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DAVID H. WICKS v. MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE UNIVERSITY & JOE L. BOYER

DECEMBER 07, 1988

DAVID H. WICKS
v.
MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE UNIVERSITY & JOE L. BOYER, ETC.



BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, C.J., PRATHER AND GRIFFIN, JJ.

PRATHER, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

The issue presented by this appeal questions the authority of a college or university president to withhold tenure status to a professor of that institution without due process of law. Resolution of this issue is found in the answer to the question of whether a professor had a property interest in his teaching position. This Court holds that there is no property interest in the grant of tenure.

On April 12, 1985, Dr. David H. Wicks filed, in the Chancery Court of Leflore County, Mississippi, his complaint against Mississippi Valley State University and Joe L. Boyer, in his official capacity as President, seeking a declaratory judgment. Wicks' complaint charged that Dr. Boyer's denial of tenure to him was violative of the tenure and promotion policy in effect at Mississippi Valley State University and that Dr. Boyer's denial of tenure to him was arbitrary and capricious without just cause or basis. The complaint also sought a preliminary and permanent injunction enjoining Mississippi Valley State University and Dr. Joe L. Boyer from denying tenure to him, effective with the 1984-1985 school year.

 The trial judge denied the relief requested and from that decision, Dr. Wicks appeals assigning as error the following:

 The trial court erred in finding that Dr. Joe L. Boyer has unfettered and unbridled discretion in granting and denying tenure and that the denial of tenure by Boyer to Wicks was not arbitrary and capricious.

 I.

 Dr. David Wicks is a teacher of history and social studies at Mississippi Valley State University (hereinafter MVSU). Dr. Wicks began his employment at MVSU in the fall of 1962 when he was employed as Dean of Men and as an instructor in the History and Political Science Department. He remained with the University until 1964. He returned in 1966 and remained until 1969. He returned a second time in 1972 with the rank of Associate Professor. In June, 1982, he was promoted to rank of Professor. At the time he was promoted, Dr. Wicks lacked certification of the required minimum of 18 hours of instruction of study in his teaching field.

 In the fall of 1983, Dr. Wicks applied for tenure. The revised 1983 Tenure and Promotions Policy was in force at the time of his application. That decisional process provides for the appointment of a Tenure and Promotion Committee to review all applications for both rank and tenure in light of the established guidelines and to make a recommendation to the President. Recommendations are also submitted by the department chair person, division chair person, and the Dean of Academic Affairs. The granting or denying of tenure is vested in the sole discretion of the President, but may be appealed to the Tenure and Promotion Appeals Committee. The policy outlines minimum qualifications which must be met before an individual will be considered for rank or tenure.

 President Boyer reviewed the recommendations submitted pursuant to the tenure process and then made the decision to deny tenure to Dr. Wicks based on lack of credentials in the teaching field. Dr. Boyer informed Dr. Wicks of his decision by letter dated May 9, 1984, however, the letter erroneously stated that the Tenure and Promotion Committee had recommended that tenure be denied. Dr. Boyer explained in his testimony that a form letter was incorrectly typed by his clerk and that" we intended to say that Dr. Wicks would not be . . . tenured because of insufficient hours in the teaching field. "This explanation is corroborated by the fact that this error was made in four other letters wherein Dr. Boyer had not agreed with the recommendation of the Tenure and Promotions Committee.

 By letter dated March 12, 1984, Dr. Boyer had informed Dr. Wicks that he was deficient by six (6) hours to be minimally certified in history and deficient by eighteen (18) hours to be certified at the advanced level. Dr. Wicks had not made any effort to become minimally certified as of the date of trial.

 Upon re-examination, it was discovered that Dr. Wicks had been erroneously granted a promotion to the rank of Professor since he did not meet the criterion for that rank. Dr. Wicks was denied tenure because of his lack of credentials in the teaching field, a very clearly stated criterion under the section on rank. President Boyer further testified that no one has been granted tenure at MVSU who was not minimally certified in their teaching field since he became President of the University.

 Dr. Morris Marx, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Mississippi, testified at trial as an expert in the field of tenure. Dr. Marx testified regarding

 tenure that:

 (1) Tenure is the granting of continuing employment which cannot be terminated except for good cause;

 (2) Tenure and rank are intimately related;

 (3) The grant or denial of tenure is left to the discretion of the head of the University, i.e., tenure cannot be earned;

 (4) The academic background of the individual in the teaching field is a crucial element for consideration ...


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