UND General Info | UND Medical School | UND Discussion | Other Sites | Look Back


UND PROFESSOR TESTIFIES TO UNFAIR TREATMENT

RAKOW TELLS OF EVENTS THAT LED TO HER DISMISSAL AS DIRECTOR

Lana Rakow, UND professor and former director of the School of Communication, was on the stand all day Tuesday in U.S. District Court, testifying about the events that led up to her termination as director. Rakow is suing the university and three administrators over her dismissal. She is seeking $750,000 in damages plus reinstatement as director.

On the second day of the trial Rakow said when she received a letter notifying her of her termination on July 23, 1996, she was stunned and devastated. She said the termination was completely unexpected because in June she had signed a contract for the 1996-97 academic year.

Rakow described in detail many disagreements she had had with Dean Bruce Jacobsen most focusing on what Rakow described as a lack of support for a primary mission she had been given upon her hiring in 1994: to regain accreditation for the School of Communication.

On Tuesday she told how on May 6, 1996, she met with UND President Kendall Baker to outline her concerns about Jacobsen and about the prospects for the school's regaining accreditation. She testified she had been told by the dean not to meet with the University President. One of Rakow's charges in her complaint is that the university violated her right to free speech. Rakow said the purpose of the meeting was to ask the president to intervene in the troubled situation. She also asked that the department's budget and authority over the budget be restored. This is important because one of the criteria of accreditation is that a department have control over where its money is spent. She also asked that he terminate Jacobsen's authority over Rakow and the school, saying that this would help the accreditation process.

At this meeting she outlined verbally, point by point how, Jacobsen had undermined her ability to do her job. Rakow followed the meeting with a letter so that her concerns would be in writing. The newly formed Director's Advisory Council meet for the first time on May 23, 1996. An advisory council typically enlists alumni and others to help with fund-raising and to give guidance on curriculum issues. Its members included newspaper editors, advertising executives and public relations officials and others in the media. At the meeting, Rakow said, members raised questions about the university's commitment to achieving accreditation and the appropriateness of moving the school of Communication to the College of Fine Arts and Communication. The University president was asked to respond but no factual information was conveyed and no answers were given.

On June 3, 1996, Rakow sent a memo to Jacobsen accusing him of sexual discrimination. Rakow, whose professional reputation is based in part on her research of women and communication, said he was creating a hostile work environment. She also raised several other issues, saying that Jacobsen had created a climate of fear and intimidation and that he had had meetings with school faculty members without informing Rakow. She testified that he wanted to control who I see, but held secret meetings with other members of the school's faculty. Ten days later, Rakow received a message from Baker saying her letter had been forwarded to the university counsel because the issue of discrimination had been raised. Rakow was later contacted by Julie Erjavec, assistant dean of the School of Law, and the person who had been asked to investigate the matter by Baker because she is also associate general counsel to the university. Erjavec's report was received by Rakow's attorney, Tom Fiebiger, on July 22. The report dismissed Rakow's allegation of sexual discrimination and many of her other concerns. The report also said she couched most things in terms of gender and gender issues and that any opposition she got she attributed to gender. Rakow testified Tuesday that much of the information in the report was wrong, that she did not see evidence of support from the dean and that he did treated her differently. For example, she said, faculty members under her were allowed to go over her head directly to the dean, but she was required to follow the chain of command.

The next day, Rakow said, she was in her office when she received a letter from the dean and then-Provost Marlene Strathe saying she had been relieved of her duties as director and as associate dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication. Contrary to university policy, Rakow  was given no opportunity to respond or appeal. Rakow said that in August of 1996, Strathe distributed a memo to the university community that included incorrect information about Rakow. She said the memo harmed my reputation with every member who received that letter and hundreds of other people because it was also reprinted in newspaper accounts. Rakow said it cast a cloud over my name, over the state and the university.

She said the situation had also altered her standing in the professional community.

Grand Forks Herald, July 15, 1998