SECS faculty express concern over dean

With a new building in the works, on the outside Oakland University’s School of Engineering and Computer Science seems to be thriving. On the inside,  however, tension is rising among some faculty members.

On April 12, SECS faculty received an email petition with a document titled “Bill of Particulars of a Vote of No Confidence regarding Dean (of the School of Engineering) Louay Chamra.”

Chamra said on April 15, there has been no OU American Association of University Professors or SECS Faculty Assembly sanctioned proposal for a vote of no confidence.

“The vote of no confidence was ill conceived and devised in complete secrecy by a few disgruntled faculty,” Chamra said. “With no faculty debate or discussion, and without any due process, the proposed vote of no confidence just surfaced out of nowhere … A private company was contracted by that small disgruntled group to conduct the vote. Due to an overwhelming faculty support for the dean and opposition to the proposed vote and the lack of transparency and lack of due process, the group decided to stop their attempt to conduct the vote.”

Outlined in the document are 14 points of why there is a lack of confidence in Chamra as a university leader. The original document listed items that said Chamra:

– Has often and repeatedly acted vindictively against faculty members who have publicly or privately disagreed with him.

– Has unreasonably denied not only sabbaticals, but also promotions to faculty, selectively focusing only on facts that suit his purpose so as to harm those toward whom he seeks retribution or control over.

– Uses the summer, when many faculty are absent, to take actions contrary to the wishes of the faculty.

According to Lorenzo Smith, associate dean of engineering, there has been no formal call for a vote of no confidence.

“There have been recent emails revolving around conversations about serious problems some faculty members claim to have with their relationship with the dean — this is true,” Smith said.

Typically, votes of no confidence are about sending a message and have no official impact.

President of AAUP at OU and Chair of the Department of History, Karen Miller, said she has not heard anything regarding this case.

There is no available count of faculty who intend to vote against Chamra, but The Oakland Post has obtained emails that indicate at least 10 tenured faculty members are behind the vote.


Support from faculty 

Ishwar Sethi, professor of computer science and former computer science and engineering department chair, said he has heard of four or five people who have come forward to support the dean.

Those people, Sethi said, are the current chairs and another faculty member. He believes many have not come forward because they are afraid their jobs are at risk.

“A lot of our faculty are young and a lot of them aren’t tenured — certainly, I wouldn’t even want them to say anything,” Sethi said. “I don’t want any harm to come to them. Even if they come to me for advice, I tell them ‘you guys stay in the background.’ It is the senior people, if something needs to be said, they should be the ones saying it.”

Last fall, there were discussions and meetings about similar problems, according to Sethi. The group was asked to attempt to get along by Provost Virinder Moudgil.

“There is a group of faculty that did go and meet the provost and told him these are the issues and this is what is going on,” Sethi said. “And I believe, the provost was aware of all of this turmoil back in fall last year and he sent out a message that said ‘look here, the school is likely to get a new building — the Board of Trustees are looking at approving a new building, so if you guys do something like this, your building will be in jeopardy, it would be good if you guys tried to work together.’”

Current chair of Industrial and Systems Engineering Robert Van Til, said what he is seeing right now are rumors of a vote of no confidence, but he would need to see full details before making a decision himself.

Removal of department chairs

Sethi and Barbara Oakley, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering, said all four department chairs were removed from their positions after the dean was put into power.

Dean Chamra became dean of engineering and computer science Oct. 5, 2009, according to the university news archives.

“If you look into the school, he came in, the first thing he did was change the chair of mechanical engineering Gary Barber. He was doing a good job … then, basically, he changed me, then he changed the EC (electrical and computer engineering) chair, then he changed the ISE (industrial and systems engineering) chair,” Sethi said. “So, basically, all the four chairs in this school are the chairs that are appointed by him … three out of four of them were on the search committee that selected him (Chamra).”

Sethi had been appointed chair for four terms — beginning in 1999.

Professors denied promotion

According to the BOT documents from March 28, two associate professors with tenure, Oakley and Sankar Sengupta, industrial and systems engineering professor, were denied promotion to full professor. Sengupta was also denied on March 2, 2010, according to BOT documents.

Chamra declined to comment about why Sengupta was denied promotion.

Four additional faculty members at OU were also denied promotion on March 28.

Oakley said she was shocked about not being promoted.

“I simply cannot understand it. My record sailed through,” she said. “All of my external recommendations were stellar … my research was stellar. I’m giving an invited speech to the National Academy of Sciences in January.”

Chamra said Oakley was denied due to her lack of grants and will be able to try for promotion when she meets the requirements. She can reapply for promotion at any point in time.

Oakley said she was told by Chamra she was denied promotion because her research was not engineering-focused.

“I guess I wasn’t aware that my research had to be business,” Oakley said.

Oakley said she will keep working really hard at the research she believes is important to do, but feels the given reasons didn’t motivate his decision to not promote her.