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Turmoil threatens stability of EECS

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Posted: Monday, October 28, 2013 11:18 pm | Updated: 7:31 pm, Tue Mar 4, 2014.

Announcement of EECS head’s termination stirred reaction from faculty, staff, students

Faculty and students became furious because of last month’s unexpected termination of popular department head Terri Fiez.

Fiez has served as head of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science for nearly 15 years. But on Sept. 5, College of Engineering Dean Sandra Woods notified Fiez that she would be removed on Sept. 30.

After students, staff and faculty expressed a unified fury toward the decision, Woods decided to let Fiez finish out the academic year.

Since then, EECS faculty has formally proposed that Fiez be reappointed for no less than a five-year term.

Woods declined to comment on the decision because it is a “personnel issue,” but said she is listening to faculty and student concerns regarding the decision.

Fiez also declined to comment on this issue, but said she’s never seen a group of people pull together like this.

“We really are more like a family,” Fiez said.

Senior faculty and representatives from top technology companies in Oregon have more than made up for Fiez’s silence.

The department fights back

Professor Karti Mayaram said he was shocked when he first read the Sept. 5 email about Fiez’s termination. Mayaram was even more befuddled by Woods’ lack of interest at including the faculty in such a transition decision.

“She takes away the most important person from the unit, and says, ‘Fine, let’s move forward from here,’” Mayaram said.

Mayaram said the 70 staff and faculty members within EECS were uniformly angry about the decision. Mayaram outlined projects Fiez contributed to, including a new one-year online post-baccalaureate program in computer science and constant relations with technology industry professionals to get more students more jobs.

“Even if the dean wanted to make the change, it can’t happen like this,” Mayaram said.

“She’s the most outstanding leader I’ve seen at this university,” said John Wager, an EECS professor who has been at OSU for 29 years. “She’s one of the most creative, clever, hard-working, visionary leaders I’ve ever had the privilege to work for.”

Wager said the termination came “out of the blue,” and that Woods made no attempt to discuss the transition with the department faculty and staff.

Wager said in his time in EECS, he’s never seen so much productivity as under the leadership of Fiez. Wager said he fears the decision to remove Fiez could cause serious damage to the school’s progress.

“We’ve all got way too much on our plates to deal with any distractions, and then here’s this,” Wager said. “It’s like a bomb blows up here.”

An industry impacted

Jeff Krueger, chair of the EECS industry advisory board at Oregon State, said the decision to remove Fiez caught many industry executives off guard.

“A lot of people were upset,” Krueger said. “My phone rang off the hook.”

Initially, Krueger and other individuals contacted Woods via phone and email. According to Krueger, Woods did not respond.

Krueger and seven industry executives, including two from Intel and IBM, met on Friday to discuss the issue with OSU President Ed Ray and Provost Sabah Randhawa.

Before the meeting, Krueger also advised any unsatisfied parties to voice their concerns in letters addressed to Ray and Randhawa. Krueger said about 30 executives mailed letters to Ray and Randhawa, while 20 others gave letters to Krueger to hand out during the meeting.

“The EECS school has grown into a pretty powerful entity, meaning one of the strongest in the country,” Krueger said. “Most people attribute that to Terri Fiez.”

Krueger said some industry organizations told him they may cut funding to the college if Fiez is not reinstated.

Randhawa said discussions involved with the initial termination took place throughout a couple of weeks. Randhawa declined to mention what the personnel issue was.

“Issues came up and the decision had to be made sooner than later,” Randhawa said.

Randhawa also acknowledged that there’s no reason to believe Fiez hasn’t been a strong leader for the school.

He said the lack of faculty involvement in the decision-making process was complicated because it dealt with personnel.

“You don’t get a consensus on personnel issues,” Randhawa said. “It’s a very different ballgame from that perspective.”

Two months of frustration

According to correspondence obtained by The Daily Barometer, events occurred as follows:

On Sept. 5, Fiez sent an email to her faculty and staff saying Woods would terminate her position, effective Sept. 30.

“She said she would like to change the direction of the college and needed to make a leadership change,” Fiez wrote. “I do not know what her plans are for EECS at this point.”

On Sept. 16, students, staff and faculty in EECS confirmed statements from Woods saying she would allow Fiez to serve out her contract until the end of her appointment in June 2014.

The department was still displeased. As a result, they contacted Randhawa on Sept. 27.

The EECS staff and faculty further notified Randhawa on Oct. 2 of their reluctance to participate in a search for a new department head when they crafted and signed a letter boycotting the process.

Following these events, Randhawa replied via email to staff and faculty saying he’d only meet with them in the future if Woods was also part of the conversation. He said there were no further issues to discuss regarding the nature of the personnel issue in question.

The last major discussion between industry representatives and Krueger occurred on Friday. Though Ray and Randhawa seemed reluctant to reveal details, Krueger still believes the meeting went well and said the overall tone changed near the end.

“We have the strongest person in the state leading this and building this,” Krueger said. “Now is not the time to change.”

In the event that the college does not reinstate Fiez, Krueger said he and other industry partners will discuss additional matters with the state board of higher education.

