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Empty Chair

A Morgan State University Faculty Member Is Fired After Blowing The Whistle On The School’S Hiring Practices

By Gadi Dechter | Posted 2/16/2005

Morgan State University officials responded last week to a Sun story about instructor-less courses in the Communication Studies department by stripping the department chair of his office.

“Effective immediately, you are relieved of your duties as Chair of the Department of Communication Studies,” reads the Feb. 3 memo from Morgan State President Earl Richardson to Carl Burrowes, a copy of which was obtained by City Paper.

His removal is not only unjust but also ironic, the ex-chair says, because he was the initial source for the Feb 3. Sun story, which revealed that 10 days into the new semester Morgan undergraduates were showing up for classes and finding no faculty there to teach them.

After years of unsuccessfully pleading with the administration to add faculty to the perennially understaffed department, Burrowes says he decided to blow the whistle on what he describes as “arbitrary hiring practices” by College of Liberal Arts Dean Burney Hollis, only to read press accounts of his story that have the administration fingering the whistle-blower for the blame.

Both the Sun story and a Feb. 7 follow-up from Inside Higher Ed, an online newspaper, lead with the administration’s concerned response to the faculty shortage, and then follow with quotes from Burrowes, defending himself against accusations of poor chairmanship.

The Sun article, headlined “Several classes lacking instructors at Morgan,” does not identify Burrowes as a source. Reporter Jason Song declined to say whether Burrowes indeed tipped off the paper to the story, citing a policy of not discussing sources.

But Burrowes says that he approached The Sun (he also approached City Paper) precisely because he believed the publicity would function as a guard against the personal retaliation he says he is currently suffering. “I didn’t request anonymity,” Burrowes says. “I didn’t request that I not be cited as the source.”

Song responds: “If that’s what he says, that’s what he says.”

Morgan State spokesman Clinton Coleman denies that the president’s decision to replace the communications chair was in any way retaliatory.

“I don’t want to give the impression that the personnel action taken was only made because of this most recent incident,” Coleman tells City Paper. “This is a matter that has dragged on and dragged on.”

Indeed, Burrowes and the Morgan State administration have been at loggerheads since shortly after Burrowes left a tenure-track position at Howard University in 2002 to head the Morgan State communications department. Burrowes says he ran afoul of liberal arts Dean Burney Hollis when he went above the dean’s head and appealed directly to the school president with a detailed plan about reforming the department—one of the university’s largest.

Ever since then, Burrowes says, the dean has engaged in a campaign of “harassment and vilification,” which has included failing to authorize much-needed faculty hires.

Hollis did not respond to requests for comment for this story, but Morgan State spokesman Coleman says that teacher hiring is the province of the department chair.

“The policy at Morgan State University is that it is the department chair’s responsibility to ensure that all scheduled classes have the appropriate instructors in place to cover those classes,” Coleman says.

Burrowes responds with incredulity. “The factual basis of the situation flies in the face of their claims,” he says. “I have no authority to appoint anyone. I have no authority to hire anyone.”

Burrowes harbors no illusions about his future at Morgan State. He was not awarded tenure, and his three-year appointment is up in July. Believing both his internal and public-relations campaign have failed, the Columbia resident formally requested last week a state investigation into “fraud and financial mismanagement” at Morgan.

Deputy state budget secretary Cecilia Januszkiewicz tells City Paper she has received Burrowes’ complaint, but that her office has no investigatory powers. The matter will be forwarded, she says, to the Attorney General’s Office this week for further consideration.

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