The University of Maryland publicly accused one of its tenured professor yesterday of smearing a departmental ledger with thick grease, grabbing a colleague twice by the neck as if to strangle him and being verbally threatening and abusive toward members of the university and community.
The accusations were made public yesterday when a six-member faculty board of review opened termination hearings against physics professor Edgar F. Beall in a case that has become the focus of a major controversy at the College Park campus.
Beall did not contest the specific accusations but argued that there were mitigating circumstances.
A long-time activist in leftist political circles and a vocal critic of the university administration, Beall was suspended from teaching a year ago, three days after the incident in which he grabbed a colleague by the neck.
Shortly after that he was told not to return to the classroom unless he could get a psychiatrist to certify that he wasn't "a treat to yourself or others." Beall's lawyer, David Gespass, said Beall had been upset over repeated acts of vandalism against his office door, the defacement and theft of signs and posters. Beall equated these acts with attacks on his political philosophy and the rise of fascism in the United States, Gespass said.
"Continuation of these attacks and the failure of the department of physics to do anything about them resulted in Dr. Beall's losing his temper and he was suspended," Gespass said.
He argued that the specific charges against Beall failed to add up to misconduct, incompetence or wilful neglect of duty - the broad grounds on which the university is seeking Beall's dismissal.
Throughout the last academic year, the Beall case has attracted widespread attention at College Park, and some faculty members see it involving such fundamental issues as academic freedom and the right of due process. Faculty members said they were particularly upset by the fact that Beall could be suspended for a year without a hearing, that he could be required to take a psychiatric exam as a condition of continued employment and that no specific charges were made public until yesterday.
Anthropology professor Aubrey Williams, a member of a Beall defense committee, said yesterday he does not believe the accusations against Beall "are as serious as they are made out to be. We are all human beings and we do get angry.
"Faculty members don't have many rights and the use of a psychiatric exam as a means to get rid of anybody is a potent weapon in the hands of the administration," Williams said.
Physics professor David S. Falk, the colleague Beall is alleged to have grabbed by the neck, said the incident occurred after he saw Beall shouting angrily at another professor and waving clenched fists in the physics department office on May 20, 1977.
Falk said he asked Beall to leave the office. "He lunged at me and grabbed me by the neck," Falk said.
Falk told the board that he considered calling the police but was talked out of it. "I said, "If he lays a hand on me once more I will call the police,'" Falk said.
At that point, Falk said, Beall lunged at him again and grabbed him around the neck, then went out into a hallway and held up both hands and said "all right put the handcuffs on."
Falk said campus police came to the physics building but made no arrest.
The hearings are scheduled to continue for the next several days. The review panel will make a nonbinding recommendation to the board of regents.