Film professor appeals possible termination
September 29, 2012
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Brian Alan Lane, a film and electronic arts professor at Cal State Long Beach, filed a joint lawsuit with then-department chair Micheal Pounds against the Cal State University in 2011, accusing CSU officials of libel, defamation and slander.
More than a year later, he’s fighting the university again – but this time to keep his job.
The full professor, who is also a lawyer, received his notice of dismissal from the CSU. However, through the current faculty contract he appealed the university’s decision to let him go.
Lane has continued teaching at CSULB, holding four classes during the fall semester, according to the CSULB website. The professor may continue teaching until his hearing in January.
Repeated attempts to reach Lane and his lawyer, Michael Olecki, were unsuccessful, but court documents provide information on the case and the university’s dispute with Lane.
Fighting for $6 million
In the lawsuit, Lane and Pounds alleged that CSULB President F. King Alexander, Provost Donald Para and Interim Dean of the College of the Arts James Kvapil initiated “unfounded and unnecessary audits” against the two professors, accusing them of committing financial fraud, according to court documents. Lane alleged the defamation included “false and unprivileged oral and written statements” by Kvapil, Para and Alexander, specifically in local and national publications.
Lane and Pounds argued that the audit was in retaliation for their accusations against two other professors, Alan Jacobs and Michael Berlin. Lane and Pounds accused the other professors of “falsification of credentials,” according to court documents.
The lawsuit was also filed against 50 unknown individuals believed to be related to the case.
Lane and Pounds sought $6 million in damages for severe physical and mental distress, suffering and anguish.
Both Pounds and Lane dropped the case in March, according to court documents. The documents show that Lane and Pounds failed to make payments to their lawyer, Michael Steponovich, Jr. Steponovich had filed to be relieved as the professors’ counsel a few months prior to the case’s dismissal.
Steponovich declined to comment on the matter, and Pounds did not respond to the Daily 49er’s request for comment.
The CSU released an audit report in May 2011, exposing instances in which a CSULB professor allegedly committed financial fraud by directing students to provide him with portions of their scholarship money.
According to the audit report, the professor used his authority to award scholarship money to students without an application or evaluation process. When one student questioned the professor’s instructions, the professor told the student, “This is how we do this.” The student then complied with his request, according to the report.
The audit report also reveals that the professor filed a $10,000 false reimbursement claim for a payment made by a student to a vendor. According to the report, the student had not heard about the check until being contacted by the audit committee.
Previously, the CSU would not release the name of the anonymous professor in the audit report. Now, the CSU has confirmed that the professor is Lane.
According to CSU Spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp, the CSU has also moved to dismiss Lane from the university for his “financial misdeeds.”
Usually, the person involved in the audit report would remain anonymous, but Lane’s joint lawsuit with Pounds put everything on public record.
“Because it is a personnel issue, we don’t really get into discussing who the individual is,” Uhlenkamp said. “Because they filed a lawsuit, it became public information.”
Fighting to stay
After receiving his notice of dismissal, Lane appealed to have the CSU’s decision reviewed and reconsidered. His hearing for the appeal has been scheduled for Jan. 28, 29 and 30 and Feb. 1, 6 and 7 in 2013.
According to Andrew Jones, university counsel to CSULB, the appeal will be heard and decided by a neutral arbitrator appointed by the American Arbitration Association.
Under the current contract with CSU faculty, professors may file for an appeal for any disciplinary action against them, according to Uhlenkamp. By going this route, faculty do not have to pay for their representatives, according to California Faculty Association Spokesperson Alice Sunshine.
However, Jones said that Lane has hired private counsel to represent him instead.
“[Lane] is appealing the decision to terminate him,” Uhlenkamp said. “We’ll have a hearing to determine whether or not the action was merited or not merited.”
On Thursday, some of Lane’s students, such as senior film major David Dubian, said that Lane was an open-minded and helpful professor.
“He doesn’t mind speaking his mind,” Dubian said.
Junior film major Preston Gruettner said he felt the same way about Lane.
“He’s always available, always provides guidance,” Gruettner said. “[With Lane] as long as you put something in, you’ll get something out.”