Professor sues MU officials over denial of tenure

Kesler claims he was never provided a reason for the decision, despite multiple requests.
Cameron Thomas / Graphic Designer

Dylan Kesler, assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife, filed a lawsuit against senior university officials Sept. 24 after he was denied tenure for reasons unknown to him.

Kesler’s suit names the UM System Board of Curators, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, Interim Provost Ken Dean and School of Natural Resources Director Mark Ryan as respondents.

Dean and Ryan were unavailable for comment.

Kesler said he was denied tenure almost two months ago but was never given an explanation for the university’s decision, despite multiple verbal and written requests.

Chapter 310.020 of the UM System Collected Rules and Regulations states, “In the event of a recommendation at any level for nonrenewal of a regular appointment or for a terminal appointment, the faculty member shall be informed and, upon request, shall be furnished with an explanation of that decision.”

According to the 30-page case file, “Loftin wrote a letter on or about August 13, 2014, stating that he would provide a letter giving his reasons for denying tenure, but no such letter has ever been provided … (Kesler) was not ‘furnished with an explanation’ of Respondent Loftin’s decision, and thus (Kesler) was denied his rights to rebut the decision.”

His purpose for legal action, Kesler said, is to hold the officials accountable to the university’s own rules and provide him an explanation for denying him tenure.

Kesler also requests a writ of prohibition in his suit.

“This seems to be the only way to get them to follow their rules,” he said.

Kesler currently works full-time in the Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences Department in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, and has been an MU employee since September 2007.

Kesler said his current contract with MU will expire Sept. 15, 2015.

Kesler said he mainly studies the movement and demography of birds in danger of extinction and focuses preventing their extinction. He has also worked in projects outside of this area, including a collaboration with the Department of Anthropology to study uncontacted tribes in Brazil.

According to the case file, Kesler acquired over $1.4 million in research funding and has published about 28 peer-reviewed articles, co-authored or written three book chapters, 50 scientific presentations and 10 technical reports.

Kesler said he believes he is more than qualified to become a tenured professor and he said he thinks the denial of his tenure is the result of a complaint he filed in spring 2013, in which he accused MU employees of mishandling federal grant money.

“When I started at (MU), they told me the sort of work that I would need to do in order to get tenure … and I exceeded that by three times,” he said. “I’ve taught more classes than I was required to, I’ve advised more students (and) I’ve brought in more research funding. Then, when the tenure review came around, they denied my tenure because of my complaint to the federal government and to (MU) that people were mishandling federal grant funding.”

MU spokesman Christian Basi said the university followed Kesler’s complaint with an investigation and presented the findings to the federal government in the spring.

“Following that presentation, the federal government decided not to pursue legal action against the university based on the evidence that we provided to them,” he said.

The case file also mentions a plagiarism allegation made against Kesler by a former student, which triggered a research misconduct investigation led by Robert Hall, associate vice chancellor for research.

Findings of that investigation later cleared Kesler of the allegation in June 2014.

However, Kesler said the university failed to restore his reputation by not sending out a written statement of his innocence after charges were deemed unsupported.

“In the lawsuit, I ask that the university follow its own rules,” Kesler said. “I ask that they give me a tenure review in accordance with their rules, and I ask that they restore my reputation for the research misconduct investigation that I was found to have no misconduct. My reputation is damaged nationally and internationally by this.”

Kesler said he wants to work with MU officials to develop a better plan for sending out notifications and to restore his reputation.

“I want to be a professor,” he said. “I’m an educator (and) I’m a researcher. I really enjoy working with students, (and) my students learn from me as well. One thing I want to emphasize is how great most of the people are at this institution. It really is a few bad apples.”

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