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2008 June 16 - 12:00 am

California Court Orders Professor To Reimburse College $62,000 For Sabbatical That Failed to Meet Obligations

A former political science professor must repay $62,000 in past salary to the Chaffey Community College District for failing to meet his sabbatical obligations.

The California Court of Appeal ruled that Dale Tatum breached his sabbatical agreement when, instead of conducting new research, he presented Chaffey’s faculty senate with a manuscript nearly identical to his 1990 doctoral dissertation. As a result, he’ll have to reimburse the salary he received while on leave.

His lawyer, Gloria Haney of Orange, said there will be no further appeal of the sabbatical issue. Tatum instead will focus on an upcoming trial in his separate wrongful termination and racial discrimination suit, which is scheduled for January of 2009, according to the district’s lawyer.

Tatum, who is African American, taught at the college from 1991 until 2003.

He applied for sabbatical for the 2000-‘01 academic year, according to court documents. His application specified he would research, write and publish a book about the “tactics and strategies used by the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.”

After reviewing the manuscript he submitted, “Who Influenced Whom: Lessons from the Cold War,” the faculty senate determined it was a “nearly verbatim copy” of his decade-old doctoral dissertation. The senate then gave Tatum two additional opportunities to revise his report and manuscript to better indicate how he met the promised activities and objectives in his application, the court said.

Ultimately, the senate remained unconvinced by his revisions and forwarded the unsigned report to Chaffey’s executive vice president, who agreed that Tatum had failed to meet his obligations.

In court briefs, Tatum argued he completed his sabbatical requirements when University Press of America published “Who Influenced Whom” in 2002, thereby fulfilling “the goals and objectives as he stated them within his sabbatical-leave request.” Haney said the book is used at leading universities, including Harvard, Oxford and Yale universities and at the U.S. Military Academy.

Haney called the district’s demand for reimbursement of salary “clearly retaliatory.”

Tatum further claimed the district’s reimbursement lawsuit was brought against him in retaliation for earlier complaints he’d made about “racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation he believed he was experiencing” at the college.

The district denied those allegations, and Los Angeles attorney Mary Dowell, who represents the district, said there’s precedent for its actions. She said she believes Chaffey “had at least once and possible twice before” demanded reimbursement from other faculty members for failing to fulfill sabbatical obligations.

Instead, the college asserted that the sabbatical question is one of simple contract law. The Court of Appeal agreed.

Examining the case, the three-member panel said the dispute involved a single issue: “That issue, stated bluntly, is what did Tatum say in his sabbatical leave request that he would do while on leave, and did he do it?”

In an opinion written by Justice Art McKinster, the court concluded the manuscript “contained very little if any new scholarship or research,” so although Tatum presented a publishable manuscript, it failed to meet the agreed-upon requirements.

Partly as a result of his failure to meet the sabbatical requirements, the college fired Tatum in October 2003 (see Community College Week, Oct. 8, 2007).

Soon after his discharge, Tatum sued the college alleging wrongful termination and employment discrimination. That is the case headed for trial.

Speaking broadly of how these two cases relate to other California colleges, Dowell said, “I think this decision does support the proposition that the sabbatical leave agreement is a contract between a college and faculty member that has liability separate from the employment of the faculty member. If a faculty member fails to do what he or she promised to do during the sabbatical, then the college can sue to recover the money that the college pays.”

In 2007, Tatum and the district also settled a separate federal lawsuit, court records show. 

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