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Tenured Zarb professors driven to resign

Tenured Zarb professors driven to resign

Former faculty say cronyism, policy breaches led to their departures

 Photos courtesy of hofstra.edu

Photos courtesy of hofstra.edu

A high turnover rate in the Accounting, Taxation and Legal Studies in Business Department has been linked to an atmosphere of bullying, cronyism and disregard for faculty policy. Since the spring of 2015, seven full-time faculty members that make up one of the largest departments in the Frank G. Zarb School of Business no longer work at Hofstra. Administrators within the school were accused of repeatedly breaching the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), circumventing checks and balances at the university. 

Included in these departures are former professors Dr. Daniel P. Tinkelman and Dr. Mohamed Gomaa, who alleged bullying tactics and policy violations on the part of department administrators and by Dr. Herman Berliner, dean of the Zarb school. This activity was made possible, they say, by cronyism that leads all the way up to Dean Berliner. Although the violations were brought to the attention of Provost Gail Simmons and President Stuart Rabinowitz, they were never addressed. 

Tinkelman was appointed to be department chair during the summer of 2015, upon Berliner’s accession to deanship following the sudden retirement of former Dean Patrick Socci. When The Chronicle covered his departure in 2015, Socci could not be reached for comment on why he left.

Berliner had appointed his long-time friend Ralph Polimeni to head a committee to smooth over weak links in a proposed faculty classification document in order to meet new standards of The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). 

Tinkelman said his criticism of the proposed policy produced by Polimeni’s committee ultimately led to his removal as chair.

“Dean Berliner, in the presence of Dean [Elizabeth] Venuti, told me that my comments at a chair’s meeting, calling for the collection of data to substantiate the recommendations of his committee’s report, had caused a lot of trouble, and that was a factor in why he thought I was not working out as chair,” Tinkelman said.

In the fall of 2015, according to five current and former faculty members, Berliner said that because of Tinkelman’s interjections, the senior faculty had lost faith in him. In a meeting with Berliner and Senior Associate Dean Venuti, “I was told that it would be best if my resignation was ‘for personal reasons,’” Tinkelman said. He initially agreed to resign, but later tried to remain in the position. 

When the semester ended in December, Tinkelman said Berliner offered him an ultimatum. He told the chair that resignation from the position was in his best interest; otherwise he would be removed under “good cause.” Tinkelman eventually protested his removal and sought legal counsel to clear his reputation and dismiss Berliner’s petition for his removal on the grounds that it did not adequately follow the CBA and Faculty Policy Series (FPS).

Under FPS 13 and Article 23.4 of the CBA, the removal of a chair is warranted by either a two-thirds vote of the total faculty in a department or if “the dean requests such removal, which petition or request shall state good cause.”

In an email, Berliner called for a department meeting to discuss the chair’s removal. Berliner wrote, “Based on comments and issues brought to me by the faculty and my own observations, the chair has lost the confidence of the dean and the department and I am accordingly recommending removal.” 

Tinkelman’s attorney argued that Berliner’s notice failed to provide good cause.

The meeting was held at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 17. There are no minutes of the meeting, but five current and former faculty members described it. At the meeting, a number of faculty members presented their complaints about Tinkelman. Among them were that he was rude, he had poor interpersonal skills and that he criticized Polimeni’s report. With no formal charges to refute, Tinkelman said he worried that the vague nature of these complaints would leave a blemish on his record if he were to remain chair. 

After it was made clear at the meeting that there were no actual charges against him, Tinkelman indicated that he felt his reputation was intact, and that he would resign. Associate professor Victor Lopez was subsequently appointed interim chair. 

In an email later sent to President Stuart Rabinowitz and Provost Gail Simmons on Aug. 17, 2016, Tinkelman laid out what he considered the mishandling of his removal, crediting the efforts to push him out to a “small clique of faculty.” 

“They are a minority of the 20 full-time faculty, but their positions in the departmental personnel committee, connections to the union, willingness to file grievances, the gratitude of some other faculty to Ralph, and Ralph’s long friendship with Herman Berliner have given them influence,” Tinkelman wrote in his email.

Ties within the administration of this department reflect a potential for favoritism. The current chair of the department, Dr. Jacqueline Burke, was a teaching assistant to Polimeni, who is the head of the Departmental Personnel Committee (DPC). Patrick O’Brien, recently hired as a department administrator, had formerly been Burke’s teaching assistant. 

Dr. Mohamed Gomaa, former professor of accounting, believes he faced retaliation from the department after voicing his disapproval for Tinkelman’s removal at the Dec. 2015 department meeting. Gomaa attended the meeting, despite being warned not to attend by Burke, who was then the chair of the DPC. 