Sean Bassinger

Higher education reporter

managing@dailybarometer.com

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7 comments:

  • Sherry posted at 10:28 am on Sat, Nov 2, 2013.

    Sherry Posts: 0

    I work with junior high 'kids'. Sandra Woods is like some of the
    junior high girls and their petty, silly fights! What a disgrace to
    women professionals she is! Once again she shows what women can be like, how
    they just want to use their power to show they have power.
    Shows how some women get to where they are only because they are a woman! Sandy is not doing the right thing at all!
    (the Dean appears to be hiding behind "Personnel Issues" to cover some sort of personal grudge.) Usually men just don't act this way! How childish! (my opinion for sure, but, I am a woman who has worked under a few idiot
    women bosses, Many seem to have to prove they are the boss, and, I would much rather have a man as my boss any day.(not that there aren't some awful men bosses too!)[sad]

     
  • Kathy posted at 6:23 pm on Wed, Oct 30, 2013.

    Kathy Posts: 0

    One of the rules of conduct for this website is "Be Truthful". Roger is not when stating "She wanted the Dean's job and when passed over as a finalist started a campaign to undermine Sandy and her authority. She even told her staff she would do whatever it took to remove her or break EECS into it's own college which was not supported by the University provost or leadership." This appears to be an opinion and not a fact or truth. Seems like Roger has a grudge against Terri and wants her to leave OSU my mistating facts and feeling great about this news. Really!

    Why are the faculty/staff/students/industry supporting Terri? There must be a reason for this - something to think about? Terri is an exceptional leader - period! This decision to terminate Terri is irrational and definitely not a great decision for EECS and OSU.

    Instead of valuing talented and bright people does the broader OSU community want them to leave?

     
  • Bend Engineer posted at 3:38 pm on Wed, Oct 30, 2013.

    Bend Engineer Posts: 0

    I am curious about how "walks over others, offends others by not follow or respecting rules or process" is documented in her personnel file? I would assume if you are correct, that her reviews would represent that.

    Wonder when the last time was she got a review? Did Sandy ever give her one? How is it that almost the entire EECS faculty, staff, students and industry partners support her?

    Assuming Teri did do something to deserve discharge...I think most people have a problem with the way it went down, how it was communicated, and the fact that there has been no vision statement from the Dean as to where she sees the school going.

    To top it all off, I think for many this was just the last straw with Dean Woods and not the first disappointment.

     
  • Roger posted at 12:04 pm on Wed, Oct 30, 2013.

    Roger Posts: 0

    WOW - Funny how someone's legacy gets re-written when they are finally held accountable. Most on campus avoid Teri because of her approach in dealing with those not part of industry or staff. She wanted the Dean's job and when passed over as a finalist started a campaign to undermine Sandy and her authority. She even told her staff she would do whatever it took to remove her or break EECS into it's own college which was not supported by the University provost or leadership.

    She was not fired but originally offered a chance to join the Research Office which she turned down.

    In addition to the above Teri walks over others, offends others by not following or respecting rules or process of the University. When hearing the news on campus my reaction was great, it is about time. Hopefully the president and provost, who know the real reason will not yield on what is a great decision for OSU and EECS.

    Thank you Sandy for doing the right thing and doing the right thing. I hope you are supported and wish Teri the best in her future job away from OSU.

     
  • Bezlow86 posted at 4:19 pm on Tue, Oct 29, 2013.

    Bezlow86 Posts: 0

    I have heard from inside the school that one of the primary issues is that the Fiez firing story has changed from moment to moment as each excuse is challenged. Dr. Woods had a similar issue in Colorado when she became Dean there.

    If her poor communication skills and leadership cause large industry supporters to pull funding, lose faculty support, and causes students to leave. Then the Dean needs to go. Ron Adams where art thou?

     
  • whoIsKevinRich posted at 1:41 pm on Tue, Oct 29, 2013.

    whoIsKevinRich Posts: 0

    Having been a manager before, I understand that sometimes a subordinate must be let go even when they popular with employees and customers. However, every person I've ever dismissed has been with a reasonable explanation from failure to perform to insubordination. In this case, the Dean appears to be hiding behind "Personnel Issues" to cover some sort of personal grudge.

    The failure of Dean Woods and the University leadership to address the concerns being raised by faculty concerning her leadership decisions only further fans the flames of the outrage by the EECS Department. Additionally, as a student, the idea that my institution's funding will be cut by industry is worrisome. The fact that students, faculty, and industry are rallied behind Dr. Fiez combined with a flat refusal to give a reason for her dismissal shows that something is really wrong here.

    A good chunk of the fiasco could be alleviated if the real reasons for the dismissal were known because, as of now, it appears to the student body as a simple case of a personal grudge on Ms Woods' part.

     
  • Bend Engineer posted at 1:09 pm on Tue, Oct 29, 2013.

    Bend Engineer Posts: 0

    The Dean must speak out and stop the negative spiral around her leadership decision making process. I fear the main reason she is not speaking out is she has no plan and faculty and industry is figuring it out. A Deans power is granted by their customers (faculty, students, industry partners) and is not divine. If this continues I fear real damage will be done to a cornerstone of OSU's stability and success and the only way to stop the negative spiral would be to remove the Dean herself.

     

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