More than 80 American University professors dispatched a protest letter yesterday to former university president Richard Berendzen, saying that his negotiations with trustees over a $1 million severance package "have caused anguish" on campus.
The one-page letter, signed by 84 faculty members, asks Berendzen to refuse any money beyond the terms of his contract with the school. It also complains that the settlement was offered by the trustees without consulting anyone on campus, a "circumvention" that the professors said "affects the very soul of the university."
The correspondence is the latest stage of an escalating campus protest over the severance proposal, which the university's Board of Trustees approved this month. The trustees agreed to pay Berendzen the sum if he severed his remaining connections with the school.
Berendzen resigned as president in April as police investigated allegations that he had made indecent telephone calls from his office. He subsequently pleaded guilty to two charges involving the calls.
Although he has not been working on campus, he technically remains a tenured professor of physics. According to professors interviewed yesterday, the letter reflects a growing disenchantment with Berendzen, who had widespread support on campus when he resigned.
"I was very positive about Berendzen and very sympathetic. Most of the faculty felt that way," said economics professor James Weaver, who has taught at the univeristy since 1963, and served four times as chairman of the University Senate. "But this incident has made me very angry. It is an example of greed run wild."
Weaver said that news of the proposed settlement is damaging to the school's reputation and a deterrent to would-be donors. "We are going to be the laughingstock of the world," he said.
According to professors and a university spokesman, the letter is the most vehement expression of faculty dissatisfaction in recent memory on the Northwest Washington campus. It was signed by about one-fifth of the teaching staff, including many senior faculty members and campus leaders.
"The reports of your proposed million-dollar settlement have caused the anguish of last spring to return to our community. . . . the letter said.
Berendzen could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Meanwhile, the trustees' chairman, Edward Carr, said that he and the school's acting president will meet during the next few days with representatives of the students, faculty and administration. The first meeting is scheduled to take place with students at 6:30 p.m. today.