Kapoor: Trustee’s remarks ‘a mistake’; UT chairman pens letter on firing threat

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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It was “a mistake” for the chairman of the University of Toledo board of trustees to say that employees spreading inaccurate rumors about the administration will be fired immediately, UT President Dr. Vik Kapoor said last night.

But while he said he has no “personal knowledge” of the inaccuracies to which Ronald Langenderfer was referring, Dr. Kapoor said the trustee means well.

“Sometimes people speak from the heart, and they make a mistake,” Dr. Kapoor said. “But, it’s a genuine mistake, not malicious.”

Meanwhile, in an open letter yesterday to the UT community, Mr. Langenderfer said he did not mean for his comments to be seen as an infringement of free speech.

“The Board of Trustees is fully committed to supporting the traditions of freedom of speech, academic freedom, and the right to express a dissenting opinion,” he wrote.

But he did not retract his initial statement that offenders will be sought out and punished.

“Some wrong information is still being disseminated, and the Board wants that stopped,” his letter states.

And Governor Taft, in Toledo to speak at a local elementary school, said he is “obviously concerned” about the negative publicity UT is receiving because of internal dissent.

“We will be having discussions with the members of the board and members of the administration to try to understand what is happening there,” Mr. Taft said.

All three reactions occurred a day after Mr. Langenderfer lashed out at some of the university’s faculty and staff during a meeting of the board of trustees.

On Wednesday, Mr. Langenderfer said he was disgusted by what he called false rumors claiming that UT is near financial collapse or that key departments are about to be shut down.

He said that a small group of disgruntled university employees committed to the “total destruction” of UT are responsible.

“They will be investigated,” he said. “If we can prove that, watch out. It will not be tolerated.”

He said the employees “will be discharged immediately from this university.”

The comments produced an uproar among faculty and staff, who said that it is a violation of academic freedom to threaten firings for discussion about the university.

Mr. Langenderfer has not returned repeated telephone calls seeking comment, but he wrote in his letter that he wanted to “clarify the remarks I made. … I recognize that I did not explain myself fully and that what I said may have caused some people to misunderstand my message.”

He said that he believes, based on concerns relayed to him and other trustees by parents of UT students, that some employees are providing “intentionally misleading information” that hurts the university.

“It is undermining the Institution,” the letter states. “University policies mandate that employees observe the highest standards of conduct, including honesty in dealings with students, colleagues, and the public.”

In the letter, Mr. Langenderfer does not say there will be no firings, but he did broaden the possible repercussions of malicious speech.

“If employees intentionally spread false information, then the Administration must take appropriate action in accordance with the University’s policies and procedures, its collective bargaining agreements, and applicable laws. This is good public policy and sound management practice,” the letter continues.

But Dr. Kapoor said he doesn’t know whether the malicious lies Mr. Langenderfer spoke of are being spread around campus.

“I cannot give you any specifics,” he said. “I don’t have any personal knowledge of things.”

When asked whether he had any evidence of a misinformation campaign by faculty or staff members, he said, “no direct evidence. There may be information, but I have no comment at this time.”

Dr. Kapoor said that most UT employees would have nothing to worry about because most do not spread hateful falsehoods.

“To be honest with you, I strongly believe in academic freedom,” Dr. Kapoor said.

But he said that, while “99.9 per cent [of university workers] are dedicated employees, there are a few who give wrong information and rumors.”

Maliciously providing inaccurate information to students or others, he said, would go against the university’s code of conduct and would be worthy of appropriate punishment.

He said he did not hear any reaction from faculty or students yesterday because he was in meetings all day.

Governor Taft said after an appearance at Warren Elementary School in Toledo that he is “concerned” about the situation on campus.

The governor said he had not heard about Mr. Langenderfer’s remarks, and a Taft spokesman said the governor did not speak with Mr. Langenderfer yesterday.

When asked whether he has confidence in the current trustees, Governor Taft paused for more than 10 seconds, sighed, took a deep breath, then said, “Overall, I’ve had confidence in the members of the board. Certainly, we took a lot of care in the appointments we have made to the board, and I believe we have appointed people of very high quality, of high caliber.”

But he continued: “We are obviously concerned about the adverse publicity that the university is receiving as a result of the conflicting views about the university and about the administration. We are monitoring that situation.”

The governor would not comment on Tuesday’s resignation of UT Trustee Jacqueline Knepper.

In her resignation letter to the governor, Ms. Knepper wrote that her “loss of confidence in the leadership of this board” and her “substantial philosophical differences with the management style of the current administration” made her decide to leave her post.

Mr. Taft said that he will seek input from Dr. Kapoor and others about whom to appoint as Ms. Knepper’s replacement but emphasized that “it’s not the president’s appointment; it’s my appointment. We will seek out the most qualified candidates. And then we will make that appointment.”

Blade political writer Fritz Wenzel contributed to this report.