MU fires professor for misconduct and violating contract with the university

A former colleague called former MU professor Galen Suppes’ behavior “frequently unprofessional and inappropriate.”
Galen Suppes Courtesy of MU College of Engineering

In a statement released Monday morning, the MU News Bureau announced that professor Galen Suppes had officially been terminated by the university after a process that began last year.

The 12-member Campus Faculty Committee on Tenure in May unanimously agreed to Suppes’ dismissal for actions including “exploitation and/or coercion of students” and “intimidation, harassment, bullying and/or creation of a hostile work environment for faculty and staff,” according to a committee report.

Suppes, a chemical engineering professor, must pay $600,000 to the university after losing a case involving intellectual property and violation of his contract with the UM System.

Dean Elizabeth Loboa of the College of Engineering first “sent a notice of initial charges” in early September 2016 after receiving multiple complaints about Suppes’ behavior.

“We could not allow his behavior to continue impacting our community,” Loboa said in the statement. “After numerous attempts to counsel Dr. Suppes over the last several years, I became convinced that this action had to be taken.”

Suppes has had a rough relationship with the university in the past, including six lawsuits against the university and faculty members and two faculty irresponsibility charges, according to a separate MU News Bureau press release published Sept. 6.

A committee report attached to the Monday press release recounted many disputes between Suppes and his colleagues, including claims of harassment of both students and staff from redacted faculty members.

“[Unidentified professor], a former faculty member in the department, stated by affidavit [under oath] that he found [Suppes’] behavior was frequently unprofessional and inappropriate,’” according to the report.

Another former colleague recounted that Suppes “harassed and demeaned her in numerous ways because she was a ‘chemist’ rather than a chemical engineer,” including copying administrators on an email that stated chemists are inadequate in teaching chemical engineering. Other claims in the report blame Suppes for destroying the college’s “friendly atmosphere” and disclose further instances of harassment of department chairs.

The committee report also found evidence that Suppes “treated female students unfairly.” Between 2012 and 2014, he accused female students of cheating more often than male students when the demographics of the department are taken into account.

Additionally, from April to November of 2012, students wrote letters to the Industrial Advisory Board for the chemical engineering department listing several concerns, such as ineffective teaching and “allegedly coercive assignments,” according to the committee documents.

In 2009, Suppes and business partner William Sutterlin were sued by MU for removing information from forms that would allow MU to access their inventions, an act violating their contracts with the university. The invention was a method of creating propylene glycol from biodiesel waste and using it as a type of antifreeze for vehicles, which won Suppes the 2006 Presidential Green Chemistry Award. Although Suppes said his inventions were for his business and thus excluded from such a contract, the invention was made on university property with university equipment, according to an article published by the Missourian.

However, Suppes’ glycerin converter has not been his only patent dispute with the university. In four separate meetings, nearly two dozen other inventions that Suppes was involved with were brought to the university Patent Committee, according to the Sept. 6 press release. Each meeting led to a ruling in favor of the university.

After over 50 hours of hearings from December 2016 to April 2017, the Faculty Committee on Tenure came to a consensus on Suppes’ termination in May. Then-interim Chancellor Garnett Stokes and UM System President Mun Choi agreed and upheld this decision. However, Suppes attempted to appeal his termination to the Missouri Court of Appeals and UM System Board of Curators, both of which rejected his appeal, leading to his official termination.

“By his own conduct, Dr. Suppes was interfering with the ability of our students to learn; our staff to work; and our faculty to teach, conduct their research, and engage in service activities,” Provost Garnett S. Stokes said in the Monday press release. “As a result, we believed it was our duty to take this action to improve Mizzou’s working and learning climate.”

Edited by Olivia Garrett |

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