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April 28, 2009 7:59 pm

Grievance Filed Against O'Brien


An anonymous source delivered a copy of a letter to The Point News that was circulated to over twenty faculty members. The memo details a series of events leading up to a meeting between Professor Tom Barrett, the Chair of the History Department, and President Jane Margaret O’Brien and the aftermath of their encounter. Barrett confirmed the letter’s contents.

On Dec. 23, 2008, Barrett met with O’Brien in her office to discuss a meeting of academic department chairs that occurred on Dec. 9, which Vice President of Business and Finance Tom Botzman attended.

President O’Brien was not present at the initial meeting.

According to the letter, Barrett pointed out at the department chairs meeting that, “many university presidents were voluntarily giving back some of their salary because of the tough fiscal climate,” and asked if this had been considered at the College.

According to Tom Botzman, however, furloughs for a limited number of St. Mary’s staff had already been announced at the opening of the department chairs meeting.

“I have spoken to numerous chairs who attended the meeting, as well as our Faculty Senate President, Bob Paul, and all agree that Tom spoke in a respectful and professional manner,” Christine Adams wrote in the letter. Other faculty sources have confirmed that Barrett was respectful while discussing the possibility of furloughs.

At their Dec. 23 meeting, according to the memo, O’Brien confronted Barrett for raising the issue of salary cuts. She also noted a “pattern of disturbing and confrontational behavior based on what she had heard about the meeting.”

The letter also states that O’Brien “asked [Barrett] how he saw himself, and whether he intended to be at St. Mary’s long term.”

“Tom responded by telling her exactly what he had said at the Department Chairs meeting — that he had not suggested that she should take a 10 percent salary cut, but rather, he asked whether executive furloughs would be on the table if push came to shove,” according to the faculty memo. O’Brien allegedly ended the Dec. 23 meeting after Barrett began taking notes.

According to O’Brien, however, the discussion of salary cuts was only one facet of their meeting and the issue lasted less than 20 seconds. She said that the meeting escalated to the point that she sought out the help of Public Safety.

David Densford, O’Brien’s legal counsel on the issue, said, “When a conversation becomes sufficiently uncivilized and loud on the part of one party that Public Safety has to be called then [O’Brien] has to protect everyone’s, including her own, right to feel safe at the College.”

After the Dec. 23 meeting, Barrett filed a grievance against O’Brien with the College due to her alleged accusations.

According to O’Brien, the grievance was filed and handled by Provost Larry Vote. The grievance was taken up by the College’s Board of Trustees at a hearing on Feb. 21, as per college policy. It was unanimously denied.

O’Brien said that she is pleased with the Board’s decision.

Densford said, “Everyone who has watched the progress at the College knows that President O’Brien has always stood for free speech and the free flow of ideas.”

Barrett, although hesitant to comment about the hearings themselves, said, “Although I am ambivalent about the way the grievance was handled, as far as I’m concerned the matter is settled.”

According to O’Brien, no action has been taken against Barrett and he remains a tenured member of the faculty.

Barrett also expressed his desire to remain at the College and he remains highly respected among the faculty. David Kung, the Chair of the Mathematics and Computer Science Department, said, “I have always been impressed by Professor Barrett’s devotion to St. Mary’s College. As a fellow chair, I have sat in many meetings with him. He has always been collegial and respectful, always keeping the best interests of the College in mind.”

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