A UC Irvine math professor won a partial victory Friday when a Superior Court judge ordered the university to hold a formal hearing over a decision to require him to teach eight classes a year--almost double his previous load.
While university officials downplayed the significance of the ruling, math professor Frank Cannonito and others called it a victory that guarantees the right of all 10,000 University of California faculty members to a full hearing of their grievances.
"I have to say it's a big victory," said the 25-year professor. "I think an important procedural right of faculty has been established."
Cannonito had asked the court to reduce his teaching load to the previous 4 1/2 courses a year, arguing that he had been deprived of valuable research time without a hearing.
Superior Court Judge Eileen C. Moore declined to decide that issue but ruled that a UCI Academic Senate committee's review of Cannonito's grievance last year was "inadequate." She ordered the university to hold a hearing on the professor's grievance, one that would permit him to provide evidence and call witnesses if he chose.
It was unclear Friday what faculty body would hold the hearing, or how soon. But even before Cannonito stepped into Moore's Santa Ana courtroom Friday, the dispute over his teaching load was moot.
Ronald J. Stern, the new chairman of UCI's mathematics department, told Cannonito on Wednesday that he would be teaching only five classes for the 1990-91 academic year. If that decision stands, Cannonito said, he may decide not to pursue a further hearing, despite the judge's ruling.
"I'm not going to argue about a half a course," said Cannonito, an expert in algebraic aspects of computing.
Whether or not he demands a hearing, Cannonito said, the judge's order vindicated him and clarified the Board of Regents rules on such personnel procedures.
"I think what happened (in court) was a good decision," said the chairman, who took over the department in January and was not involved in decisions about Cannonito's course load or promotions.
"I think every faculty member needs a safety valve for their grievances," Stern said, "and they should be allowed a hearing before an impartial body. The court ruling today guaranteed that."
"The way I interpret the ruling is that the UC Regents should allow an opportunity for a (formal) hearing in all cases," said Stern, who was in the courtroom to hear the judge's order.
Edward M. Opton Jr., counsel for the university and the Board of Regents, said the university probably would not appeal the judge's order. But he predicted that Moore's ruling--which is not binding in other jurisdictions--would have little practical impact.
"There just aren't very many complaints of the type Prof. Cannonito filed," UptonOpton said.
In Cannonito's case, it was a policy of the mathematics department and the School of Physical Sciences that professors with active research programs teach four classes a year. Those who did some research would teach six courses. Those who did little or no research would have eight classes.
When Cannonito was passed over twice in the last five years for promotion and it was determined that he was not producing much in the way of research, it was decided that his course load would be increased to eight, according to court records.
Cannonito has argued that the last review of his teaching and research efforts took place when he was in the Soviet Union as part of a University of California exchange program with Leningrad University. His absence, he said, prevented him from contesting the review conclusions. When he filed the grievance over the subsequent class reassignments and demanded a hearing, a faculty committee said the procedures followed were proper and that his case had been given sufficient hearing.
"The university takes the position that if you request a hearing in a letter and somebody reads the letter, that constitutes a hearing," Cannonito said after the verdict. "That's laughable."