SOC professor takes AU to court

ON STANDS NOW: An Eagle investigation uncovers an ongoing lawsuit between AU and a professor

SOC professor takes AU to court

Correction appended

A professor is suing AU for breach of contract and age discrimination after she was denied tenure.

Maria Ivancin, 58, taught in the School of Communication’s Department of Public Communication for 10 years before she was denied tenure in May 2012. She filed a lawsuit against the University in April 2013, almost a year after she was notified of her tenure denial.

The University terminated Ivancin last May because her appeal against AU’s tenure decision was not granted. After a professor is denied tenure, he or she only has a year to appeal the decision before they are officially terminated, Ivancin said.

The professor said she decided to sue the University because not all professors have the resources to do so. Lawsuits are often expensive and can take lengthy amounts of time to see through. Ivancin is paying for her own legal fees.

“So I felt an obligation to do this,” she said. “I have to. I couldn’t just let it go because it’s wrong.”

Ivancin is also filing for compensatory and consequential damages, attorney fees and a statement from AU saying the University violated the Faculty Manual and discriminated against her based on age, according to the lawsuit.

The University filed to dismiss the case because AU followed all procedures correctly, citing Ivancin’s grievances as “insubstantial,” according to the motion.

However, Ivancin filed for the judge to overturn AU’s motion. The motions have not been seen by a judge, Ivancin said.

Ivancin v. American University
Ivancin began pursuing a tenure track in 2006, a six-year process in which various requirements must be fulfilled, including a completed application, interviews and submitted published works.

She submitted her application for tenure in October 2011 under SOC’s Professional Achievement Track. This track, enacted in fall 2011, requires the professor to submit a portfolio that shows the significance of his or her work and its impact on public communication, according to SOC guidelines.

SOC professors can pursue two tracks during their pursuit for tenure: the Professional Achievement Track or the Scholarly Achievement Track. Ivancin selected the professional track because of her background as a market research consultant before becoming a professor, she said in an email.

The Scholarly Achievement Track requires professors to submit research through “top-tier” peer-reviewed journals and/or scholarly books, according to the tenure guidelines.
Ivancin said numerous individuals and parties supported her promotion to tenure, including:

  • Former SOC Dean Larry Kirkman
  • The Department of Public Communication
  • Six external reviews under the peer review process
  • The Committee on Faculty Actions.

However, one person did not.

“[T]he only one who deemed that I wasn’t worthy of tenure was the provost,” she said. “And his only explanation in the process was that… all those other [people] were incorrect.”

Ivancin appealed her denial of tenure to the Committee of Faculty Grievances in November 2012, a sub-committee of the Faculty Senate that addresses professors’ problems, but they upheld her denial. Ivancin then decided to sue the University.

The University, Kirkman and AU’s legal counsel said they could not comment on personnel matters.

Ivancin sues for breach of contract
Provost Scott Bass denied Ivancin tenure because she failed to show the significant impact of her work on the profession or society, according to the Committee of Faculty Grievances’ report on Ivancin’s appeal.

While Bass acknowledged she fulfilled the requirements for service and teaching, he said she did not have enough peer-reviewed, published work in “top-tier venues,” according to the lawsuit.

Ivancin said AU breached its contract with her because the provost evaluated her tenure application using the requirements of the scholarly track instead of the professional track, according to the lawsuit.

The professional track requires tenure candidates to showcase their professional work and its impact on the subject area, according to the current SOC tenure guidelines. However, the Scholarly Achievement Track requires tenure candidates to submit work that has been published in “top-tier,” peer-reviewed journals such as the “Journal of Communication,” according to the SOC tenure guidelines.

Ivancin said the University breached her contract when the Committee on Faculty Grievances did not meet with her before deciding her case, which is listed as a requirement in the Faculty Manual according to the lawsuit.

The committee must invite the faculty member to discuss the investigation and the draft of the report, according to a 2012 Faculty Manual obtained from Ivancin. The Eagle could not retrieve the manual from AU’s website, the University archives or the provost’s office.

The committee only invited the professor to discuss the draft of the report after it was written, according to emails between Ivancin and the committee.

The Faculty Manual was updated in May 2013 and does not list these requirements.

The University also allegedly breached Ivancin’s contract by ignoring her work prior to AU and only focusing on her work since becoming a tenure-line faculty member, according to the lawsuit.

“The denial of tenure is based on the impact of your professional productivity in the field of public communication or on society as a whole since your tenure-line appointment,” Bass said in a letter to Ivancin, according to a letter to President Neil Kerwin from Ivancin.

The University is required to assess a professor’s work since degree completion, according to the 2012 Faculty Manual.

“The only thing that makes sense is that he sees people on the professional track as being different and he doesn’t fully understand what we rank to be on the table,” she said. The Committee of Faculty Grievances said Bass did not violate any procedures in his decision to deny Ivancin in her appeal, the report said. However, the committee advised the provost and SOC to clarify the requirements for this track, according to the report.

AU’s decision to not fix the professional tenure track’s requirements after the committee, recommended a revision violates Ivancin’s contract with the University, the lawsuit said.

Ivancin claims provost discriminates based on age
Ivancin is also suing the University for age discrimination, saying the provost may have denied her tenure because of her age, according to the lawsuit.

“I must not fit his vision of what a young, tenured professor might be,” she said.
Ivancin was 57 when she was denied tenure, having joined the SOC faculty at 47 years old, the lawsuit said

“By preferring candidates who would have longer careers at American University, the provost used criteria that disfavored older tenure candidates and benefited younger candidates who did not have extensive prior careers before joining the faculty,” the lawsuit said.

Ivancin said the provost applied the scholarly track guidelines to her tenure application because it requires older professors with extensive professional backgrounds to provide more scholarly work, the lawsuit said.

The University said Ivancin’s claims of age discrimination were invalid because older candidates would have more time to amass scholarly materials, according to AU’s motion to dismiss the case.
The Committee of Faculty Grievances determined Bass did not violate the Faculty Manual in his denial of Ivancin’s published work before 2006, the report said.

However, Ivancin and her lawyers feel confident they will win the case, she said.
“I don’t think we are going to lose,” Ivancin said.

Correction: A former version of the story said the Professional Achievement Track was enacted in fall 2013. It has been corrected to fall 2011.

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