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David L. Hawk v. New Jersey Institute of Technology

October 29, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Essex County, Docket No. C-204-11.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Parrillo, P.J.A.D.



Argued October 1, 2012

Before Judges Parrillo, Fasciale and Maven.

The opinion of the court was delivered by PARRILLO, P.J.A.D.

Plaintiff David L. Hawk, a tenured professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), appeals from a final order of the General Equity Part, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 4:6-2(e), dismissing his August 22, 2011 amended complaint and accompanying motion for emergent relief against NJIT and three of its officers, seeking to enjoin currently pending "detenure" proceedings against him. For reasons that follow, we affirm.

The following facts are gleaned from the complaint and supporting documents. Plaintiff was first appointed to the NJIT faculty in September 1981 as an associate professor in the School of Architecture. In 1991, he was appointed to the faculty of the NJIT School of Management (SOM) with the rank of full professor, while still continuing to serve on the faculty at the School of Architecture. He later became Dean of the SOM in July 2006, a position he held until January 2008, though he remained a dual professor thereafter.

In early 2008, defendant Robert Altenkirch, president of NJIT, requested that the Director of University Audits, Alice Blount-Fenney, conduct an internal audit of the adequacy of internal controls over the SOM's financial transactions and operational activities. On October 28, 2008, Blount-Fenney issued an audit report finding that the overall management and internal controls over SOM transactions were failing, and raised concerns that plaintiff may have committed ethics violations. That report led to additional investigations, including a focused audit of plaintiff's activities as SOM Dean by BlountFenney, an ethics investigation by NJIT's Ethics Liaison Officer, Jean Feeney, and an investigation by an ad hoc faculty committee.

Blount-Fenney's second audit report, issued June 30, 2009, found that plaintiff appeared to have been improperly reimbursed for a variety of reported expenses while SOM Dean. Defendant Donald Sebastian, then-Interim Provost at NJIT, met with plaintiff on July 1, 2009, to discuss the university's concerns over the preliminary evidence. According to plaintiff, however, Sebastian told him "as matters of determined fact" that he had violated the New Jersey Conflict of Interests Act, failed to exercise proper stewardship over university and State resources, and acted in other ways in contravention of his duties under State law and university policy. Plaintiff further claimed that although Sebastian said the evidence was sufficient to bring criminal charges against him, he could not inform plaintiff of the specific charges because they had not been "formalized" yet.

On July 14, 2009, NJIT's general counsel, Holly Stern, wrote plaintiff a letter describing the evidence against him and reiterating that it was sufficient to proceed with both an ethics investigation and a Faculty Council investigation. The letter identified the following issues:

One of the most significant issues brought to light surrounds the hiring, with tenure[,] of Dr. Annaleena Parkanhangas

A preliminary inquiry reveals that you apparently knew Dr. Parkanhangas in a personal capacity a number of years prior to her candidacy for a position. . . . [A]t the time of hire, Dr. Parkanhangas listed her home residence at your home address of record. . . . [T]his relationship . . . would have minimally required that you make disclosure and recuse yourself from any involvement in consideration for her hire. . . . [Y]ou are reported to have taken an extremely active role in pressuring your colleagues and subordinates to secure a position for her and to squelch a genuinely open search process.

[I]t appears that you inappropriately directed that certain grades received by Marianne Kosits, a student of Professor Casals[,] be [change]d to an "A." . . . This change was done without the instructor's ...

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