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Was Utah Valley University prof challenging, or condescending?

Published October 15, 2013 11:19 am

Courts • Ex-Utah Valley University professor appealing.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A former Utah Valley University professor is appealing a judge's decision to dismiss his claim that he was illegally fired because his course was too rigorous for students.

Business scholar Steven Maranville says he was hired in 2008 away from the University of Houston, where he had tenure, with the promise that he would get a similar deal at UVU after a one-year probationary period.

But during that year, Maranville's department chair got the worst student complaints he'd ever encountered, according to an August ruling from U.S. District Judge Dee Benson.

Students said he was "rude, condescending, humiliating, and belittling," once screaming "shut up" at a student trying to answer a question from him, Benson wrote.

Attorney Robert Sykes said Maranville was doing "exactly what he was hired to do" and also had good reviews.

"It's a tough economy. He was demanding that they perform and perform well," Sykes said. "He wasn't going to sit up there and lecture them."

But the "volume and magnitude" of the negative student responses made UVU leaders see it differently, according to university attorney David Jones. Those students were "seasoned young adult students in an upper-level business course, with other real-life jobs and experiences," Jones, an assistant Utah attorney general, wrote in an email.

UVU cut Maranville loose, though it did give him another one-year contract so he had time to find new work.

After the year, he sued, saying his contract gave him a "reasonable expectation" of tenure — or at least the right to have supervisors hear his side of the story, Sykes said.

"Our basic claim is, he had a right to notice and a hearing," he said. "He could still be terminated, but he had a right to notice and a hearing."

But Jones said Maranville was informed about the university's decision and didn't take the chance to appeal

Benson dismissed the suit in August, ruling that since the contract said tenure hinged on "successful completion" of a probationary period, along with acquiring written recommendations, Maranville didn't have the right to expect automatic tenure or a hearing.

Maranville, who subsequently taught at Westminster College in Salt Lake City and went into private business in August, is appealing to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

He's seeking damages equal to the difference between the income he would have made at UVU and what he actually made — at Westminster, Sykes said, he was paid $20,000 a year less than he was promised at UVU,

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst