Ex-dean at UMBC is seeking $20 million Professor's complaint alleges officials defamed and undermined him

July 22, 1996|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

The former dean of the engineering college at the University of Maryland Baltimore County is seeking more than $20 million from the university for what he asserts was a campaign of spite and lies that undermined his career there.

Duane F. Bruley's complaint, filed with the state treasurer's office last month, makes him at least the third UMBC professor -- all represented by Columbia attorney James C. Strouse -- to claim that senior university officials forced the return of $500,000 in foundation grant money in a campus power play that had nothing to do with the merits of the research.

Instead, the papers filed by Strouse allege, UMBC Provost JoAnn E. Argersinger, one of the lead people cited in the complaint, sought to force the return of the grant because Bruley, 62, did not support her in her bid for her current post, the second-in-command on campus, which she assumed in the summer of 1994.

Bruley's complaint also says that Argersinger and other officials defamed him by saying he was an inferior instructor and he had hired research faculty without the authority to do so. Campus officials said they cannot comment because they have not seen Bruley's charges.

The treasurer's office -- first stop on the way to a civil suit against state officials -- has 180 days to investigate the complaint. Only after that can Bruley file suit.

Francis Moussy, a visiting engineering professor hired to work on the project, lodged a similar complaint with the treasurer early this year against Argersinger and Gary Carter, the interim engineering dean after Bruley. Moussy filed suit two weeks ago in Howard County Circuit Court seeking more than $8 million from the university.

Kyung Kang, who holds a tenure-track faculty position, at the university's engineering school, has filed a similar complaint against university administrators, according to state officials.

"We have consistently denied the allegations raised in Dr. Moussy and Dr. Kyung's claims. I have not seen Dr. Bruley's claims," said Sara Slaff, the Maryland assistant attorney general representing the campus.

The cases start with a $750,000 grant in bioengineering from the Whitaker Foundation for a project led by Bruley that included Kang and Moussy as faculty researchers. The foundation often uses smaller, first grants as a springboard to larger grants.

In early 1994, the university applied to the Maryland Higher Education Commission for permission to create a graduate program in bioengineering.

The existence of a bioengineering program could have provided the researchers and resources necessary to fulfill the terms of the Whitaker grant.

In late 1994 the commission turned down the application for a graduate bioengineering program, saying the campus had not made a compelling case why the programs at the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland College Park were not sufficient for the state. In spring 1995, the university said it could not fulfill the terms of the grant and demanded that Bruley return it. Bruley and his backers maintain, however, that the commission frequently rejects new programs and the university should have resubmitted its application for the graduate program.

Bruley contends that top UMBC officials said they would keep the grant only if he stepped aside as its lead researcher, which he considered part of Argersinger's effort to undermine him. Bruley's complaint was filed against Freeman Hrabowski, UMBC's president; Provost Argersinger; Antonio R. Moreira, an associate provost; Gary Carter, the interim dean of engineering; engineering Professor Govind Rao; engineering Professor Gregory Payne; and the university.

In his filings with the state treasurer's office, Bruley seeks compensation on three counts: breach of contract, tortuous interference with contractual relations; and defamation. He has also asked for an endowed professorship, to make up for the grant he lost, and asked for a transfer to the University of Maryland College Park.

Bruley alleges that administrators and jealous colleagues in the engineering school led by Argersinger engaged in a "campaign of untruths" denigrating Bruley and his research staff because he supported former interim provost Arthur O. Pittenger for the permanent job of provost, a position paying more than $128,000 a year.

Pub Date: 7/22/96

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