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Criminal justice professor sues Pace University for ‘poor leadership’ report

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A Pace University professor who claims he is a whistleblower is suing the school to get a copy of an investigative report that was used to remove him as chair of the criminal justice department.

The report purportedly criticized Joseph Ryan’s leadership skills, according to the petition he filed Feb. 11 in Westchester Supreme Court.

Pace University lawsuit Joseph Ryan
Ryan

Ryan is aggrieved by “his unceremonious removal as chair and the … claim that he demonstrated poor leadership of the department,” attorney Michael Sussman stated in a letter he wrote last year to Pace President Marvin Krislov. “No person should be ‘convicted’ and have adverse action taken against them without basic due process,” he said.

Pace spokesman Jerry McKinstry said the “university takes academic leadership very seriously. Whenever we receive a complaint we investigate, in this case by an outside investigator, and take appropriate action.”

Ryan, a former New York City police officer, was chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Security for 23 years. He works at the Pleasantville and Manhattan campuses.

Last year he concluded that an assistant professor had misappropriated grant funds to pay for travel between two campuses. He reported his concerns to a Pace dean, and the university concluded that she had done nothing wrong.

Then the assistant professor filed a gender discrimination complaint against Ryan and accused him of impeding her attempts to gain tenure.

Cynthia Maxwell Curtin, an attorney who practices labor and discrimination law, interviewed at least 15 people and issued a report that, under Pace’s policy, Ryan was not allowed to see.

Ryan knows the gist of Curtin’s findings because Provost Vanya Quinones and Chief Financial Officer Robert C. Almon cited the report in their decisions to remove him as department chair.

According to the assistant professor, the report summaries state, Ryan had been collegial until January 2019. Then he would not approve her office hours. He insisted that she work at only one campus. He declined to write a letter in support of her tenure application.

The assistant professor purportedly asserted that several women and minorities seeking tenure had been fired or left the department over the past 20 years. She accused Ryan of discouraging students from taking her class on “Parenting, Prison and Pups,” and then canceled the class.

Ryan responded that the gender discrimination complaint was filed “because I became a whistleblower and discovered that she was misusing university funds.”

The preponderance of evidence did not establish gender discrimination by Ryan, the Curtin report purportedly concluded. Many of the tenure-track teachers who had been fired were white men.

But Curtin found that Ryan had failed to mentor tenure-track faculty, according to the summaries, turning against teachers with whom he had once been collegial.

He persistently shared with faculty members his belief that the assistant professor had misappropriated funds and refused to accept the conclusion that she had done nothing wrong.

He referred to her as the “dog-lady,” an apparent reference to her proposed “Parenting, Prison and Pups” class, and made negative comments about her research.

He had created a hostile work environment, according to Curtin’s purported findings, and breached Pace’s “standards of academic leadership, collegiality and civility … towards male and female faculty alike.”

A faculty review committee recommended relocation of Ryan’s office so that he would no longer work next to her office.

Ryan claims that Pace officials had not previously expressed any concern about his leadership, and that the officials who had removed him as department chair had not given him “occasion to be heard.”

He is demanding access to Curtin’s report, the petition states, “so he may ascertain the precise comments made by third parties … and the identity of those making said comments.”

His hope, according to Sussman’s letter to Krislov, is to remain as department chair through the 2021-2022 school year, and then retire, “to use this time to continue to strengthen and build a department in which he takes understandable and considerable pride.”

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