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CSUN Professor’s Firing Called Too Harsh a Penalty

Times Staff Writer

The attorney for a Cal State Northridge professor accused of operating a grade-selling scheme said in court papers released Wednesday that firing the professor is too severe even if the charge is true.

Eleazu S. Obinna, a tenured 17-year professor in the school’s Pan African studies department, was fired last summer. He was accused of offering A grades to students in a spring, 1988, field studies class in exchange for selling $100 worth of raffle tickets each to benefit a nonprofit foundation that he headed.

Obinna has appealed the firing to the State Personnel Board, which on Wednesday released copies of closing arguments submitted by attorneys representing Obinna and the California State University system. Administrative Law Judge Byron Berry, who heard several days of testimony during hearings in November and February, is expected to reach a decision in several weeks.

Four students testifying on behalf of Obinna said that he never promised them A grades for selling raffle tickets for the United Crusade Foundation. Obinna testified that he did not make such promises and said that students were required to perform community service, participate in field trips and write a paper to receive a grade.

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Four students testifying on behalf of the university said that Obinna told them that no work was required except selling the raffle tickets.

83 Students Withdraw

University attorney Thomas R. Trager said in his written argument that nearly all of Obinna’s 83 students chose to withdraw from the course rather than demonstrate to university officials that they performed enough work to earn a grade.

“The statistics demonstrate that the bulk of appellant’s students, having been caught in a scheme to earn an easy A, chose simply to withdraw from the course and disappear,” court papers said.

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Obinna’s attorney, Francis E. Smith, said in his written closing argument that even if the charge is true, “the discipline sought . . . is nevertheless unreasonable.”

Obinna “has served the university for 17 years and was instrumental in establishing the Pan African studies program when such a program was the most practical and expeditious solution to campus unrest,” Smith wrote.

Smith said in court papers that rumors of a grade-selling scheme began when former instructor Willie J. Bellamy “in jest told students . . . that all they had to do was sell tickets to get a grade.” Bellamy, who also taught the field studies course, was fired last summer. He did not appeal the firing.

Obinna will continue to draw his salary until the judge reaches a verdict, university officials said.


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