At the College Park campus of Maryland, there are several different ways of looking at controversial landlord-professor Shao Ti Hsu. Among them:
"A definite source of embarrassment to the University . . ."
"One of the few professors around here who really cares about the students and goes out of his way to help them . . ."
"A tenured university professor behaving as a street gang leader . . ."
For Hsu, a millionaire professor of mechanical engineering whose hundreds of low-rent apartments in Washington and Prince George's County have been cited frequently for code violations, it is business as usual as the fall term draws to a close at College Park.
His three courses, two sections of thermodynamics and one of internal combustion engines, are filled to overflowing, and, as is customary, the 63-year-old native of Nanking, China, enjoys a warm rapport with his students.
Facing retrial on charges of perjury and under investigation for allegedly offering improper payments to a Prince George's County building inspector, he has written a column for the campus newspaper declaring that "all charges are false."
Extensive newspaper and television coverage of code and safety violations in his apartments and of incidents in which, on the sidewalk in front of an apartment complex, he threatened a news reporter and photographer with a metal pole, Hsu says, "is good for me."
"The publicity puts my name out so more and more people know me. That is good free advertising," said Hsu during a relaxed and generally congenial interview in his College Park office.
It's the kind of free advertising, however, that the University of Maryland would rather do without.
"Hsu is a definite source of embarrassment to the University of Maryland as far as I personally am concerned," said Peter F. O'Malley, chairman of the university Board of Regents. "His values are not the university's values."
Nevertheless, O'Malley said, as a tenured professor, Hsu's employment rights at Maryland are protected by contract. As long as his outside activities do not interfere with his academic duties, the university is virtually powerless to move against him.
In 1977, after a District of Columbia Superior Court jury found Hsu guility of prejury, the university sought an opinion from the attorney general's office on whether Hsu could be dismissed. The attorney general concluded that Hsu could not be dismissed unless the conviction was related to his job at the university or unless there was finding of "moral turpitude." The perjury conviction was later overturned, and Hsu faces retrial later this month.
Top university administrators say Hsu's connection with the university is "extremely unfortunate" for the school's image.Should any of the current investigations into Hsu's affairs result in a conviction, they may seek his dismissal or suspension on the grounds that the conviction itself constituted moral turpitude, they said.
Among students at College Park, opinions are divided on the professor.
Said the student newspaper, The Diamondback, in an editorial after Hsu was photographed threatening a reporter and photographer with a metal pole:
"Last week, the millionaire professor-landlord again demonstrated his remarkable ability to bring disgrace to his own name and, by association, that of the university . . .
"Thus area residents were treated by the morning paper and the evening news to the sight of a tenured university professor behaving as a street gang leader protecting his own turf . . . citizens throughout the metropolitan area are wondering why the university continues to employ such a person. .fs.
"One has only to look at the degrading conditions in which Hsu's tenants are forced to live to know that he has no place here."
Says Carlos Suarez, 21, of Puerto Rico, as student in one of Hsu's thermodynamics classes:
"I think he's the best. There is difference between him and the other professors. He encourages you to go on and get a higher degree. He knows his stuff better than most of the teachers here."
A senior, Suarez will graduate this month and has been offered a $24,000-a-year job as a civil engineer in Puerto Rico. Hsu, he said, has counseled him to take it but to plan on returning to school at some point for an advanced degree.
"He really wants you to do well," said senior Fred Cohn, 22, of Baltimore. "He's one of the few professors around here who really cares about the students and goes out of his way to help them. Some of the material in the course can be pretty boring, but he's a very interesting man. He explains things well and he relates to his students."
Adds another student, "As a teacher he's doing a very good job. I don't think his personal life should be related to his school work."
A graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a doctorate in engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute, Hsu taught at Virginia Tech and the University of Wisconsin before coming to Maryland. He specializes in the principles of heat transfer, and his book on the subject, he says, has earned him more than $200,000. He also does consulting work.
"Not many people in the country know as much about this as I do," said Hsu. "They will pay me $500 a day just to give them some advice. Any outside people who come to see me, I have to charge them $100 for every hour they come to talk with me. That is the consulting fee."
Hsu won't get specific, but he says, "only a small percentage of the money I earn comes from the University of Maryland."
Managing his properties, consulting and teaching take up 100 percent of his time, he said, but he makes a point of being available to give his students special help if they need it.
"The students are the one group of people I allow to come to my office at any time and to call me at home," said Hsu. "The student is the purest person you can get. When people get out into society, they become corrupted, but a student is just a piece of white paper."
A former captain in the Chinese Air Force under Chiang Kai-shek, Hsu says he plans to strike back at his enemies "when I have the time."
He told a group of students last month that he has hired an investigator to compile information on those he believes to be his enemies, including state Sen. Edward T. Conroy (D-Prince George's), who has urged Hsu's suspension from the university.
"I am a soldier," Hsu said. "You fight the sword with the sword and you fight poison with poison."