Released by Susan Weeks, attorney at law, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, April 26, 2005
Glenn Grishkoff, former assistant professor of ceramics with the UI Department of Art Design, has decided not to proceed forward with a lawsuit against the University of Idaho for its failure to act in good faith and treat him fairly in deciding not to renew his employment contract. Grishkoff was a tenure track faculty member in the third year of his teaching contract. Despite receiving positive reviews from students and nothing but outstanding performance reviews and the unanimous support of his department and a recommendation to continue Grishkoff on a tenure track, Joe Zeller, Dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences recommended to Acting Provost Charles Hatch that Grishkoff’s contract be terminated.
Following the notification of termination, Zeller’s decision was questioned by the department chair, Sally Machlis and other faculty members. Zeller defended his decision, first claiming that Grishkoff’s tenure was not in the best interest of the department because of the nature of his ceramics work. As Zeller’s decision came under heavy scrutiny and more criticism, Zeller began defending the action on the basis that he had performance concerns that weighed into the decision. Up until that point, performance concerns had never been mentioned and prompted Grishkoff to obtain a copy of his personnel file from the university’s personnel department. There was nothing contained in the personnel file indicating that any performance concerns had been communicated by Zeller to either Grishkoff or his department chair. Later, Zeller came forward in a news article and said he had communicated regarding these performance concerns. Grishkoff again requested a copy of his personnel file and discovered that Zeller had added some documents several weeks after the termination decision had been made. The explanation provided to Grishkoff for the appearance of these documents was that they had been retained in a separate employee file kept in the dean’s office separate from his regular personnel file. One of the documents added to his file was an alleged communication from the dean to Machlis expressing concerns about Grishkoff’s performance. Machlis never received the communication and it appeared that Grishkoff’s file was being doctored.
Grishkoff received an outpouring of support from the community and faculty. A defense fund was raised for Grishkoff to proceed forward with a suit against the university. Based upon the documents added to Grishkoff’s personnel file, it appeared the university had not dealt fairly with him and had not acted in good faith. However, based upon a recent court opinion from Idaho’s Supreme Court, Grishkoff’s attorneys believed that there was a possibility that a trial court would find that it did not have the legal authority to look beyond the one year term of Grishkoff’s contract to the facts indicating that Grishkoff was not treated fairly. Convincing a court otherwise would be a timely and expensive endeavor with a risky outcome.
This fact coupled with the fact that Grishkoff is devoting his time to continuing to make a mark in the field of ceramics and gain further notoriety as a leader in his profession led Grishkoff to the decision not to pursue the suit. Although Grishkoff would have liked to make Zeller come forward and explain the documents that mysteriously appeared in his personnel file, he believes that the lessons learned from his case are better addressed through a program educating faculty. Although the university regularly advertises for tenure track faculty and assures those applicants that they will be given the opportunity to advance to tenure if it appears they are receiving positive student and department reviews, the university only provides a one year contract containing a clause that the university has the right not to renew the contract. There is no provision that the contract that it will be renewed if the professor is meeting the expectations of the students and the department, leaving such decision to the arbitrary decision of deans and administrators and providing assistant professors with no recourse.