UT union calls for removal of trustee chairman

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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The union that represents almost 500 faculty members at the University of Toledo called yesterday for the resignation of the chairman of the school’s board of trustees.

“Ronald Langenderfer has demonstrated that he lacks the temperament and the understanding of higher education to serve on the Board of Trustees,” the UT chapter of the American Association of University Professors said in a resolution.

Association President Matthew Wikander said he believes it is the first time the union has called for the removal of a trustee.

He said the call is a response to Mr. Langenderfer’s statement Wednesday that he wants university employees spreading inaccurate rumors to be fired.

“I think he’s exhibited that he doesn’t seem to understand what a university does and how it works,” Dr. Wikander said. “I can’t think of anything more disqualifying.”

The union’s action was taken at a joint meeting of its executive board and its council of departmental representatives.

Dr. Wikander said about 40 faculty members were present and that the vote was unanimous.

The union is scheduled to begin negotiations with the university for a collective bargaining agreement in less than two months.

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.”

Many faculty and staff responded with outrage, saying the comments are an attack on freedom of discussion.

Mr. Langenderfer has not returned numerous telephone calls since his comments were made.

The association represents all tenure-track faculty at UT who do not teach at the law school. As of last month, there were 453 such faculty members, a reduction from 545 a year ago. The drop is primarily because of the early retirement program offered to faculty over the last two years, and the association has been a vocal opponent of the administration’s delays in hiring new permanent faculty.

The association also represents a smaller bargaining unit of about 30 long-term part-time faculty.

Along with the resolution, the association issued a statement to respond to Mr. Langenderfer’s open letter to the university community, which he wrote Thursday.

In the letter, the trustee said he “did not explain [himself] fully” and that he and the board are “fully committed to supporting the traditions of freedom of speech, academic freedom, and the right to express a dissenting opinion.”

But the association, in its response, said that the open letter “maintains the threatening tone of his remarks at the trustees’ meeting. Simply less bellicose in attitude, the letter makes the same threats to those disseminating ‘wrong information.’”

The union accuses the administration of not being open in sharing important information about finances and other issues.

The union statement contends Mr. Langenderfer’s comments Wednesday were “of a piece with his desire to bring a corporate, top-down management style, intolerant of dissent, reflection, or critique, into an academic environment.”

Mr. Langenderfer is president of Centaur, Inc., the parent company of Heidtman Steel Products. In defending his comments after the meeting, he said he would have a similar policy if his employees at Heidtman were spreading malicious rumors.

But Tom Noe, a member of the Ohio Board of Regents, said that he believes the union might have passed its resolution because of its upcoming contract talks with the university. The union’s contract expires in June, but negotiations begin in early April.

“What’s interesting to me is that it looks to me like this might be a positioning tool for the union,” Mr. Noe, a former Bowling Green State University trustee, said. “It’s always unfortunate when you’ve got different segments of the university fighting each other, but those things happen. It’s all part of the university process.”

Dr. Harvey Wolff, the chairman of the faculty senate, could not be reached for comment, but the vice chair, Dr. Debra Stoudt, said that, while “it was unfortunate that Mr. Langenderfer said what he said,” she wished the resolution had not been passed so quickly. “Maybe we could talk things over a little before they respond,” she said.

Dr. Stoudt said she and Dr. Wolff met with Mr. Langenderfer and trustees James Tuschman and Richard Stansley, Jr., for lunch yesterday. She said Mr. Langenderfer was “conciliatory.”

“It was very clear that the board members there wanted to work with us,” she said. “It’s not to their benefit, not to the benefit of anyone, to be adversarial. These are intelligent people, successful people, and I think they have better things to do with their time than to point fingers and be confrontational.”

She said she had no comment on the substance of the union’s position.

University spokesman Joe Brennan, in a statement, cited the meeting of trustees and faculty senate leaders as “a positive and productive meeting,” which “signals a renewed commitment to working together in a spirit of good will.” Mr. Brennan said “the administration recognizes that change is hard, and it asks all faculty, staff, and students to remain patient and optimistic.”

Mike Dawson, spokesman for U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R., O.), who as governor appointed Mr. Langenderfer to the board, said he would not comment on the conflict.

Other trustees could not be reached for comment.

Along with the Langenderfer resolution, the union passed a resolution supporting Jacqueline Knepper, the UT trustee who resigned Tuesday because of her “loss of confidence in the leadership of this board” and her “substantial philosophical differences with the management style of the current administration.”

“The UT-AAUP acknowledges with gratitude the independent and public spirited service of Jacqueline Knepper on the UT Board of Trustees,” the resolution states. “We deeply regret the unfortunate situation which has compelled her to terminate her exemplary service to the faculty, students, and staff of our university.”