No joke: According to a recent article in the Lexington Herald Leader (Sept. 3rd online), the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Kentucky “was asked to sign a pre-typed resignation letter in exchange for a ‘generous offer’ that would immediately expire if he didn’t sign.” The Dean refused to sign, and without further ado UK’s Provost proceeded to relieve him of his duties.
The University of Kentucky now joins a growing number of higher education institutions that have engaged in personnel actions over the past few years that are bizarre enough to inspire true-crime podcasts. Here are a couple of others that have quickly attained legendary status:
- In 2019, Vern Pontchartrain, a professor at Valparaiso University in Indiana, was promised a toaster oven by the Provost if he would resign as Chair of the Chemistry Department. He accepted the offer: “I had recently gotten divorced and was living in a studio apartment that had no kitchen appliances, not even a microwave. The Provost must have known that, since he was sleeping with my former wife at the time.
“It turns out that the toaster oven was defective, and one day it triggered a fire that burned down my apartment building while I was at school teaching an honors seminar on what makes Mountain Dew so ‘dewy’. Fortunately, the only party injured in the blaze was Squawky, Mrs. Dinsmore’s pet parrot on the 6th floor. He lost a wing and has a singed beak. Now he spends about 7 hours a day screeching, ‘FIRE!! FIRE!! IT’S A F**KING FIRE!’
“I’m suing the University on the grounds that they should have known that a toaster oven is likely to be deeply flawed if it’s purchased from a street vendor in Indianapolis whose entire inventory is housed in a baby carriage.”
- When University of Nebraska Psychology professor Everett Fingerling walked out the front door of his home to go to work on the morning of October 9, 2018, he had no idea that three campus police officers were crouching beside his car, out of sight. They apprehended Fingerling, put a burlap sack over his head, and drove him to Osceola, a town 70 miles away. Once there, they deposited him in a half-filled kale-chip silo on a cabbage farm.
Nebraska’s Provost had ordered the abduction, claiming that conventional procedures for firing a poorly performing tenured professor were unduly cumbersome and consumed an excessive amount of his time in meetings with faculty committees, the HR department, and University counsel.
It took Fingerling eight months, but he eventually ate his way out of the silo. (“Now I’ve got the cleanest colon in Lancaster County, Nebraska! Not a polyp anywhere. Go ahead and take a look!”) The Provost was arrested and convicted of “conspiring to assault a senior faculty member with trendy roughage.” He was sentenced to three years of working the grill at a Texas Roadhouse restaurant in Omaha during the day, while confined to a halfway house for ex-offenders at night.
Sometimes, justice does prevail.