Legal issue ongoing in RCJ department split

A final ruling has been made in the Oakland University administration’s favor regarding the grievance claim the faculty union filed against the administration. The ruling denied the grievance, meaning OU didn’t break procedural rules in dividing the department of rhetoric, communication and journalism.

Meanwhile, another legal matter the union filed against OU is still ongoing. The union won a ruling in its favor regarding the unfair labor practice lawsuit against the administration, but OU appealed that decision.

On April 6, an arbitrator heard both sides of the dispute and on June 22 ruled that the grievance was denied. Joel Russell, president of OU’s chapter of AAUP, said AAUP will not appeal the ruling of the grievance claim.

This grievance suit came about because Ron Sudol, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, decided to split rhetoric, communication and journalism into two departments: writing and rhetoric, and communication and journalism, in spring 2008.

AAUP said Sudol did so in violation of the constitution of the college of arts and sciences because he did not take adequate faculty input.

But Sudol said that he did have enough input and the grievance lacked merit, which was clearly shown by the ruling. The minutes of a College of Arts and Sciences assembly showed that he did announce the split and the new writing major.

“I asked [at the hearing] give me one person who will say I didn’t do that, and they couldn’t produce a single one,” Sudol said.

Sudol and Russell said the arbitrator took the lack of discussion — although assembly members could have chosen to discuss it then — about the split at that assembly as evidence that there was no objection to it, meaning Sudol was justified in splitting the department.

“[Sudol] still should have announced a discussion, but instead he just announced it will happen,” Russell said.

“All the faculty wanted the split — I know because I’m the dean,” Sudol said. No one denied that he had the power to split the departments.

“All of the faculty within the department were in support of this separation as we thought it would be best for all programs,” said Sharon Howell, professor of communication and chair of the department of communication and journalism.

“But being in favor of the separation, and for that matter acknowledging the right of the administration to make such decisions, does not mean I supported the process by which this was done. I believe the actions of the administration to defend and support this lack of consultation contribute to what is one of my major concerns with this bargaining round — faculty governance.”

Sudol said the AAUP and the media — including The Oakland Post — took an “uncontroversial” matter and “made a mountain out of a molehill.”

“The graphics, headline and the story [entitled ‘Lack of faculty input prompts lawsuit’ in the April 9 issue of The Oakland Post] made it seem like the university was doing something terrible,” he said.

An unfair labor practice lawsuit was ruled in the union’s favor, but the OU administration is appealing that decision.

Russell said that he was told by OU’s lawyer that if OU lost this appeal, it would appeal again.

OU spokesperson Ted Montgomery declined to comment because it’s an ongoing litigation.

Both Russell and Sudol said that this is an important issue, but each side accused the other of wasting taxpayer and student tuition money.

This suit came about after OU first defended itself against the grievance claim by saying this was a government issue, not a labor contract issue.

Then, AAUP presented OU administrators with a copy of a grievance settlement in 1999, signed by OU President Gary Russi, that promised OU would not use this defense again.

Russell said the administration’s next response was saying that Russi did not have the authority to sign this agreement because it was not signed by the board of trustees afterward, and that AAUP accepted at its peril that whoever signed that agreement had the authority to do so.

Russell said it’s ridiculous that OU is basically “arguing that the president of the university doesn’t have the authority to do his job.”

Sudol said that this clearly is a governance matter and not a labor agreement matter.


“The unfair labor suit is in the same category as if I hired 14-year-olds as factory workers,” he said.

Sudol said he is not directly involved with this lawsuit because it’s not an academic matter, and the college assembly has authority only in academic issues.

“If it didn’t like the new writing major, it could’ve voted it down, for example,” he said. “Departments are not negotiated — just created.”

But AAUP said this is a larger matter than just the splitting of one department into two. Russell said some faculty are worried about the validity and insurance of any agreement signed by OU administrators that is not signed by the board of trustees as well.