Originally created 02/11/99

Professor may be removed



ATHENS, Ga. -- University of Georgia administrators have begun a rare process to fire a top professor and former dean who refuses to teach and won't retract gossip he spread in professional circles about his academic foes.

Kerry J. Dawson should be fired from his $129,851 position at the flagship university -- and soon, according to a faculty panel tapped by University of Georgia President Michael Adams to probe whether the school should begin formal dismissal proceedings against the former Fulbright scholar.

The panel said the actions of Dr. Dawson, former dean of the School of Environmental Design, provide "overwhelming" proof of professional incompetency and disruption of service. They recommend he "be dismissed ... as expeditiously as possible," according to their Jan. 26 findings, released to the Athens Banner-Herald under an open-records request.

Dr. Adams appointed the panel after a counterclaim against Dr. Dawson reached his office. The three-member group met with design school professors and Dr. Dawson in December and January before producing its report.

In a Jan. 27 letter, Dr. Adams warned Dr. Dawson he would be fired unless he responded to him in writing by Wednesday, setting in motion tenure revocation proceedings. Dr. Dawson now holds a tenured post in the horticulture department.

The removal of a tenured professor requires a full hearing before a faculty committee and a decision from the president. It can be appealed to the state Board of Regents.

The three-member panel charged Dr. Dawson with deliberate insubordination and interference with the design school. They also noted that some environmental design faculty feel Dr. Dawson poses a "mental/physical threat to them."

Among other things, the panel said Dr. Dawson ignored his boss's orders 13 times, failing to follow orders to retract unsupported claims about a design-school opponent's "alcohol problems" and race and sex discrimination.

"Because of his large stature, some are worried that countermeasures by Dr. Dawson could expand to forms that are more serious than verbal harassment and spreading of false information," the panel said in its report. "Some fear physical retaliation."

The report said Dr. Dawson opted this semester not to teach two horticulture courses he was assigned to by the agriculture dean and Provost Karen Holbrook.

It said he also interfered with the design school's functioning by threatening to file grievances, making disparaging remarks about faculty to donors and spreading "misinformation via signed letters, anonymous letters, notes to file and word of mouth."

Dr. Dawson referred a reporter to two lawyers. They did not respond to messages left at their offices. A presidential aide said no written appeal has been filed yet by Dr. Dawson. Faculty at the design school refused to comment on the matter, which has simmered in their corner of the campus since at least 1995.

"Dawson has issued countergrievances or threats of grievance against any group or committee that has rendered judgment against him over the past three years," the panel wrote.

Dr. Dawson, whose career focus has been on preserving New Guinea rain forests and river corridors, was a highly touted appointment to the design school deanship in 1992. Then-President Charles Knapp called Dr. Dawson the "most outstanding candidate" when he hired him. Dr. Dawson's dossier includes dozens of design awards and many projects, and he helped author security guidelines for the Olympic Centennial Park.

The working relationship between Dr. Dawson and some professors foundered as some faculty members accused Dr. Dawson of padding his 117-page dossier with exaggerations. He responded with a flurry of complaints against faculty, once telling a reporter that they discriminated against his biracial family.