SANTA ANA — In a rare move, a judge on Thursday ordered UC Irvine to rehire an assistant professor who was dropped from the faculty a year ago after being denied tenure.
"This is an extraordinarily unusual and unique situation," said Howard Gensler, the professor's attorney. "The university is given remarkable latitude in terms of giving tenure; it's a really hard area to win. The cards are stacked completely in favor of the university."
Paul McGill, who came to UC Irvine in 1987 after 14 years of teaching mathematics at European universities, was denied tenure in 1990-91. He appealed, but a series of committees decided that his research and service to the university were lacking and that he should not be given tenure or reappointed to the faculty at all.
After a hearing Thursday afternoon in Orange County Superior Court, Judge William McDonald ruled that McGill's termination was unjustified. The judge pointed to what he called a lack of evidence in the 600-page file compiled by the various committees.
Eric Behrens, attorney for the University of California Board of Regents, agreed that it is rare for a university's hiring decision to be overruled.
"Of course, every case is unique, but the university has handled a number of (these cases) and has been successful," he said. "I was surprised by the ruling."
McGill, a probability specialist, could not be reached for comment.
McDonald ordered McGill reinstated with a pay raise and said that the university should reconsider him for tenure in two years. Other specifics of the order, including whether McGill will receive a damage award or his salary for the past year, have yet to be drawn up.
McGill also argued in the suit that he should have received tenure upon arriving at UC Irvine, since he had 14 years of experience and UCI typically gives professors tenure after eight years. McDonald did not rule on that aspect of the case, and McGill might pursue tenure through the courts on that basis, Gensler said.
Behrens said the University of California might appeal the judge's ruling and maintained that McGill had been fairly considered but simply did not make the grade for tenure, a lifelong appointment to a university's faculty.
Behrens noted that six different panels considered McGill's application, and five other panels reviewed his file during the appeal. Only one of those committees did not suggest terminating his appointment altogether.
"The McGill case was a case of a person who was very competent, but he was not outstanding," Behrens said Thursday. "The file is replete with instances that McGill's research, while good, was not outstanding. He had some very good letters of recommendation, but everybody has those."