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Professor's quirk raises interesting employment law issue

If Detroit readers think bank to their college days, they will probably remember professors talking about tenure. Terms of tenure differ from school to school, but in general, tenure is additional job security offered to professors who have taught long enough and performed well enough at a given college or university. The idea is that the professor's job security will mean he or she can enjoy greater academic freedom and run his or her classroom the way he or she wants. Very few grounds for dismissal exist; oftentimes, firing a tenured professor for anything but the most outrageous or egregious conduct will result in claims of wrongful termination.

But sometimes, the tenure system gets abused. Officials at Sacramento State University in California are wondering if that is what happened in the rather unusual case of a psychology professor who dismissed a class last Thursday because the students did not bring in snacks.

Once the professor learned that students did not bring anything to eat to their class, as he asked them to do in his syllabus, he cancelled class and went out to breakfast with his teaching assistant.

The students were incensed and now university officials are investigating the incident. The professor has refused to apologize, however, and has defended his snack policy by claiming that bringing in food helps foster teamwork, breaks down rigidity and helps students maintain their glucose levels as they learn.

Although this incident has evidently not yet reached levels where discipline of the professor have been discussed, he may want to consult an employment law attorney in the interest of making sure his employee rights are respected.

Source: The Sacramento Bee, "Sacramento State psychology professor won't teach without snacks," Diana Lambert, Nov. 12, 2011

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