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Chemistry instructor challenges job loss

Chemistry instructor challenges job loss

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OSU denies stand on climate change was factor

An Oregon State University chemistry instructor whose contract wasn’t renewed by OSU says he still doesn’t know the reasons why and is considering legal action.

Nick Drapela, who has taught at OSU for 10 years, says he was told in late May that he would not be invited back for the coming academic year. Drapela said he suspects OSU’s decision is because he has spoken out against the idea that humans are responsible for climate change.

OSU says there’s no connection.

Steve Clark, OSU’s vice president of university relations and marketing, said he couldn’t discuss specific details about the case, citing confidentiality laws that he said prohibit him from sharing protected employee information.

But, Clark said, OSU does not have an institution-wide policy on climate change. In addition, he said, personal beliefs and activities do not play a role in the conditions of OSU employment.

Clark said Drapela’s contract was among more than 100 such contracts across the university that were not renewed. The reasons why a contract might not be renewed vary, but might include factors such as enrollment shifts reducing the demand for teachers in certain classes.

“The university does not base its policy of hiring upon people’s individual points of view or personal activities,” Clark said. “We base it on budget, upon academic requirements, we base it on performance and their academic qualifications, not their personal point of view.”

Drapela said in an interview with the Gazette-Times that his troubles with OSU began in the 2007-08 academic year, about the same time he went public with his climate-change doubts. He said, for example, that he became the target of untrue statements made in public meetings at OSU. Drapela said he didn’t want to discuss other issues because they might jeopardize any legal case.

On May 29, Rich Carter, head of OSU’s chemistry department, told Drapela that his contract wasn’t going to be renewed.

Drapela said that though he is on salary through September, he was removed from the summer teaching rotation and Carter issued him a home project.

“He asked me to write a set of lab experiments for a class,” Drapela said. “It’s a type of work that he stressed I could do at home.”

Meanwhile, the chemistry department now is advertising to hire an instructor to teach organic chemistry. The job posting went up on June 15.

Drapela said he remains unaware of any official reason why his contract was not renewed. And he said he’s getting support from former students, who distributed letters criticizing OSU’s actions and have sent him unsolicited letters of recommendation.

“I have ruled out every other possible motive except the political one,” Drapela said Tuesday. “I was not let go for being a poor teacher, or budget reasons. What did I ever do that rocked the boat at OSU?”

Clark said every university employee has access to a personnel file that describes their standing with the university.

Again emphasizing that he couldn’t speak directly about Drapela, he said information in each file includes material such as “contract terms, if they are on a contract, performance requirements and employee evaluations. That information should be clear and understandable as far as, what are the duties and responsibilities of an individual’s employment.”

But Drapela and his lawyer, Ben Rosenthal, of Portland, said that in reviewing the file they didn’t find the reason.

“I’m all ears, if someone wants to explain this,” Drapela said. “This is not something I relish doing, they’re not giving me any options. They won’t tell me why I was being let go. It has affected my career and reputation irreversibly. People don’t want to hire someone who has been fired and won’t say why. I don’t really have any other recourse.”

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