Tales of retaliation and retrenchment at IUP

Henry Webb, former Indiana University of Pennsylvania business professor, in the campus Oak Grove, May 30, 2021. Photo: David Loomis

An analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA – Among a reported 15 percent of full-time instructors retrenched, retired or resigned at Indiana University of Pennsylvania since Halloween Eve are two attorneys on the business-school faculty. Until their layoffs earlier this month, Brion A. Scudder and Henry Webb were licensed lawyers among the hundreds of faculty members on the payroll of Indiana County’s largest employer.

Scudder and Webb, professors of business law in IUP’s Finance and Legal Department of the Eberly College of Business and Information Technology, share another trait: They are whistleblowers, not shy about asserting what they say are university administrators’ failings in the systemwide restructuring that reportedly hits IUP faculty harder than faculty at any other of the State System of Higher Education’s 14 campuses.

On May 26, for example, Webb sent a blast on the campus email system addressed to IUP faculty, IUP President Michael Driscoll, Provost Timothy Moerland and state-system Chancellor Dan Greenstein.

”If an administration intentionally planned to turn a university into a diploma mill that admitted unqualified students with no indicia of academic ability solely to obtain their tuition and fees, and such that nearly half of all students admitted fail to earn a degree within six years of their matriculation, how would that look any different than what has happened at IUP from 2012 to the present?” Webb asked.

“This administration has completely mishandled retrenchment and destroyed the morale of the remaining faculty and staff,” Webb concluded. “IUP desperately and immediately needs new, competent leadership…. How long will this be allowed to continue?”

Scudder followed on June 3 with an email addressed to more than 100 campus recipients and bearing the header “Proposed criminal indictment for IUP.”

“Right now (or in the next few months) there will be three lawsuits in federal court that deal with the curriculum changes in the Eberly College of Business,” Scudder summarized. “There are also multiple pending cases in front of union arbitration on these matters. Finally there are likely to be criminal charges filed.”

Scudder attached a proposed 19-page document with exhibits he says he will submit by month’s end to the FBI, the U.S. attorney’s offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and the state attorney general.

One of the draft documents alleges “illegal use of the curriculum process to deny faculty rights and violate the law.”

To wit: “criminal fraud,” according to Scudder.

 

SCUDDER AND WEBB SHOULD know the law.

Brion A. Scudder, former IUP business professor. IUP photo

Scudder, 48, served in the New York State Attorney General’s office, in the corporate offices of two publicly traded corporations, and as an attorney for county government. He holds an MBA and a J.D. degree (cum laude), both awarded by the State University of New York at Buffalo in 2001. He remains an active member of the New York State bar.

At IUP since 2010, he received positive student evaluations, maintained active service and scholarship agendas and was granted tenure.

Webb, 50, was hired in 2015. He earned an MBA from the University of Georgia, in 2001, and a J.D. from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., in 1996.

He practiced law for nearly a decade, including at private firms in Seattle and Atlanta and as an assistant regional counsel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Atlanta. He remains an active member of the Georgia state bar.

At IUP, he received positive student evaluations, maintained active service and scholarship agendas, was granted early tenure and promotion to full professor in 2019, and won a Fulbright award (suspended during the pandemic).

Both lawyers have hired Pittsburgh attorneys to represent them in court and other legal proceedings.

 

SCUDDER AND WEBB have been pressing their respective cases separately on IUP’s email system for months. Faculty response has been muted, some citing fear of retaliation. Others off-the-record say some of the remarks are intemperate.

Off campus, criticism is mounting. Public comment during PASSHE’s June 9-10 hearings on its proposed campus-merger plan was nearly unanimous in opposition. A rising chorus is asking why state lawmakers have been so parsimonious to public higher education that Pennsylvania ranks 48th among the 50 states.

Among others, state Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny, last month urged PASSHE to pause plans to merge six of the 14 state-system campuses and to increase public investment in the state system. A former member of the PASSHE Board of Governors described the proposed consolidations as “short-sighted.” And recent economic analysis suggests that managers at PASSHE and IUP could have avoided radical restructuring and retrenchment altogether.

 

AN INCH-THICK BINDER of double-sided photocopies catalogs emails exchanged among Scudder, campus administrators, union representatives and faculty members. Webb’s separate brief includes some of the same correspondence. Amid the Scudder and Webb broadsides is a shared narrative centered on IUP business school academic curriculum – specifically, the required Business Law 235 course they have taught for years.

Their description of managers’ recent moves against the core business course distills some of Scudder and Webb’s wide-ranging critiques and provides a rank-and-file perspective on what has hitherto been a mostly opaque retrenchment process. Their narrative also depicts pitfalls of administrative efforts to hurry an overhaul of a nearly 150-year-old public institution and community anchor amid mounting questions surrounding worker morale, student outcomes and managerial motives, and amid a campus climate of fear, muted anger and job loss.

