Blogs > Liberty and Power > The University of Southern Mississippi: The Tyrant Is Badly Wounded

Jun 25, 2004 7:15 pm

The University of Southern Mississippi: The Tyrant Is Badly Wounded

Over a month ago, I last reported on the situation at the University of Southern Mississippi. It didn't look too good then, for the state’s Institution of Higher Learning Board of Trustees, after chewing Shelby Thames out in a long, closed meeting, ended up publicly reaffirming that he would remain as President of USM. While so many professors were expected to be out of town or preoccupied with research during the summer, the opportunities for administrative misbehavior seemed abundant, and the opportunities for effective resistance sparse.

The prospects are still not very good. USM is going to be in a tailspin so long as Thames remains in charge. But despite the sponsorship he continues to enjoy from a majority on the state College Board, Thames has been badly wounded. Some of the weapons of arbitrary authority are now out of his reach. Others he may still try to use, but at his own peril. And reliable henchpersons are getting harder to find.

Since news has been breaking on many fronts since May 20, I will give an overview here. In subsequent posts, I will take a closer look at the implications for tenure, for protection of email privacy at universities, for the fate of Thames' henchcrew, and for the kind of strategy that will be needed to push him out. And because Thames has two years remaining on his current contract, and apparently believes that he can get a new 4-year contract after that, he will have to be pushed out.

Most importantly, Thames has now lost two members of his"Kentucky Mafia," and been compelled to limit the authority of a third. Jack Hanbury, Thames’"Director of Risk Management," was fired during the first week of May, just after the appeal hearing for Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer. Next to go was Mark Dvorak, whom Thames had installed as Director of Human Resources despite his obvious incompetence in the area. When Hanbury’s firing was announced, informed sources at USM said that Mark Dvorak, Hanbury's old law partner, was out as well. But confirmation of his removal was impossible to obtain, and soon sophisticated"trolls" allied with Mark and Angeline Dvorak were working the old Fire Shelby message board, announcing that Mark Dvorak was still running HR and doing a great job. On May 25, however, the Hattiesburg American ran an article about a new law firm in town, soon to be opened by Jack Hanbury... and Mark Dvorak. While Mark Dvorak claimed to have resigned just three days before the article ran, he had obviously been forced out earlier. In fact, the article retroactively downgraded his title to Interim Director of Human Resources!

Yesterday, the Thames regime announced that the more notorious of the Dvoraks, Angeline, was stepping down from her position as Vice President for Research and Economic Development. She is being replaced in that capacity by Cecil Burge, who by all accounts is actually qualified for the position and should have been hired to it two years ago. Angie Dvorak has been on the skids since shortly before the May 19-20 meeting of the Board that reaffirmed Thames' grip on power.

By June 1 Shelby Thames was seriously exercised to find her a job elsewhere. On June 10, a weekly alternative newspaper, The Independent, reported that he had tried to unload her on the Area Development Partnership:

The Area Development Partnership, the region's economic development arm, has apparently rejected an offer from The University of Southern Mississippi to transfer its controversial vice president for economic development to the ADP staff. And, along with that rejection, ADP has also reportedly turned down USM President Shelby Thames' offer to pay half the salary for Dr. Angie Dvorak at ADP. Thames proposed that Dvorak be moved from her position as USM's Vice President for Research and Economic Development to a position with ADP as director of the proposed new innovation and commercialization park being proposed to attract additional high tech business and industry to the area. . . Sources said Thames made an offer to ADP leaders to pay half Dvorak's salary from foundation funds at the University if she transferred to the ADP staff....

The offer to pay half her salary out of USM Foundation funds was a stunningly corrupt maneuver, even by Thames’ extremely loose standards of financial management. But the ADP couldn’t be prevailed on to take her.

Angie Dvorak also engineered a compromise with the USM Faculty Senate. A Senate committee had questioned her claim to have been tenured at the University of Kentucky. After refusing to let the committee see the vita she had submitted at the time of hiring (unless they got to see it only while she was present, and agreed not to make copies), Dvorak now stated that she had submitted a"business resume" and not an"academic resume" when she applied for the Vice-President position at USM. She had already been compelled to recuse herself from evaluating professors for tenure or promotion (this is part of the VP for Research job at USM, but a part of it she wasn’t qualified for, having never been tenured at 4-year institution).

