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Hussein firing profoundly disturbing
by Jake Highton
May 03, 2008 | 3831 views | 1 1 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Milton Glick, in his brief tenure as president of the University of Nevada, Reno, wielded his public relations skills to erase some of the stain left by the reign of his predecessor, John Lilley.

Although vapid and sometimes evasive, Glick showed none of the autocratic traits of Lilley. But in the past half year Glick has become the “big hatted” Texan. He no longer acts like the first among equals a president should be in a community of educators and scholars.

This sudden switch to dictatorial rule is profoundly disturbing. His treatment of whistleblowers shames UNR.

First, he backed the athletic department in firing of a female soccer coach in retaliation for complaining to the NCAA about UNR infractions. Then Glick banned her from the campus “to protect life, limb and property and to ensure the maintenance of order.”

Life? Limb? Property? Order? Please. This coach is hardly a danger to anyone.

Now Glick has fired Hussein S. Hussein, a tenured professor of animal nutrition who has an international scholarly reputation. His crime? Blowing the whistle on abuse of UNR research animals in 2004.

Glick overrode the findings of Peter Breen, the retired Washoe District Court judge who served as special hearing officer. Breen, a highly respected jurist, saw no evidence of plagiarism nor any evidence of Hussein profiting in business practices. Glick also trumped the findings of a four-member faculty committee, only one of whom recommended dismissal.

What Hussein calls a “cycle of terror” was evident in the fascistic manner of his “arrest.” Campus police escorted him from his office in the agriculture building like a criminal rather than the distinguished professor he is.

Also evident is the horrible Lilley legacy. After Hussein blew the whistle, the Lilley administration did everything to hound and harass him. His office was placed under camera surveillance.

If Hussein sometimes appeared difficult it was because he was goaded into it by Lilley and his hatchet man, Provost John Frederick. But if being difficult is a dismissable offense, a lot of professors would be sent packing.

Hussein’s problems with the university began before his whistleblowing. At an annual evaluation he was declared excellent but his dean downgraded it to commendable and cut his merit pay. Hussein rightly challenged the decision.

The animosity over the years was glaring as his annual evaluations dropped precipitously, from commendable, to satisfactory and to unsatisfactory.

Hussein should be a hero, not a villain. He deserved an apology from UNR, not a “death penalty.” His complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture was legitimate. It led to a USDA investigation that cited 46 UNR violations, including leaving 10 research pigs with inadequate water and housing, poor sanitation at animal care facilities, lack of veterinary care and failure to investigate complaints of neglect.

Retaliation against whistleblowers is nothing new. Corporations are good at it. Sherron Watkins, Enron vice president for corporate development, exposed fraudulent accounting amounting to a Ponzi scheme at Enron in 2002. She became an outcast, finally resigning after finding herself with nothing to do.

While hardly in the same league with Enron, a small-town bank in Virginia fired its accountant, Dave Welch, several years ago for blowing the whistle on the bank’s fuzzy bookkeeping.

But there is a vast difference beween business culture and academic culture in regard to whistleblowing. Businesses are dictatorships. Universities must be citadels of academic freedom, sanctuaries for free speech without fear of retaliation.

Plagiarism and “proper business practices” are murky, nebulous concepts at UNR. What is plagiarism? What are proper business practices? Definitions are far from clear.

UNR professors have used practices similar to the wrongdoing Hussein is accused of with the blessing of deans and department heads. Indeed, one action cited against Hussein earned him a research award.

Glick, in the letter declaring the sacking, said Hussein has demonstrated “serious misconduct over many years.” One allegation is that Hussein used money due the university to renovate his lab. But the funds were gifts, not grants, as UNR maintains. It was one more link in the conspiracy to oust “the troublemaker” Hussein.

Glick has hardly proved his case. He cannot.

Glick’s decision shows once again that there is as much politics at UNR as there is in Washington, D.C. The ruling leaves all UNR professors vulnerable. They too can be fired without cause since Glick has the dictatorial power to override a judge and a faculty committee.

Jake Highton teaches journalism at UNR.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
May 07, 2008
Glick should be fired. He is making a circus out of UNR. The truth will come out sooner or later. And when it does, I envision a lot top employees being canned.

(The soccer coach) is innocent as well. I guess the University finally met its match . They met two brilliant people (Hussein and the coach) who won't back down. They are fighting for every person who has been taken advantage of by UNR, Glick, and of course Cary Groth.

Justice will prevail. It always does!
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