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Fired prof files new lawsuit

Like a mythical hydra, the case of fired University of Wisconsin-Superior associate professor John Marder keeps sprouting new court actions. The most recent move in the seven-year saga is a case filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court on Thursday...

Like a mythical hydra, the case of fired University of Wisconsin-Superior associate professor John Marder keeps sprouting new court actions.

The most recent move in the seven-year saga is a case filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court on Thursday. It seeks Marder's return to campus with back pay for violation of Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. It lists Superior attorney Toby Marcovich, former President of the UW System Board of Regents, 10 other members of the Board of Regents, UWS Chancellor Julius Erlenbach and the Board of Regents itself as defendants.

The case is based on recent written and oral depositions of Erlenbach that shed light on comments the chancellor made to the June 8, 2001, Board of Regents meeting held just before regents terminated Marder's employment. Neither Marder nor his attorney, Aaron Halstead, were allowed to attend that session.

During that meeting with regents, Erlenbach provided arguments that he said were undisputed, according to court records. Yet Erlenbach testified he had never read transcripts of hearings that took place to determine if Marder should be fired or not.

The UWS Administrative code requires the board's review of Erlenbach's recommendation be limited to facts contained in the record, Marder's lawsuit argues.

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"It's like there was a trial that the jury and judges didn't attend," Marder said in a Friday e-mail to The Daily Telegram.

The dispute began when Erlenbach sought Marder's dismissal in 1999 based on 18 charges ranging from creating disharmony within the communicating arts department to misuse of funds and allegations of sexual harassment.

The UWS Personnel Matters Review Committee held a two-day hearing and found there was no reason for dismissal of the tenured associate professor based on those charges. In a subsequent letter to then UW System President Katharine Lyall, Erlenbach asked the Board of Regents to terminate Marder's employment.

The board's Personnel Review Committee reviewed the case and three times found insufficient evidence for the dismissal. But, following the private meeting with Erlenbach, the board voted 11-3 to fire Marder. The 11 regents who voted for the termination are the ones listed in the new lawsuit. Since the firing, Marder has appealed through lawsuits heard in Douglas and Ashland counties and the state Supreme Court.

The case has raised keen interest among other UW professors, who liken a professor's tenure to union backing.

Marder is editor of two central Wisconsin newspapers -- the Cornell Courier and Cadott Sentinel -- but he still owns a home in Superior.

David Giroux, spokesman for the UW System, was unable to comment on the case because it was so new.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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