Letters to the Editor, Opinion — February 20, 2014 at 12:00 am

Letter to the Editor

by

I am requesting the NDSU Spectrum print this letter for purposes of correcting the record as reflected in the Spectrum’s Febru­ary 10, 2014 article regarding my client, Mi­chele Reid.

When Spectrum Staff Writer Josh Fran­cis corresponded with Ms. Reid on Satur­day, February 8, 2014, she explained to him that she had been traveling, and informed him that I had provided a letter to The Fo­rum on February 5, 2014 in response to Cali Owings’ February 3, 2014 article. Given the Spectrum’s references to The Forum article, it is not clear to me why the Spectrum did not request and/or review my letter to The Forum before publishing its article about Ms. Reid.

The Spectrum article is an unfair por­trayal of Ms. Reid’s 5 ••• years as NDSU’s Dean of Libraries. The Spectrum article omits any mention of Ms. Reid’s positive performance evaluations under the former Provost referred to in the Forum article and in my letter to The Forum, the accomplish­ments Ms. Reid identified for Provost Rafert in her fiscal year 2012 Self-Evaluation, or the many improvements to the Libraries she and the Libraries staff under her supervi­sion were able to accomplish despite limited resources. Despite having received docu­mentation identifying how Ms. Reid’s work environment changed dramatically after she made a legitimate open records request of her relatively new supervisor Provost Bruce Rafert, in March 2012, and how her work environment became even more hostile af­ter she complained of gender discrimination and retaliation in June 2012, the theme of the Spectrum article is “Unhappy Staff.”

In developing its story, the Spectrum article cites to a packet of written materials supplied not by a “substantial” number of staff as initially claimed by Provost Rafert, but rather by three staff with histories of dis­ruptive behavior, one of whom had been pre­viously disciplined for harassing Ms. Reid.

The Spectrum article refers to “exit sur­veys by employees retiring or leaving the university,” without regard for whether the surveys were from employees who had been disciplined or who held a grudge against Ms. Reid for the reorganization of the Li­braries she had been hired to undertake. The Spectrum does a disservice to Ms. Reid by quoting negative comments from these ma­terials, and from others produced by staff who disapproved of her reorganization, as if the criticisms are true, and without any in­vestigation or mention of the commenters’ possible underlying motivation or bias.

The Spectrum article refers to Provost Rafert’s draft 360 Review, but as discussed below and in my letter to The Forum, the draft 360 Review was seriously flawed. Ad­ditionally, as alleged in Ms. Reid’s Charge of Discrimination filed with the Equal Em­ployment Opportunity Commission in Octo­ber 2012, the NDSU Policy used by Provost Rafert to conduct the 360 Review did not apply to Ms. Reid’s position and, as such, the threat to subject Ms. Reid to the 360 Re­view was retaliatory.

As explained in my February 5, 2014 let­ter to The Forum, the threat to subject Ms. Reid to the 360 review process material­ized during spring semester, 2012, during a meeting concerning staff hostility issues. Provost Rafert invoked NDSU Policy 327, which applies to deans, directors, and chairs who oversee tenure track faculty, which Ms. Reid’s former position as Dean of Librar­ies did not do, as the basis for Ms. Reid’s 360 review. However, there are no tenure track faculty in the NDSU Libraries, and the policy had never before been applied to a Dean or Director of Libraries for whom NDSU policy provides only annual reviews. Indeed, in a May 15, 2013 meeting, when Provost Rafert presented Ms. Reid with a copy of the draft 360 Review, Provost Rafert mentioned the difficulty he had had in ap­plying Policy 327 to her case.

The Spectrum article also quotes a ref­erence by Provost Rafert claiming Ms. Reid held a “special faculty appointment.” Provost Rafert has insisted that Ms. Reid holds a faculty appointment, apparently, in attempting to make a case for her being eligible for a 360 review, but while the Re­quest to Hire form dated January 8, 2008 (that Ms. Reid never saw until September 10, 2012) allowed the option of her being hired as special faculty, this option was not selected for inclusion in her contract letter, which, per Policy 350.1 determines whether an employee holds faculty status. However, even if Ms. Reid had held a faculty appoint­ment, this would not have qualified her for review under Policy 327, which applies only to deans, directors and chairs who oversee tenure track faculty, which her deanship did not do.

The draft 360 Review conducted by Provost Rafert’s office contains a number of procedural irregularities and process flaws, including the inclusion of persons known to be hostile to Ms. Reid, inconsistent and biased reporting, and apparent omissions. The draft 360 Review presents a version of the results of four of the five sections of a questionnaire that was not developed from Ms. Reid’s then current job description, but, based on statements made by the Chair of the Evaluation Committee, should have been. Multiple choice responses are re­ported incompletely and inconsistently, and, throughout the draft 360 Review, the ag­gregate of non-staff responses are ignored. If the Spectrum had reviewed the totality of the multiple choice responses, it should have found that staff and non-staff responses largely mirror each other, although non-staff responses are much more positive than the reported staff responses are negative. Quo­tation from respondent written comments is selective, quotations are truncated, or mischaracterized, and it appears some com­ments have been omitted in the draft 360 Review. One complimentary respondent comment quoted in the draft 360 Review is truncated to omit reference to the staffing problems Ms. Reid faced as Dean. The draft 360 Review also contains flawed arguments inconsistent with the documented facts in an attempt to justify a negative view of Ms. Reid’s performance and personality.