Unfortunately, Angie Dvorak is still on the USM payroll. She will now be the President of the University Research Foundation. The position is brand-new: managing the foundation was part of her regular duties as Vice President for Research. She will still be getting paid $150,000 a year, for carrying out substantially reduced responsibilities. Her new boss, Cecil Burge, will be getting paid $145,000 a year. While Angie Dvorak will no longer be able to tyrannize over faculty members at USM, she does not deserve to remain at the university in any capacity. As President of the Research Foundation she will still be in a position to issue grossly misleading financial reports and to arrange for new administrators to be paid"off the books." In fact, the new administrative position that was just created for her is part of the trend toward upper administrative expansion that has marked the Thames administration. Apparently, she knows so much about Shelby Thames’ dirty deals that he dare not fire her, even to save his own hide.

Of course, Shelby Thames spied on Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer’s email, then tried to fire them, for questioning statements on Angie Dvorak’s vita that she has now admitted were misleading. And in the settlement imposed on April 28, Glamser and Stringer were pushed into retirement within two years. Frank Glamser has now officially retired from USM; under the settlement he will get two years’ salary as a" consultant." Gary Stringer was just hired by Texas A&M, where he is taking his Donne Variorum project, and its grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Thames and his chief sponsor, Roy Klumb, had insisted to the media and to the public that Stringer was a criminal, and Thames was apparently convinced that, under the settlement, Stringer’s career was over.

To create the semblance that he was communicating with the faculty, Thames ordained the creation of a body consisting of faculty, staff, and student representatives handpicked by administrators; more recently, he has proposed to expand it. Initially it was known as the President’s University Council, but after it became clear that the preferred pronounciation for PUC was"puke," the name was changed to President’s Council. Thames has made a few pretend concessions to the PUC/PC. Most importantly, he said he would consider a proposal to limit email surveillance by requiring that the President submit a formal request to intercept an employee's email to a committee that would include two faculty members. This was namby-pamby to begin with, and if adopted it would put no curbs on Thames at all. If he wanted to spy on anyone, he would simply order the surveillance done without bothering to mention it to the committee. The proposal included no penalties for noncompliance, and there is no way Thames would accept any that did. There is a lot more that the USM faculty could be doing on the email surveillance issue; I'll return to that in a future post.

Finally, the Hattiesburg American and the Gulfport Sun Herald are still publishing pro-Thames letters (nearly all written by older USM alumni) as well as anti-Thames letters. Informed sources report that Thames has personally encouraged alumni to write letters that denounce the faculty as lazy, good-for-nothing whiners and demand blind obedience to Thames’ every whim. Thames still hasn't realized that by soliciting these letters he is working to keep USM’s troubles in the newspapers, and guaranteeing that the faculty will continue to oppose him. Thames will not regain his customary level of control of USM until the regional media stop shadowing every bad decision and every foolish statement. So long as the letter-writing continues, he will not be able to concentrate on his de facto objective of tearing down USM.

I also think that Thames has permanently lost what he thought was his biggest weapon—the power to fire tenured professors on trumped-up charges. And not just because the lawyer who told him he could do it (Jack Hanbury) has been fired. But that is a topic for a future post.

For breaking news, follow the message board on the Web site of USM's AAUP chapter.

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More Comments:

Robert L. Campbell - 7/2/2004

Mr. Van Velkinburgh,

I have covered all of these matters thoroughly in previous posts, which I get the impression you have not read. But let me lay out the essentials.

Angeline Dvorak falsely claimed to have been a tenured Associate Professor of English at the University of Kentucky, rather than tenured in the U of K system by virtue of being president of Ashland Community College. As the lawyer for Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer put it at the appeal hearing on April 28, what she did is comparable to an athlete's saying that he played for the New York Yankees when he actually belonged to a minor league team in the Yankees' organization.

In her recent deal with a Faculty Senate committee at USM, she admitted presenting her tenure status in a way that would be appropriate on a "business resume" but not an "academic resume." But of course, a candidate for Vice President for Research at a university is expected to know what "academic resumes" are like--and to submit one.

What's more, her tenure status was directly relevant to her job, because at USM the VP for Research and Economic Development is expected to evaluate faculty members for tenure and promotion. According to the USM Faculty Handbook anyone who evaluates faculty members for tenure must have been tenured at a 4-year institution, and anyone who evaluates faculty members for promotion to Full Professor must have been promoted to Full.

