New audit looks into recent faculty terminations at Dixie State University

An initial survey into recent faculty dismissals at Dixie State University found the school’s termination policy meets best practices and that it had adequately documented policy violations on the part of tenured faculty, according to a report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor General.

But more work would need to be done to determine whether the university had responded appropriately to those policy violations, the report concludes, and to find out what impact the terminations have had on student and faculty morale.

“The issue in question is whether the specific policy violations by some tenured faculty rise to the level of immediate termination without prior recourse to DSU’s lesser disciplinary measures,” the report concludes. “To answer the question, a more detailed audit would examine all DSU terminations/discipline in recent years as well as tenured faculty terminations at other USHE institutions in recent years.”

Lawmakers did not address the survey at a Legislative Audit Subcommittee meeting Monday morning, except to unanimously forward discussion of it to the next committee, which will determine whether to conduct a full audit.

“Dixie State University strives to employ policies and procedures that meet the highest industry standards,” the university said in a statement. “We support the state’s role in ensuring such standards and are pleased to learn the survey found DSU’s termination policy did meet best practices and offered adequate documentation.”

The report, requested in September by Democratic lawmakers, comes after at least four tenured professors have been terminated or put on extended administrative leave at Dixie over the past four years. One of those professors and at least two other former employees have filed suit against the school in the past two years, alleging they were terminated unfairly.

“It’s worth a look at what’s going on,” said Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City. “My question is … do the professors have the same opportunities and advantages as professors at all the other state institutions of higher ed?”

A faculty review board recently rejected the two most recent of those firings. Ken Peterson, a former music teacher, and Glenn Webb, the music department chair, were terminated on the same day in the middle of the semester and had appealed the decisions.

Peterson’s March 2 termination letter, which he made public on Facebook, contended he had disclosed confidential information about another faculty member’s tenure hearing, which the university’s Retention, Promotion and Tenure Policy notes could result in disciplinary action. Webb had declined to comment on the details of his dismissal.

Webb returned to teach at Dixie State University this fall, but Peterson did not. The former music teacher had refused to sign the agreement he would have needed to return to work, calling its conditions “punitive” and “vindictive.”

Peterson, reached Monday for comment on the report, said he was grateful to state auditors for looking into the conditions at Dixie State and hopes legislators will decide to approve a full audit of termination practices.

“I’m not surprised that the policies are in line with best practices,” he said of the report’s findings. “The policies themselves I don’t particularly find fault with. I argue that — and I’ve stated this from the beginning — they didn’t follow their own policies.”

And while the state auditor’s report notes that measuring the impact of the terminations on morale “would likely be difficult,” Peterson continues to contend there’s “no question” morale has been damaged among not only students but also faculty, who he says have told him they’re afraid for their own jobs.

“The terminations should be a deep concern, I think, for anyone who loves the university and anyone who loves this community,” he said.