Contrary to statements contained in Provost Rafert’s signed and dated positive letter of reference, which I discuss below and which stated that Ms. Reid was hired, in part, to “reorganize the NDSU Libraries, remediate longstanding staffing and culture issues and establish in the libraries a cus­tomer service environment,” the draft 360 Review incorrectly implies that Ms. Reid was not hired to bring about change in the NDSU Libraries. That she was hired to bring about change has never been disputed previously, and no one can seriously dispute that Ms. Reid’s position as Dean of Libraries was described to her when she was hired as a job that would not endear her to some staff in the Libraries. However, she views one of her major achievements in the Libraries as having attracted and developed a vibrant cohort of staff who, as reflected in draft 360 Review respondent comments, have con­tributed to changing the climate of the Li­braries. Unfortunately, the Spectrum article omits any mention of this achievement.

The Spectrum article conveys the im­pression that Ms. Reid was forced from her position. To the contrary, Ms. Reid left her position of Dean of Libraries voluntari­ly. By way of background, on December 19, 2013, Ms. Reid and NDSU reached an agreement with respect to the terms of the settlement. The settlement agreement and Provost Rafert’s positive letter of reference were signed the morning of December 20, 2013. Ms. Reid negotiated and received a reasonable settlement in exchange for with­drawing her claims against NDSU, having already concluded that under the current ad­ministration she had accomplished as much as she could as Dean of Libraries.

The Spectrum article incorrectly refers to the December 20, 2013 positive letter of reference Ms. Reid received from Provost Rafert as “undated,” and, in stating that Pro­vost Rafert “once praised Reid,” wrongly implies that the positive letter of reference was written much earlier than it was for pur­poses of creating a story of Ms. Reid’s al­leged “downfall.” The statement repeatedly made in the Spectrum article that Provost Rafert’s positive letter of reference is un­dated is incorrect because the signed letter is dated December 20, 2013. Provost Rafert’s signed letter contains significantly more complimentary language regarding Ms. Re­id’s performance than quoted in the article. I have attached the signed and dated positive letter of reference Provost Rafert provided to Ms. Reid and I encourage the Spectrum to publish the positive letter of reference in its entirety with this letter in print and on the web, as well as my February 5, 2014 letter to The Forum out of fairness to Ms. Reid be­cause of the way Ms. Reid has been unfairly portrayed and characterized in the Spectrum article. I am at a loss to understand how the Spectrum could responsibly print that “the university intended to fire Michele Reid,” given the settlement that was then being negotiated between Ms. Reid and NDSU, which requires Ms. Reid to remain available to consult in the Libraries on personnel and technical issues, as well as the language in the signed and dated positive letter of refer­ence acknowledging Ms. Reid was transfer­ring to the position of University Fellow “in recognition of her time intensive achieve­ments benefiting the entire University com­munity, and of her desire to complete her doctorate….”

The Spectrum article’s statement that Provost Rafert recommended in the draft 360 Review that Ms. Reid be fired is incor­rect. The draft 360 Review, while undeserv­edly negative, does not recommend Ms. Reid be fired, and discusses her continued employment as Dean of Libraries. The Spectrum article refers to and quotes from a separate document the Forum article re­fers to as Provost Rafert’s “December 20, 2013 termination letter” which contains Provost Rafert’s statement that Ms. Reid’s employment should be terminated. Neither Ms. Reid nor I had any knowledge that this document existed [despite the fact the docu­ment states it is "For: Michele Reid, Dean of Libraries"] until January 17, 2014, when the General Counsel forwarded to me a portion of the documents received by The Forum in response to Ms. Owings’ open records re­quest. This document purportedly summa­rizes the draft 360 Review and alleged open forum regarding Ms. Reid. Provost Rafert’s document contains a number of misrepre­sentations, including, but not limited to the following: “The Open Forum, held Decem­ber 19, 2013, provided no positive inputs to sway the results obtained by the [360] Review Committee.” This statement is un­disputedly false because no open forum was held on December 19, 2013 or on any other date. The claim that all the feedback re­ceived during the open forum was negative, i.e., “no positive inputs,” is equally false because there was no feedback given the fact that the open forum never took place. Finally, to suggest that the “results obtained by the [360] Review Committee” were jus­tified because the Provost did not receive any “positive inputs” during the open forum [that never took place] is at best misleading.

The real story here, which the Spec­trum either missed or chose not to report, is what motivated Provost Rafert to draft the December 20, 2013 termination letter after NDSU had negotiated and agreed upon the terms of the settlement with Ms. Reid on December 19, 2013. The contrast between Provost Rafert’s signed and dated December 20, 2013 positive letter of reference and the December 20, 2013 termination letter could not be more pronounced-the signed posi­tive letter of reference is filled with praise and recognition for Ms. Reid and her accom­plishments as Dean of Libraries. The De­cember 20, 2013 termination letter-a letter that was never presented to Ms. Reid-con­tains career damaging statements that are directly contradicted by Provost Rafert’s signed and dated positive letter of reference.

Provost Rafert’s December 20, 2013 termination letter/Final Evaluation Report and the subsequent articles published in the Spectrum and The Forum referencing this document, have wrongfully and unneces­sarily misrepresented Ms. Reid’s history of performance as Dean of Libraries and have not only severely damaged her professional reputation and future career prospects, but have already caused her tangible harm.

JOHN A FABIAN
FABIAN & MAY ANDERSON, PLLP
ATTORNEY
MINNEAPOLIS

 

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