Gomaa filed a grievance with the provost and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Chapter President Dennis Mazzocco, provided to The Chronicle by Tinkelman. In the grievance, Gomaa said that he received a phone call from Burke on Dec. 15, 2015, prior to the scheduled meeting to discuss Tinkelman’s removal as chair. He said Burke thought it would not be a good idea to attend the meeting. In his grievance, Gomaa said, “I believe that by attending the meeting, and by openly disagreeing with Burke and Polimeni, specifically (members of the DPC), and by making Dean Berliner’s case against Dr. Tinkelman weaker, I became a target for retribution.”

This grievance was filed by Gomaa after being accused by Burke of plagiarism in April of 2016. Gomaa was up for reappointment at the time.

Burke prepared a report consisting of 130 pages of documents maintaining these accusations. Those documents have been provided to The Chronicle. Gomaa said these documents were distributed by Burke to members of the DPC, Berliner and Lopez, the acting chair of the department at the time. 

However, FPS 41 states that such accusations must be brought to the provost and president and that the accuser may take no further action. Additionally, this accusation must be kept confidential. 

The Chronicle has evidence suggesting that Burke, instead, did take further action, compromising the confidentiality of the accusation as well as Gomaa’s reputation. 

In his grievance, Gomaa said of Burke, “She told me that I should appear in front of the DPC to hear and respond to the accusations ... She did not offer to send me specifics of the charges before this meeting, nor did she suggest that I obtain assistance in rebutting the charges.”

In his letter to Simmons and Mazzocco, Gomaa said, “I do not trust these people to fairly judge my subsequent personnel actions and to give me fair treatment during my next reappointment. I therefore request that Dr. Burke, Prof. Weisel, Dr. Basile, Prof. Bass, and Dr. Polimeni be prohibited from serving on my reappointment, tenure and promotion committees.”

Simmons responded to Gomaa’s grievance with a letter that said, “As I have recommended to you previously, please talk with the dean who is as committed as I am to resolving issues and providing a positive and collegial environment.” Additionally, she later said, “… I would encourage you to work within the school under the dean’s guidance …” 

Berliner was provost before he stepped down in 2015. In Oct. of 2014, The Chronicle reported that following his retirement, “Provost Berliner will make the final decision as to who will replace him.” Simmons was chosen to replace Berliner. Shortly afterward, Berliner was selected to be interim dean of the Zarb school in 2015. 

The role of the provost is to oversee all administrative responsibilities of each school, college and library within the university. This includes oversight of the deans of these schools and following up on grievances against administration. 

After appearing at a DPC meeting regarding these charges, the accusations were dropped. Berliner and the DPC unanimously recommended his reappointment.

Nevertheless, Gomaa still felt threatened by certain faculty members, prompting him to resign in the fall of 2016.

In his grievance, he said, “As I look back on these matters, I find it shocking that several people, who should have had intimate knowledge of FPS, never informed me of my rights.” 

The Chronicle reached out to Gomaa and he refused to comment, but confirmed the legitimacy of the documents and information provided to The Chronicle.

Additionally, in November of 2016, Gomaa, along with former faculty member Linda Schain, were removed from their positions as co-advisors for Beta Alpha Psi, an honors graduate organization for financial information students and professionals. Today, the current advisor for Beta Alpha Psi is O’Brien. 

Venuti retired from Hofstra in 2016 after a grievance against her was submitted to Mazzocco by Burke, Polimeni, Dr. Anthony Basile, Professor Stuart Bass, Professor Robert Katz and Professor Martha Weisel. The grievance was shared with The Chronicle by Tinkelman. It listed a number of complaints against Venuti including an email she constructed that she sent to the dean and two other untenured faculty members in the accounting department. 

In her email, she organized members of the DPC into a column that she said would answer “no” to the question “should the department place an emphasis on scholarly research?” Burke, Weisel, Polimeni, Bass, Basile and Katz were included in this column. 

The grievance also listed Venuti’s attempt to run publications written by Burke and Basile through Turnitin – a higher education tool that prevents plagiarism – as means for their removal. The same tactic was used by Burke against Gomaa. 

When The Chronicle reached out to Venuti, she declined to comment.

Mazzocco told The Chronicle in an email, “The union must protect faculty members from bullying and mistreatment by administration. That is one of the traditional protections that a union must provide – to balance the near limitless resources of the employer. Our union works to ensure that professional standards are adhered to and respected by everyone in the workplace. A union usually has different and appropriate means with which to protect a faculty member. It all depends on the severity of the mistreatment or contract violation.”

Burke and Simmons deferred all comments to Berliner, who in an email to The Chronicle, maintained that he and the Zarb school administration followed proper protocol during these cases. He wrote, “The University has policies to address faculty personnel matters, which contain inherent checks and balances, and those policies and procedures were followed in the matters addressed by your inquiry.”

 

A previous version of this article stated that Dr. Ralph Polimeni was head of the Departmental Personnel Committee and that Dr. Mohamed Gomaa received tenure from Hofstra. Both of these statements are inaccurate and have been removed.

 

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