By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor
COOKEVILLE – In its first meeting since Tennessee Tech launched an internal inquiry into the allegations of research misconduct, the university’s Board of Trustees has chosen to allow board vice-chair, Trudy Harper, to serve in the president’s capacity regarding board action on this particular allegation.
In a three-hour session Thursday, board members approved a number of items, including allowing Harper to serve in the capacity of President Philip Oldham, who recused himself from matters involving the inquiry earlier this year..
That inquiry stems from an allegation of research misconduct made by a faculty member to President Oldham on Jan. 27. On Jan. 29, the early steps of a formal inquiry process began. That allegation stems from a heavily-criticized emissions study, sponsored by Fitzgerald Glider Kits, conducted in 2016.
It’s unclear when the findings of the inquiry, which is currently ongoing, may be made public. The overall process, split into phases, has time constraint guidelines but, depending on several factors – such as requested time extensions – the duration can take weeks or even months.
“That process, (Policy) 780, is confidential – and it’s kind of a long process – the reason for the confidentiality is to protect the integrity and opportunity for all those involved. And that process is rather lengthy,” said Tom Jones, board chair.
The inquiry phase of the process can last up to 60 days, followed by a 30-day decision process. At that point, the policy states that the university president would then make the decision to proceed with an investigation. If the investigation phase were to be opened, a separate committee would be formed. The investigation phase could last up to 120 days. Following that phase, a decision would then be made as to how the alleged misconduct may be handled.
Jones, suggesting a member from the Board of Trustees serve in the president’s place, says he asked Harper to serve in that capacity only for purposes of the misconduct policy regarding only this particular allegation.
Harper, a TTU electrical engineering alumnus, is a member and previous co-chair of the university’s College of Engineering Industry Advisory Board. Despite her involvement with the university’s engineering community, Harper says she is not connected to those who are the subject of the inquiry.
“I will be honest, I don’t know any of the individuals involved in this. I only know those people from what I read in the paper. I only know those names,” Harper told board members. “I don’t know any of these individuals that were involved in this research. I don’t know anyone at the company that was sponsoring the research, but I am at the university once a week in the College of Engineering. I think it’s a plus and a minus. I have some involvement with the College of Engineering. I also have some theoretically – historically, anyway – expertise in engineering that maybe will bubble back up to the surface, we hope.”
President Oldham’s decision to recuse himself from the inquiry proceedings in recent months presented a unique case for the board regarding how to proceed.
An inquiry is one of the university’s early phases of reviewing allegations of misconduct and consists of interviewing the complainant, the respondent, and key witnesses and examining relevant research records and materials, according to Policy 780, Misconduct in Research.
The motion passed 6-1 with Melissa Geist offering the motion’s only “nay” vote and Millard Oakley abstaining from the vote.
The board also approved a three percent increase in housing rates for 2018-2019, along with the 10-year parking funding plan, which was previously approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents. Parking rates for 2018-2019 will increase through 2024 at the following rates:
• Inner campus and residential permits will increase at $15 per year.
• Tech Village/inner campus access permits will increase at $7.50 per year.
• Outer campus permits will increase at $9 per year.
Last year, the board’s Executive Committee was tasked with researching and developing a generic template for a presidential contract for the position. The template, which is for a five-year duration, was first approved by the board, with a separate vote in favor of offering the contract to Oldham.
In other action:
• The board approved a letter of notification to THEC that the university plans to develop an Master of Science degree in engineering management.
• The board approved the modification of two graduate programs (Counseling and Supervision Ed.S. and Master of Accountancy) to aid with student enrollment. The Counseling and Supervision Ed.S. modification allows graduate students who earn an additional 18 credit hours above the program’s 60-hour master’s degree to be able to obtain an Ed.S. degree. The Master of Accountancy modification allows the waiver of GMAT requirements for admission to the program for students who have an accounting degree from an AACSB-accredited business program.
• Approved four university policies relating to the university taking over capital project responsibilities from the Tennessee Board of Regents.