FEA professor, chair sue university for $6 million

Two professors from the Department of Film and Electronic Arts have filed two joint lawsuits against the Cal State University, asking for more than $6 million in damages stemming from allegations of slander, libel, defamation, discrimination and retaliatory acts. 

The lawsuits also name Cal State Long Beach, President F. King Alexander, Provost Donald Para, Interim Dean of the School of the Arts James Kvapil and 50 unknown individuals believed to be related to the cases.

Department Chair Michael Pounds and Professor Brian Alan Lane allege, in court documents obtained by the Daily 49er from Lane’s attorney, that Alexander, Para and Kvapil initiated “unwarranted,” “unfounded,” and “aggressive” auditing of the two professors and falsely claimed that they engaged in “financial fraud.”

Pounds and Lane also allege that the audit and claim of “financial fraud” were retaliatory and discriminatory acts against the two professors in response to reports they made of fraud, misconduct and waste within the university. 

In 2008, after Lane published an essay in the Union Weekly titled “Cheaters Ever Prosper,” CSULB’s Academic Affairs began investigating FEA Associate Professor Michael Berlin for misrepresenting academic credentials. 

“These are nonsense claims and have no connection whatsoever,” Alexander said via email. “Whenever necessary, we have a legal responsibility to investigate any claims of possible financial impropriety. This is why we asked the Chancellor’s Office, not our campus, to conduct an independent outside audit.”

On May 9, the CSU Auditor’s Office released a report accusing an unnamed CSULB arts professor of misusing scholarship money and filing a false $10,000 reimbursement claim. 

The report alleged that the professor directed students to pay him portions of scholarship money he helped them receive. 

One student said the professor helped him obtain a $7,000 scholarship as compensation for work on a play he wrote during the 2008-09 academic year, directing him to keep $1,000 and give him $6,000 to pay for a casting director and other expenses related to the play, the audit report said. 

Another student said he received a $3,424 scholarship, but was only allowed to keep $1,000. 

Alexander said via email that he could not identify the professor named in the report but CSU officials told the Daily 49er in May that he/she was still employed by the university.

“Employee action could be anything from suspension to termination,” said Mike Uhlenkamp, a CSU spokesperson. 

Uhlenkamp also said, since the release of the original audit report, additional complexities have risen in the investigation but would not say what these complexities were. He also would not comment on whether the civil cases between the two professors and the CSU were connected to the audit report.

A case management conference is scheduled for the first lawsuit on Sept. 26 at 8 a.m. at 638 S. Beacon St., San Pedro, Calif.

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