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The Chronicle of Higher Education
From the issue dated June 12, 1991

'SMUDGE ON YOUR SUNDAY SUIT'

Director of S.D. Regents Nears End of Odyssey to Escape AAUP Censure

By Courtney Leatherman

Pierre, South Dakota -- Midway through his quest to get the South Dakota Board of Regents removed from a blacklist of academic-freedom violators, Howell W. Todd thought about giving up.

When he took on the task nearly two years ago as the board's new executive director, he didn't realize what an odyssey it would be to get it off the American Association of University Professor's list of censured administrations.The governing board for the state's university system had been censured nearly 30 years ago, after the AAUP concluded that a professor at South Dakota State College had been wrongfully dismissed in 1958. A second case, involving a professor dismissed from Northern State College in 1966, further tarnished the board's image with the AAUP.

"The word `saga' would be appropriate," Mr. Todd said, as he recounted the efforts the board had made to prove that it had changed the way it treats professors at the state's six public institutions. In the last year, the board has adopted new policies for awarding tenure and terminating non-tenured appointments; persuaded a faculty collective-bargaining unit to accept the changes; settled with the estate of one of the dismissed professors; tracked down the other fired professor through electronic data-base searches, police records, and court documents; and finally, after finding him, chartered a plane to visit him 400 miles away to persuade him to settle his case.

"Several times during the course of this I wondered, Is it worth it? Are we ever going to reach a conclusion?" Mr. Todd recalled.

But now that the board is on the brink of clearing its name, Mr. Todd believes the efforts have paid off. AAUP members are expected to vote to remove the board from the censure list at its annual meeting this week. "Our perspective is that the censure is more image than substance," he said. But, he added, "in this business, perception often equals reality. If the perception is that things are bad here, then no matter how good they are, you have to live with that."

He added: "It's much like having a smudge on your Sunday suit."

Mr. Todd has spent most of his tenure wiping away the smudge left by an earlier board.

The South Dakota Board of Regents has been on the AAUP's list longer than any of the 50 currently censured administrations. In fact, it holds the record for longevity on the list.

The board was censured when the AAUP concluded that it had violated the association's academic-freedom standards by wrongfully dismissing a tenured professor, W. W. Worzella. At the time, an AAUP investigation concluded that Mr. Worzella, who had worked at South Dakota State for 15 years, had been dismissed for clashing with administrators.

The board's problems with the AAUP were exacerbated in 1966 when the regents rejected a one-year teaching contract between Northern State College and Frank P. Kosik. Mr. Kosik, a political-science professor who was born in Czechoslovakia, was accused of making anti-American comments in his class, according to an AAUP committee's report. (He told the association that his comments -- including a remark that the American flag "nauseated him" -- had been taken out of context.)

Mr. Kosik was dismissed after one month without an opportunity to challenge the decision.

In 1931, the AAUP began voting to censure institutions that had violated its standards of academic freedom and tenure. A vote to censure -- made by AAUP members at the association's annual meeting -- is based on the recommendations of a special committee on academic freedom. Before the AAUP drops an institution from its list, the institution must address the issues that led to censure.

When Mr. Todd and the board's general counsel, James F. Shekleton, began tackling those issues last year, they thought the hardest part would be revising tenure and termination procedures both to conform with the AAUP's standards and to be acceptable to the system's collective-bargaining agent. Because the AAUP also serves as the collective-bargaining agent for faculties at other institutions, the system's union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, viewed any dealings with the AAUP as suspect.

Mr. Todd thought dealing with the two professors' cases would be easier. Indeed, settling with Mr. Worzella was fairly easy: he had died in 1988, so the regents gave $15,000 to his estate and set up a $10,000 scholarship in his name at South Dakota State.

Mr. Todd had not anticipated much difficulty in reaching -- much less settling with -- Mr. Kosik. Of the six-page chronology of the board's efforts to get off the censure list, nearly four pages are devoted to dealings with Mr. Kosik.

The AAUP lost track of him after its investigation of his dismissal. "We go to the learned societies. It never occurs to us to do what MasterCard would do," said Jordan E. Kurland, the AAUP's associate general secretary.

After the South Dakota board received no response to a letter it sent Mr. Kosik through the Social Security Administration, Mr. Shekleton conducted an electronic data-base search. First he turned up a Frank Kosik living in Yucaipa, Calif., but he was the wrong one. (He was in the data base because of his role in a production of the musical Singing in the Rain that made a local newspaper.) A data-base search of legal records then turned up the right Mr. Kosik. (He was listed in court documents that recorded a dispute with a Nebraska school district.) In August 1990, after checking with the school district and traffic bureaus, Mr. Shekleton finally found Mr. Kosik, retired and living in Concordia, Kan.

Mr. Kosik said he was surprised when he heard from the regents. He was also suspicious. "What first came to my mind was that there were reasons other than justice or repentance," he said in an interview. He finally settled for $15,000 in January after rejecting several previous offers, including one identical to the one accepted by Mr. Worzella's estate. Mr. Kosik wanted $25,000 in cash, and he called the idea of starting a scholarship in his name "an insult."

"To first kick me off campus and threaten me with force and then want to give me a scholarship at that dump -- that would be like Hitler offering to erect a monument to the Holocaust victims," he said.

He agreed to settle a month after Mr. Todd flew to Concordia and spent an afternoon talking with him. But Mr. Kosik still thinks he got a raw deal, and said he would probably be angry with them "for an eternity." He said he had agreed to settle simply to end the ordeal.

Mr. Todd said he regretted that he couldn't satisfy Mr. Kosik, but he hoped his efforts would make an impression with the AAUP. "It is important for the academy to know that academic freedom is protected in South Dakota," he said, "and that there is no blemish on our record."


Copyright 1991 by The Chronicle of Higher Education