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College Dean Is Abusive, Five on Faculty Complain

The Region

Education: On the Irvine Valley campus, a secretary also says she fears the head of physical education, who replies that it's all sabotage over loyalty to a predecessor.

June 29, 2002|JEFF GOTTLIEB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

All five tenured members of an Orange County community college physical education department have filed a harassment complaint against their dean, and his secretary has told campus police she fears for her safety after he allegedly chased her down a corridor and cornered her.

Rod Poindexter, dean of health sciences, physical education and athletics at Irvine Valley College, has been the subject of faculty complaints since shortly after he started his job a year ago. He denies the allegations and says he is caught between administrators and faculty allied with the former athletic director, who was passed over for the dean's job.

An investigation is underway, but Raghu Mathur, chancellor of the South Orange County Community College District, declined to discuss the complaint, saying it was a personnel matter.

"Dr. Poindexter is becoming more and more isolated," said the 11-page complaint filed with the college, a copy of which was obtained by The Times. Signing it were basketball coach Jerry Hernandez; Martin McGrogan, coach of men's soccer and the state-champion women's badminton team; Ted Weatherford, former chairman of the physical education department; dance instructor Kathryn Milostan-Egus and Aracely Mora, the former athletic director and interim dean.

"His behavior has created an environment where there is fear that he can 'snap' and physically hurt others and himself. We need help. The abuse, retaliation and discrimination need to stop."

Poindexter, 52, said in an interview that the faculty members have tried to sabotage him because of their loyalty to Mora. He also said he has been caught in the war between the campus faculty and the administration.

That larger struggle has been going on since 1997, when Mathur, now chancellor, was appointed Irvine Valley president. There have been faculty no-confidence votes against Mathur, lawsuits and an ongoing power struggle over anything from class scheduling to faculty appointments.

Poindexter called the confrontation with his secretary "a fake incident" and said, "People try to do anything to get rid of me."

A number of faculty members interviewed said the administration is investigating the complaint, and some of them said they had been interviewed for several hours.

Before coming to Irvine Valley, Poindexter was athletic training director and an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. Irvine Valley officials said Poindexter was hired after a nationwide search.

Before Poindexter took the job, the athletic director reported to the dean. When the dean stepped down, the jobs were combined. Mora, athletic director for 11 years, and extremely well-liked by her staff, filled the interim post for about a year.

Psychology professor John Lowe, a member of the hiring committee, said the panel ranked Mora as the top candidate and Poindexter third. The group forwarded its choices to Mathur, who recommended that the Board of Trustees appoint Poindexter to the $97,000-a-year job. Because Mora's regular post of athletic director no longer existed, she returned to being a full-time professor.

Poindexter started his job July 2. He said that, during his three days of interviews for the job, no one told him about the conflicts between the faculty and administration.

He said that if he had known Mora was a candidate, "I wouldn't have even come out for the interview. I didn't know the real story until I signed my contract and got here."

The complaint from the five faculty members is dated April 22. It asks that the dean "be removed from the campus during the investigation ... in order to protect the safety of the department members and the liability of the school district."

Poindexter said he had not seen the complaint but denied the charges. "I'm an open, honest person," he said.

His secretary, Suzie Franzoni, has filed a claim with the district, a precursor to a lawsuit, over her dealings with Poindexter.

The alleged confrontation between Franzoni and Poindexter occurred Jan. 4. Poindexter said the relationship between them had been getting worse. "She went to the other side and started working against me."

According to the campus police report, Franzoni had just come from a meeting with Poindexter in which he had told her she was not doing her work. She walked to the office of Weatherford, the former chairman of the physical education department. According to her statement to campus police, "In the next moment, Rod [Poindexter] came charging down the hallway directly at me. Rod pinned me in the corner against the wall" and began screaming at her.

Franzoni also filed a report with the Irvine police department the same day. The officer wrote that Franzoni "repeatedly broke out into tears and had to take several minutes to compose herself. I could sense [she] was very scared of Poindexter and very frustrated because the school officials don't seem to be taking the situation seriously."

Brent Shaver, Irvine Valley's sports information officer, told campus police "what I did witness was Dr. Poindexter putting Suzie in a scary and threatening position."

In his statement to police, Weatherford, who later signed the complaint against the dean, wrote, "Poindexter charged down the hall shouting at Suzie that he was her boss not me and that she should only talk to him. Suzie was pinned in a corner and very frightened.... This is not the first time this type of behavior has occurred. Other female employees have expressed concerns with their safety and Dean Poindexter's behavior."

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