The University of Maryland's governing board, overriding the recommendation of a faculty panel, has decided to dismiss a tenured physics professor who was accused of grabbing another professor by the throat during an argument 20 months ago.
The decision to fire Associate Professor Edgar F. Beall, a self-described Maoist, drew immediate criticism from a number of senior faculty members who said that the move endangered academic freedom at the university.
"There's a general faculty concern about due process in any matter where a faculty member's tenure is revoked," said Shirley S. Kenny, chairwoman of the Faculty Senate at the College Park campus where Beall taught.
"I don't think this is an issue that's going to go away," Kenny added.
A preliminary draft of a dismissal letter prepared by the university's board of regents said in part that "Dr. Beall's physical attacks on others... are sufficiently serious to w arrant his discharge.
Yesterday, after the regents' decision was revealed in the campus newspaper, Beall said that he has distributed notices announcing his plans to teach this semester. Unless he is prevented, Beall said, he intends to go ahead with his plan.
Beall refused to make any further comment on the decision, which was reached by a 9 to 2 vote of the Board of Regents in a secret session two weeks ago.
A five-member faculty board of review spent four days hearing testimony in the Beall case last spring before finding him guilty of misconduct and recommending that he be placed on probation for five years.
In addition to grabbing a colleague by the threat, Beall had also spat at colleagues in the hallway and once smeared grease on the department chairman's ledger, according to testimony before the faculty panel.
The regents were expected to discuss the Beall case and contents of the dismissal letter at their regularly scheduled meeting today.
The Beall case initially drew wide attention when, sometime after the violent argument with Beall's colleague, Alex J. Dragt, then chairman of the physics d epartment, told Beall he would be suspended from teaching until a psychiatrist certified he represented no danger to himslef of those around him.
At the time, a Beall defense committee warned that all faculty members faced a threat to their acadeic freedom if Beall could be barred from teaching without a hearing, simply on the basis of his refusal to see a psychiatrist.
Last June, after what many Beall supporters contended was an unreasonable 12-month delay, f faculty board of reiew converned to hear Beall's case.
At that hearing, Bell testified his outbursts w ere provoked by insensitivity of his colleagues to acts of harassment and vandalism against his office. He said slogans posted on his door were ripped off and his posterd defaced.
After several days of testimony and deliberation, the faculty panel found Beall innocent of charges of willful neglect of duty and incompetence, but guilty of misconduct and recommended the probationary status.
Since the regents' vote was taken two weeks ago, most members of the board have refused to comment on the case. But after The Diamondback, the campus paper, revealed the decision, two board members confirmed that the group had approved Beall's dismissal.
News of the board's decision drew immediate and critical comment from many faculty members at College Park.
"This is part of a syndrome that we've had on this campus," said Barbara Bergmann, president of the College Park chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
"Committees are convened by the administration. Then when they come up with something the administration doesn't like, they just throw it away."
Aubrey Williams, a professor of anthropology and a spolesman for the Beall defense committee, said the regents' decision definitely threatens academic freedom on campus.
"It is of deep concern to all faculty, tenured and untenured that a tenured faculty member can be fired for what appears to be his refusal to take a psychiatric exam," Williams said.
Williams and about 15 colleagues from College Park met yesterday to protest a statement attributed to College Park Chancellor Robert Gluckstern in The Diamondback that the Beall case was "extraordinary" and had no bearing on other faculty members.
"We do not consider it extraordinary. It affects all of us," William said.
A spokesman for University President John S. Toll said Toll did not participate in the regents' decision.