DAYTON, Ohio — Prof. Jerrold Petrofsky's lawyers have asked for a two-month halt to speculation about his future with Wright State University here while he negotiates a new contract with the institution.
"We're asking for a two-month hiatus. We need the time very badly," lawyer Andrew Thomas said at a news conference here Wednesday. He said neither Petrofsky nor university President Paige Mulhollan would comment during that time.
"His heart and soul belong to the university," Thomas said of Petrofsky. But a statement issued at the news conference said that if a contract agreement is not reached, Petrofsky would leave.
Petrofsky, who is noted for his work in electrical stimulation of muscles to help paralyzed people walk, attended the news conference but did not say anything.
His future at Wright State has been clouded since officials at the University of California, Irvine, said Aug. 12 that he had accepted a voluntary, non-paid position there and that they were negotiating with him for a full-time post.
Ronald White, a scientist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which has promised to provide Petrofsky with research money, said Tuesday that UC Irvine had sent him a letter saying it was willing to accept Petrofsky's research commitments.
"We can't be responsible for what UCI has said or done," lawyer Marshall Ruchman said. The letter was not sent at Petrofsky's request, he said.
UCI spokeswoman Linda Granell said Thursday in Irvine that the university's move to process a grant application to NASA for Petrofsky is a common move during negotiations with potential faculty. The application asks for about $2 million for a 2 1/2-year study on isometric exercise in zero-gravity conditions, she said.
"This was part of the negotiations in the eventual hope that he (Petrofsky) would accept a full-time position here," Granell said. With the time-consuming grant application already in the works, "that way, if he did accept a position here, he would not arrive with no funding for his research," she said.
It is not unusual for a prospective faculty member to conduct "parallel" or concurrent negotiations with different institutions, she said. In fact, UCI officials have heard, through press reports, that Petrofsky has talked with other universities as well, she said.
"This is the common way. There has been nothing unusual about it," she said of UCI's actions. The only unusual development is the press attention, she said. "The negotiations are being reported, not just the actual hiring. Obviously, it has caused some problems for Dr. Petrofsky," she said.
Year Left on Contract
Petrofsky said Monday that he had a year left on his three-year contract as head of the National Center for Rehabilitation Engineering and did not need to sign a new pact.
Thomas said the negotiations began because Petrofsky wants to spend more time on projects outside Wright State and wants more commitment to funding of his research.
University funding for the center dropped from $750,000 last year to $600,000 this year in what Mulhollan has said was a previously agreed upon schedule.
The lawyers also released a letter in which Petrofsky and Mulhollan said they declined to meet with businessman Cy Laughter, who has helped raise money for Petrofsky's work. Laughter had demanded that they meet with him Thursday.
"It appears to me that Petrofsky's going to leave Dayton," Laughter said. "I think if Jerry's going to stay, then he should announce it and then work out this contract."
Times staff writer Marcida Dodson in Orange County contributed to this story.