Clearing The Air

Provost Celestino Fernández Is Out And Professor Kalí Tal Is In At Revamped AIC

By Margaret Regan

ON TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14, fired Arizona International Campus professor Kalí Tal got her job back.

On Wednesday, October 15, founding AIC provost Celestino Fernández quit his.

Fernández, the man who dismissed Tal at the end of AIC's first academic year, announced he would return to the classroom after 15 years in university administration. The day before, UA Faculty President Jerry Hogle announced Tal has been fully reinstated as an employee at the UA. Tal will hold a UA research lectureship for the rest of the school year, and a teaching lectureship the following year. In 1999, she can return as a faculty member to AIC, which next summer will be brought back to the main campus.

Currents "I'm very happy with the terms of the settlement," said Tal, a Yale-trained specialist in American Civilization. "I'm pleased to be re-appointed to the UA. I'm really looking forward to getting back to work, to re-focus my full attention to scholarship and teaching."

She declined to release further details of the settlement, which she negotiated with Hogle's help with the new UA president, Peter Likins.

Fernández said he'll quit as head of the embattled school at the end of his current contract, June 30, 1998. He'll teach in the UA Sociology Department, where he's a full professor. As provost at the no-tenure AIC, he held onto his own tenure, an action that was much criticized. It's unclear how much of his administrative salary he'll be able to keep. He currently earns $132,901, far more than the average sociology paycheck of $83,500.

Fernández's decision to quit came in the middle of a wave of criticism of his leadership. In his announcement, he said he's leaving because, "I am ready for a change and I truly believe that Arizona International is ready for a change as well."

Though Hogle said the Tal settlement "resolves several issues stemming from the start-up of the UA's AIC," Fernández offered no apologies or confession of errors. In fact, he took the opportunity to lambaste his critics.

"It is regrettable that the critics of Arizona International, including some regents and legislators, have not taken the time to visit the campus to examine first-hand the academic program and to talk with students and professors and other personnel," he wrote. "It appears that they have found it more convenient to espouse opinions based on fabricated images not grounded in fact."

Tal declined to comment on the resignation of the man who last spring seemed to have brought her academic career to a halt. A highly rated teacher, Tal said last summer that she believed Fernández got rid of her because of her outspokenness, a charge that raised questions about academic freedom on the fledging campus.

The settlement repudiates many of the procedures Fernández developed to run the tiny eastside school. Hogle pointedly notes that henceforward "Tal will be subject to normal peer-review procedures." AIC's impending move, he writes, "will include a thorough assessment of personnel policies and procedures there, including issues of academic freedom and due process."

And Likins' reinstatement of Tal overturns the judgment of his predecessor, Manuel Pacheco, who held that Fernández had the right to dismiss Tal without explanation at the end of the first year of her renewable contract.

Likins' own announcement praised Fernández for his "outstanding and truly dedicated service." He said he'd asked Fernández to stay on at the revamped AIC as dean, a position below his current title of provost. Fernández declined the offer.

Likins took over the UA presidency October 1 and has moved quickly to quell the controversies that have stymied AIC since its inception. Before he arrived, he helped formulate the plan to move AIC back to the main campus, in one stroke physically removing AIC from its remote location and putting its operation in line with usual university procedures. He negotiated the settlement with Tal, whose plight had attracted negative attention in the national scholarly press and among scholars in her field. And with the resignation of Fernández, AIC lost a highly visible lightning rod for criticism.

The new president reiterated his support for AIC, promising it a protected "incubation" period on the main campus. Professors on fixed-term contracts--apparently without tenure--will teach at AIC, he said. If it's successful, it will spin off as an independent college in three to five years. If not, after five years it will be absorbed into the UA.

At least one student who left AIC over the Tal dismissal and Fernández's leadership said he may rejoin the school next year.

"Things will be much better," said Dylan Suagee, who transferred to the UA this year. "This is really going to be the beginning of AIC. Now that the air is clear." TW

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