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WSU wants minority instructors; But Abdoulaye Saine is being shown the door

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Posted: Monday, June 15, 1998 12:00 am

PULLMAN -- Washington State University is combatting a high turnover of minority faculty members by stepping up recruitment, awarding cash for research and tracking why they're leaving.

But it's no mystery why at least one black professor, who wants to stay, is moving to Ohio.

West African professor Abdoulaye Saine lost his bid for tenure, an appeal and a year-long campaign to reopen his case.

Spurred by the departure of more than a dozen black faculty members last year, students began protesting Saine's tenure denial, trumpeting the diversity he brings to WSU.

He was instrumental in developing WSU's African studies minor, bringing the first African Film Festival to campus and founding the Africa Interest Group.

But an unbending adherence to university guidelines will send this popular professor packing. Meanwhile, the university is marching forward with new programs to recruit more minority hires.

Saine applauds WSU's attempt to boost support for minorities, but adds, "I would have liked to have benefited from the same."

WSU Provost Gretchen M. Bataille declines to comment on Saine's case.

But when asked if student rallies, including pleas to reopen Saine's case, inspired change, Bataille says the noisy rebellion prompted her to look into diversity issues early in her administration.

She added two part-time employees to her staff, who will focus on minority affairs.

"My job coming in as a new administrator really is to bring some fresh ideas and look anew at what is going on," says Bataille, who just finished her first year as provost.

Diversity is a centerpiece of Bataille's new Academic Enrichment Program. The program allows departments to target an individual for a job and forgo a formal search.

In its first year, the program will bring to WSU seven women and three men. Of those 10 new hires, there is one Asian American, one American Indian, one Hispanic, three black and four white professors.

Funding for the new hires generally comes from Bataille's budget and, so far, will cost about $500,000.

"It's enriching the quality of faculty, and part of the enrichment that we need to provide at a major institution is diversity," Bataille explains. "Our goal is always to get better, and diversity is part of getting better."

Not all "enrichment" hires will be minorities, she says, adding the program targets other "opportunity hires," such as a Pulitzer Prize winner or prominent scientist.

Bataille admits universities have historically put more emphasis on recruiting minorities than on retaining them.

Renewed attention to minority retention is a consolation for Saine, who departs WSU disappointed but not defeated.

"I think we won the political battle and the moral battle," Saine says. But Saine remains perplexed about why Bataille took a tough stance on his case.

"This is really her first test," Saine says.

He suggests Bataille wanted to leave a strong impression with students and faculty members who were challenging her decision not to get involved.

"Why hang onto a flawed idea just because you want to appear tough? What interest is she defending or protecting?" he asks. "Bataille had the power to do something."

But Bataille has consistently maintained tenure decisions rest with faculty. Once the appeal process is exhausted, Bataille says the only remaining remedy is taking the case to court.

Faculty members determine tenure guidelines for their departments.

Bataille stresses consistency. Departments should apply their criteria over a period of time, she says, and it shouldn't be "revamped for individuals."

But some professors appear to be inviting intervention. Some professors who voted against granting Saine tenure, wrote letters urging the administration to give Saine special attention.

They wrote they were uncomfortable applying their tenure criteria to Saine because his circumstances were distinct.

Saine had a joint appointment to political science and comparative American cultures departments. But he was judged by the same rules applied to colleagues who have only a single appointment.

A joint appointment means two bosses, twice the departmental meetings and increased demands to serve on committees.

The tenure decision was unjust, Saine argues, because the university didn't consider the extra workload. Saine says he also faced additional pressures mentoring students of color on a predominantly white campus.

He has a strong teaching and service record. But his peers denied him tenure, saying his research wasn't up to snuff.

This spring, five political science professors wrote a letter saying Saine's research publications have improved and would likely earn him tenure if they were to decide now.

"I could have done it easily if I would have been given a single appointment," Saine says. "If I had support."

Tenure track positions typically have a six-year probationary period with annual reviews. At the end of six years junior professors must either achieve tenure -- a decision voted on by faculty peers in a given department -- or their contracts end.

When Saine's case came to light, there was an outpouring of community support. A Coalition to Tenure Dr. Saine formed.

"I leave Pullman feeling good about that," he says, adding he's found a "large extended family here."

For some time the university has considered conducting exit interviews to find out why faculty leave. Now the practice will be moved off the back burner and put into action this fall, says Ernestine Madison, WSU vice provost for human relations and resources.

Madison's office is also starting a new program to grant junior faculty members up to $4,000 to conduct research. The idea is to help them jump start their research careers so they'll have a better shot at achieving tenure.

The program's criteria says it's "for faculty identified as having the potential to add to the diversity of the university."

For a brief moment it looked as though Saine might get to stay. WSU Regent Bill Marler told Saine, a handful of his supporters and two newspaper reporters that the university intended to extend Saine's contract for 30 days so the political science department could consider offering him a new tenure-track position.

But Saine says Bataille quashed the deal.

"He (Marler) was speaking as one regent," Bataille responded, "and those decisions are not made by the regents."

In the end, the university agreed to extend Saine's contract for one year if Saine promised to drop his right to make any legal claims against the university.

Saine rejected the offer because it would only delay his departure.

Instead he's moving to Oxford, Ohio, this month to take a job at Miami University in the political science and international studies departments.

"I learned from this experience. It's not going to stop me. I'm still going to be publishing and writing.

"I know what I'm getting into now, so I can play the game or try to change it."

© 2016 The Lewiston Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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