Burden of proof leads to rehearing of Engel case

Gray area in faculty bylaws led to an undefined burden of proof.
Cait Campbell / Graphic Designer

It has been well over a year since the Campus Committee on Faculty Responsibility cleared professor Greg Engel of five faculty irresponsibility charges presented by his colleagues.

The charges accused Engel of “abdicating his (responsibilities) as a teacher,” among others, according to CCFR’s report to Chancellor Brady Deaton.

CCFR found that evidence brought forth by members of the electrical and computer engineering faculty and administration did not support the charges under the standard of “clear and convincing” evidence.

The 13 faculty members, who were recommended by Faculty Council, on the committee are in charge of hearing cases, MU spokesman Christian Basi said.

“The committee may be convened to review and make recommendations to the provost and the chancellor regarding alleged cases of faculty irresponsibility that have not been resolved at the divisional level,” Basi said.

The committee’s ruling on the charges, which was 4-3, was appealed by Provost Brian Foster. In the letter to Deaton, Foster said the committee should have used “preponderance of evidence,” a lower evidentiary standard.

Preponderance of evidence tends to be used in civil cases and would only require accusers to prove that the evidence presented is quite plausibly the correct version. On the other hand, the higher standard of clear and convincing in civil cases means the evidence might not leave reasonable doubt in the minds of the committee members.

Since then, Deaton accepted the appeal and chose to send it back to the committee for a rehearing. This time though, the evidentiary standard used to prove if Engel is guilty or not is to be preponderance of evidence, rather than the previously used standard of clear and convincing.

In his Feb. 29 letter to Faculty Council, Deaton justified his reasoning.

“In significantly less serious cases of faculty irresponsibility with less severe recommended remedial action, a preponderance of evidence standard is, in my view, appropriate,” Deaton wrote.

The faculty bylaws at MU lack a stated burden of proof, or standard of evidence needed to prove an accused faculty member’s guilt or innocence. Since the bylaws say nothing on what to use, the committee chose to follow the guidelines of the American Association of University Professors. The AAUP uses clear and convincing as the standard.

Some Faculty Council members are unhappy with Deaton’s decision and believe that the committee’s first recommendation should be upheld.

Adding new parts to the faculty bylaws, such as changing the level of evidence, shreds the bylaws, Faculty Council member Gordon Christensen said in the March 8 Faculty Council meeting.

“There is one thing we can do,” Christensen said. “We can say that the chancellor can do what he wants to do but we do not have to honor it if we think what he’s doing is wrong.”

The discussion continued at the last Faculty Council meeting, where member Eddie Adelstein spoke up with how he thinks having a rehearing of the Engel charges in the CCFR but with a different evidentiary standard is not fair.

“We count on this to be fair, and in my experience, it’s never been fair,” Adelstein said in the meeting. “This is a cheap legal trick to revoke a process that was carried out fairly.”

Engel is also currently suing the UM System Board of Curators for $5 million in damages and the first hearing has been set for Monday, April 2, at the Boone County Courthouse.

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