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When a Georgia Tech mathematics professor began a four-year campaign against his then-department head’s excessive travel spending, he said his supervisors responded with substandard job evaluations. Now what was an intradepartmental fight has moved into federal court. Professor Theodore Hill, whose criticisms of suspected financial shenanigans began the imbroglio, is asking for damages in a federal suit, Hill v. Regents, No. 22043 (N.D. Ga. May 19, 2000) that alleges the Georgia Institute of Technology retaliated against him for raising questions about the lack of financial control in the math department. Hill’s one-man campaign hasn’t won him friends. His dean accused him of destroying “the social fabric of the department,” Hill claimed in his suit. The saga began in 1996 when Hill wrote a memorandum critical of then-department chairman Shui-Nee Chow. Hill sent the memo to a review committee charged with evaluating Chow’s performance. The highly charged letter alleged that under Chow’s leadership “favoritism regarding personnel decisions was rampant” in the math department. Hill claimed that Chow’s dual role as department chairman and co-founder of Tech’s Center for Dynamical Systems and Nonlinear Studies, a think tank, had resulted in “certain financial improprieties.” In March 1997, the evaluation committee issued a critical review of Chow’s performance. The review apparently made little impact on school administrators who, less than a month later, reappointed Chow as department chair. As chair, Chow was Hill’s supervisor. Four months after Hill noted deficiencies in Chow’s performance, Chow oversaw an evaluation downgrading Hill. Hill claimed in his suit that he received “a mediocre evaluation” and was recommended for a below-average raise. Hill blamed Chow for the “retaliatory” evaluation. At that point, Hill began what has become a paper war with Georgia Tech by filing a grievance and asking for an audit of the math department’s finances. In his grievance, Hill accused Chow of “unprofessional conduct and abuse of power.” The grievance prompted Georgia Tech’s Faculty Status and Grievance Committee to request a university audit of the Center for Dynamical Systems and the math department. The grievance committee noted “what appeared to be disproportionately large disbursements of funds for international travel and other expenses incurred by Dr. Chow,” a Georgia Tech audit said. Later, the Board of Regents initiated its own audit. An attorney general’s inquiry followed. All criticized the university’s lax oversight of the math department’s finances. FUNDS DIVERTED FOR TRAVEL Georgia Tech’s internal auditors discovered that funds that should have been used for the math department were diverted to the Center for Dynamical Systems. Both the university and Regents audits revealed “extraordinary travel expenses.” Chow had been reimbursed more than $100,000 for 87 trips from December 1991 through September 1997. Money for one math fellowship was used instead for travel, entertainment and supplies, according to the Georgia Tech audit, much of it by Chow himself. “Individual check requests show expenditures for staff luncheons, dinner for [Center for Dynamical Systems] seminar speakers, professional books, and even a baby shower for a staff member,” the Georgia Tech audit reported. On Sept. 25, 1997 Regents’ auditors met with Chow and questioned him at length. Three days later, Chow left the country, according to the Regents’ audit. He has been on leave in Singapore ever since. Chow is undertaking research at the University of Singapore, although he’s still listed as a member of Georgia Tech’s faculty. A school spokesman didn’t know if Chow is still on the school’s payroll. The audits led Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough to reprimand Chow, and the university demanded reimbursement of $6,500 in what it believed were excessive travel expenses. ATTORNEY GENERAL’S INQUIRY After the two audits, the Georgia attorney general’s office investigated and determined Chow had broken no laws. But the AG’s office was sharply critical of the university. An AG memo called Chow’s financial irregularities “the product of a systemic or cultural phenomenon at Tech: laxities in adherence to institutional travel and expense policies.” The memo concluded that criminal charges could not be sustained because university administrators did not believe Chow intended to defraud the state by billing the university for personal travel. “Georgia Tech has not been as diligent as needed to fully educate its personnel on what expenses are legitimate and what are not,” the memo states. By this time, Hill’s campaign and the audits had left the math department a battleground. And Hill’s problems weren’t over. On April 14, 1998 Hill received a new evaluation, rating his performance “below expectations,” the only substandard performance in the department, according to the suit. He was again given a “below average” raise. Alfred Andrew — who had stepped in as acting chair of the math department while Chow was on leave in Singapore — noted on Hill’s evaluation, “While your research has resulted in several papers submitted and your students in Fall 97 clearly value your teaching, I find many of your activities to be a serious disservice to the school.” Hill filed another grievance charging administrators with retaliation. Hill also discovered that open records requests could be a potent tool in his war with Georgia Tech administrators. Hill used the law in an effort to learn how the math department and Chow in particular budgeted and spent public money. He’s filed at least 150 requests since 1996, angering some faculty members. Chow’s allies in the math department have weighed in on his behalf. In the fall of 1998, Yang Wang, one of Chow’s department appointments, sent an e-mail to the math faculty, saying that Hill’s open records requests were “an act of cowardice.” He urged fellow faculty members to publicly condemn Hill, according to the suit. Six months later, in February 1999, Wang sent a second e-mail to the math faculty and students as well as math researchers across the country, asking: “What are the words spoken most frequently in the School of Mathematics of Georgia Institute of Technology?” Wang’s answer: “[the] Georgia Open Records Act.” He urged his colleagues to take their sensitive records home where, presumably, they could shield them. He signed the e-mail, “Yang Wang, Mad as Hell!” Then in March 1999, Wang, as a member of the math department’s executive committee, recommended the lowest possible performance evaluation for Hill, according to the federal lawsuit. This past September, Hill sued in Georgia’s Fulton County Superior Court, accusing Wang of defamation of character and of libeling him in the two interoffice e-mails. Hill v. Wang, No. 1999CV12986 (Fult. Super. Sept. 2, 1999). Wang is now at the University of Singapore and couldn’t be reached for comment. K. Prabhaker Reddy of Reddy & Silvis, as special assistant attorney general, is defending the Board of Regents and Georgia Tech. He has declined to comment. Georgia Tech spokesman Robert T. Harty says there was no job retaliation against Hill. “We have tried to work with him [Hill]. When that hasn’t worked, we have been pretty vigorous in our defense against some of his allegations.” Harty acknowledges that, because of Hill’s efforts, “A couple of things were brought to the attention of the department leadership that turned out to be valid” and that Hill “vigorously pursued some things that had merit.” But, he insists, “There were some problems that were not major problems.” Earlier this year, the Georgia Tech Faculty Status and Grievance Committee sustained Hill’s allegations about his 1998 evaluation, noting that the inclusion of Wang, “a known adversary and critic” among Hill’s evaluators “was very unfair,” according to the suit. In March, President Clough informed the committee he would ask Georgia Tech’s provost to initiate a new evaluation of Hill. In his correspondence, the president noted that “significant steps have been taken to revise [the Math Department's] evaluation procedures.” But he declined to adopt a committee recommendation to reprimand the acting head of the math department for accepting the flawed evaluation. That prompted Hill to file his suit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta. “This is a First Amendment case,” says Hill’s attorney, Edward D. Buckley III of Greene, Buckley, Jones & McQueen. “It’s an example of where a professor spoke out about funding abuses, and particularly abuses with public monies, and has been slammed for it. We don’t think it’s right, and we think it needs to be redressed.”

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