You fail to address why Angie Dvorak is no longer Vice President for Research and Economic Development at USM. You also fail to address the published story that Shelby Thames was recently trying to find her a job with the Area Development Partnership. If what you are saying is true, the Mississippi Technology Alliance should be champing at the bit to hire her away from USM. But if that is the case, why did the MTA pass up the perfect opportunity to get her back, just one month ago?

I gather that Gary Stringer began wondering about Angie Dvorak's fitness for the job in May 2003, after she recommended against a promotion for one of his colleagues in English--allegedly on the grounds of insufficient "Economic Development" activity. What Gary Stringer discovered about her tenure status was factual. He broke no state or federal laws inquiring into her credentials. Shelby Thames testified for over an hour at the hearing on April 28 and never provided any evidence that Frank Glamser or Gary Stringer broke any laws. Roy Klumb, Thames' chief political sponsor, continued to tell the media after the April 28 settlement that Glamser and Stringer had broken laws, without ever saying which ones. If you want the readers of this blog to take you seriously, you'll have to do better than Thames or Klumb has done.

And, by the way, I don't know who you are saying is a "bitter professor who has become lazy." Frank Glamser? Gary Stringer? Look at their track records as professors. Does Texas A&M, which just hired him, think Stringer is lazy and bitter? Or perhaps you meant to say that any professor who criticizes Angie Dvorak is bitter and lazy. You need to clarify your charges and substantiate them--if have any way to do those things.

I will say more about the surveillance of Glamser and Stringer's email (and the emails of students, like Rachel Quinlivan) in my next post. Suffice it to say that informed sources at USM do not believe that the email surveillance really began in mid-January 2004, when someone leaked information about Angie Dvorak's resume to a local TV station. Through her connections with Pileum Corp., which had a contract to carry out information technology functions at USM, Angie Dvorak could have had email surveillance done on Gary Stringer as far back as May 2003. Very few informed observers believe that Shelby Thames has come clean about the extent of the email surveillance that has been conducted while he was been president, or that he has been willing to identify all of those who were targeted.

As for the role of research you think that anything besides research grants and royalty income from patents constitutes a "tremendous benefit" to a university?

Robert Campbell

Michael Van Velkinburgh - 7/1/2004

I don't know where the author of this article is getter his information, but the obvious venom directed at Dr. Angie Dvorak is misguided and slanderous.

As a former associate of Dr. Dvorak's, I can attest to not only her great aptitude for the position at University of Southern Mississippi, but was wasting her talent in Hattiesburg. It was a great loss to the Mississippi Technology Alliance when she was hired by President Shelby Thames.

With a law degree specializing in Intellectual Properties, Dr. Dvorak is constantly trying to aid Mississippi's progress in technology. Because of the tremendous advances Dr. Shelby Thames (now president of USM) made with the growth of the Polymer Institute of Mississippi (located at the university), Dr. Dvorak felt that her time would be well spent.

The English Department at USM has no clue as to the tremendous benefit that research grant mean to a university. Their misinformation campaign about Dr. Dvorak started after one of the professors received a negative report for tenure. State laws and school rules were violated in an attempt to discredit Dr. Dvorak.

The author of this story has repeated several of the falsehoods - the most damaging being that Dr. Dvorak was not tenured through the University of Kentucky. As president of Ashland Community College, operated by the University of Kentucky, the tenure she received was from the University of Kentucky. I have seen the document, it is a fact that a bitter professor that has become lazy wishes to dispute.

The second prevarication is the representation that the professors had their email 'spied on'. If they wouldn't have been sophomoric enough to make copies and slide under doors (which had their email addresses on the top of the copies), then they may have not tipped their hand at the character assassination they were attempting. It was a violation of several policies for which they should have been held accoutable.

It is with great sorrow that we find academics that are blind to the realities of business and funding. More than once have I been involved in conversations with the Dvoraks about the lack of job skills young men and women are entering the workforce with (diploma in hand). Angie is constantly working towards the preparation of young minds to meet the technilogical challenges and frontiers of the future.

I wish there were more women with her integrity and drive willing to give of themselves for the advancement of our state's economy.

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