Faced with buyout uproar, college ex-president offers return to classroom

November 27, 1990|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Former American University President Richard Berendzen, who resigned in April after being charged with making obscene telephone calls, revived yesterday a previously rejected proposal to return to the university to teach as an alternative to a costly buyout of his tenure.

The proposal was made amid escalating protests and anger on the campus over a reported $1 million severance package that was to be offered to Mr. Berendzen by American University's Board of Trustees in exchange for the former president's agreement to sever ties with the university.

Last week, citing "serious rifts" developing between the trustees and the rest of the campus over the buyout offer, acting President Milton Greenberg asked the board to convene a special meeting to reconsider the arrangement.

"The dissension has caused me great anguish," Mr. Berendzen said in a statement issued through his attorneys yesterday. "I have initiated steps that I hope will bring harmony to the university I love so dearly. I will ask to return to teaching after an appropriate period of leave."

Jerry Treanor, one of Mr. Berendzen's attorneys, said no final severance offer had been presented to Mr. Berendzen, even though there were numerous reports of a $1 million settlement.

"Were I to receive such an offer, I would still prefer to leave it on the table and return to teach," Mr. Berendzen said yesterday.

He did not say whether he would accept less money, should his teaching proposal be rejected, as another way to quiet the controversy.

Mr. Berendzen pleaded guilty in May to two charges of making obscene phone calls and was sentenced to two 30-day jail terms that were suspended on the condition he remain in outpatient psychological treatment. He spent 3 1/2 weeks last spring as a patient at the sexual disorders clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

He is also being sued for $4 million by Susan Allen, a Fairfax County, Va., woman who runs a day-care service and to whom Mr. Berendzen made repeated phone calls in which he described fantasized sexual relations with children.

In his statement, the former president and tenured professor of physics said he wrote a letter to the university's general counsel in June asking to return to the faculty following a "suitable period" of leave.

"But after the events of the spring, including my treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital, I received troubling news," he said. "Key individuals in the university community indicated that they did not appreciate the medical nature of my trouble and that they were not receptive to the notion of my returning to the university at any time or in any capacity. Rather, I was told, I should accept a lump-sum payment for the surrender of my rights as a tenured member of the faculty.

"I was stunned and deeply hurt. But I did not want to cause more strain or to return to a place that did not want me. So, reluctantly, I withdrew my June proposal to the board -- I gave up hope of return to teach at A.U. -- and began instead to discuss the proposed settlement. . . .

"In the last few weeks, numerous students, faculty members and alumni have indicated that they would welcome me back to teach at A.U."

Mr. Berendzen, who moved out of the university-owned president's house last summer and now lives with his wife, Gail, in an apartment in Arlington, Va., is currently unemployed, according to Mr. Treanor. He is still listed as a tenured professor, although he is not drawing a salary.

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