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.
Higher education reporter