hyland, who will leave the University Sept. 1 to be Associate Vice Chancellor of the Texas University System. “In the long run, it is not my reputation that is going to suffer. It is the reputation of the University.”

But Kauffman said he believes that if the University mends its ways, its reputation will eventually improve.

“I want them to quit misbehaving,” Kauffman said.

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