June 4, however, was the final Friday for Scudder and Webb, after 11 years and six years on the job, respectively. Following is their exit narrative about a key element that led to their layoffs, based mainly on documents, correspondence and exhibits supplied by them:

— IUP administrators sought to retaliate against Scudder for complaints he lodged against the university. In February 2019, Scudder filed a federal lawsuit alleging discrimination in the business school’s assignments of lucrative, summertime foreign-teaching contracts. He later amended the lawsuit to add allegations of retaliation. The case was settled in August 2020, two months before university administrators sent out scores of faculty retrenchment letters – including one to Scudder.

— To retrench Scudder, however, administrators also had to retrench Webb, his more junior colleague in their academic program. The faculty union’s contract says seniority governs such decisions – last hired, first fired. Or, as the contract puts it,retrenchment shall be made in inverse order of length of service from the most recent date of employment at the University.”

— Thus, Webb’s job became collateral damage in the move to reach and retrench the more senior Scudder.

— The decision to retrench both Scudder and Webb meant no qualified faculty member would remain to teach the accredited program’s required Business Law course formerly taught by Scudder and Webb. (The agency that accredits IUP’s business curriculum certifies only programs that include professors with J.D. degrees, according to Scudder’s census of all 510 such undergraduate programs. On May 4, the accrediting agency responded to Scudder’s complaint by declining to take action against IUP.)

— The impending loss of the Eberly business school’s two J.D.-credentialed professors meant the required Business Law 235 course had to be dropped from the schedule, and administrators had to figure out how – and where — business majors could complete the course they need to graduate.

— Business-school administrators sent emails advising students to go elsewhere — despite the enrollment and revenue losses that provided the predicate for IUP  retrenchment.

“Unfortunately, BLAW 235 will not be available at IUP during the summer or fall semesters,” an April 2 email from a business school assistant dean advised a student, for example, “so you must complete this course at another university or community college…. I am happy to assist in locating courses that will transfer to IUP.”


Excerpts from a redacted April 2, 2021, email from Eberly College of Business and Information Technology Assistant Dean Terry Appolonia to an IUP business student.

 

The Scudder and Webb documents include a Nov. 30 email from the same assistant dean pressing business-school faculty to recruit more students, who the dean described as “our meal ticket.” The email  included a reminder that more layoffs may be announced this coming fall.

 

IN A JUNE 11 INTERVIEW at a local restaurant, Scudder said his and Webb’s are not the only business school retrenchments motivated by retaliation.

“Twelve faculty members were retrenched in Eberly,” Scudder said. “All were targeted to get revenge against someone who sued them. All faculty. No managers.”

Webb said wholesale retrenchments in Eberly College’s Information Systems and Decision Sciences Department also have caused students to become stranded academically and parents to express concern about timely graduation.

The university’s spokeswoman declined to respond to the allegations, documents and emails distributed by Scudder and Webb. “We do not have any comments,” spokeswoman Michelle Fryling emailed on May 27. A spokesman for the state system did not respond to a May 26 email seeking comment.

However, in a June 16 email Ms. Fryling pledged to release layoff totals early next month, after the start of the new fiscal year.

The new year may bring more retrenchments. Scudder and Webb documented the Eberly College assistant dean’s Nov. 30 email and its reference to “looking ahead to October 2021 and the potential for further furloughs.”

 

FOR NOW, Webb has accepted a teaching position at a private college in Florida. Scudder said he also expects to be teaching out-of-state in the fall. Both have soured on their former employer.

Webb said he was a model worker before administrators began executing their retrenchment plan in October.

“I was a loyal employee,” Webb said in a June 16 phone interview. “I did everything I could to salvage my job.”

Retrenchment changed all that.

—————-

‘Retrenchment is a tool for getting rid of trouble-makers.’

— former IUP business professor Henry Webb

—————-

“Retrenchment is a tool for getting rid of trouble-makers,” Webb said in a May interview at a downtown Indiana coffee shop.

“The only reason they retrenched me was to get Dr. Scudder,” Webb said. “I’ve been told that is exactly what happened.”

Scudder echoed his colleague.

“It was the best job I’ve ever had in my life and the worst employer I’ve ever had in my life,” Scudder said in a June 11 interview. “The students, I love; the employer, not so much.”

 

Sidebar: federal cases listing IUP as defendant

By David Loomis

INDIANA – Legal action threatened by retrenched IUP business-law professors Brion Scudder and Henry Webb, both attorneys, could add to the list of federal lawsuits filed against the university since President Michael Driscoll took office nine years ago.

Following is a list of federal cases that name IUP as a defendant, according to PACER, an electronic public-access database of U.S. court documents. A PACER search conducted by Scudder returned at least 18 such cases since 2010, 16 since Driscoll became president in July 2012. An additional case, Woolslayer v. Driscoll, is added, as reported in news accounts and court documents.

Some cases may include duplication:

__________

David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.

The HawkEye invites comments on this and other issues of community interest. Email doloomis@iup.edu

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