The American University Board of Trustees yesterday rescinded its $1 million severance offer to Richard E. Berendzen, clearing the way for the former president to return as a physics professor in 1992.
The board's reversal at an emergency meeting ended a month-long furor over the proposed settlement for Berendzen, who had resigned last spring and pleaded guilty to making obscene telephone calls from his office. But the board's unanimous vote does not quell ambivalence on campus over whether Berendzen, who maintained a high profile during his 10 years as the school's president, should come back to teach.
Before yesterday's vote, the president of the school's alumni association told the trustees that AU should "sever all ties with Dr. Berendzen as expeditiously as possible."
And a week ago, as details of his return were being negotiated, four faculty leaders who considered themselves his friends met with Berendzen for 3 1/2 hours at his home, urging him not to come back, according to a participant.
Nevertheless, student and faculty leaders said yesterday that they believed the turmoil on the Northwest Washington campus had improved rapport between the board and the rest of the university and that the outcome was acceptable.
"This is not any panacea, but under circumstances that were horrendous, it was the best thing that could be done," said Marc Masurovsky, president of the association representing AU's 3,000 graduate students.
"You will find people who say he should never, ever step within 10 miles of the campus, and people who say he should be president again," said Matt Ward, president of the Student Confederation, the undergraduate government.
But Ward and several faculty leaders said the university was showing compassion by letting Berendzen return. And they said the campus would provide a good environment for him to heal from what they called a sickness.
Yesterday, Berendzen said: "I would be surprised if there were not some divergence of views . . . . I think both the university and I need to get on with healing processes."
Berendzen resigned abruptly eight months ago, and checked into a sexual disorders clinic. In May, he pleaded guilty to two charges of making obscene telephone calls to a woman who ran a Fairfax County day-care center. He was sentenced to two 30-day jail terms, which were suspended with the stipulation that he continue in psychiatric counseling.
Under the terms of an agreement worked out with Acting President Milton Greenberg, Berendzen will be on paid leave until spring 1992. In the interim, he will receive the salary of about $70,000 a year that he will be paid as a full professor.
He also will receive about $380,000 in severance pay that had been guaranteed under his contract as president.
The board did not actually authorize his return yesterday, saying that the decision belonged to Berendzen, campus administrators and the faculty. But the 28 members who attended yesterday's closed two-hour meeting voted unanimously to drop the $1 million settlement.
At a news conference, the trustees' chairman, Edward R. Carr, did not say the settlement had been wrong. "The difficulty came when the culture of the board came into odds with the culture of an academic institution . . . . The board -- and the chair really has to take the hit on this -- was not aware of the sensitivity of the procedures dealing with what is now a faculty member."
The board reversed itself 10 days after Berendzen issued a public letter, offering to relinquish the settlement package if he could return to campus to teach physics.
Yesterday, Greenberg said that he contacted Berendzen after reading the letter and that the two had met last Thursday to discuss his possible return.
A delegation of four faculty leaders went to Berendzen's Alexandria apartment Friday night to discuss the campus's sentiments and the former president's options.
"We strongly urged him it would not be in the best interest of the university for him to come back, or his best interest," said performing arts professor Valerie Morris, chairwoman of the Faculty Senate.
But, she said, Berendzen insisted that he wanted to teach at AU, and the professors said they would not oppose his decision. On Saturday morning, the delegation reported back to Greenberg, who worked the details out with Berendzen by noon and signed the agreement Sunday.