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Tuesday, April 16
The Indiana Daily Student

campus administration

IU administrator violated policy in suspending professor Abdulkader Sinno according to Faculty Board of Review


Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Carrie Docherty violated IU policy when she suspended tenured professor Abdulkader Sinno following his attempt to reserve a room for a Palestine Solidarity Committee event, according to the IU Faculty Board of Review (FBR). The FBR wrote that Docherty failed to follow procedure by sanctioning Sinno without first referring the matter to the Faculty Misconduct Review Committee (FMRC), where Sinno could have defended himself at a hearing in front of his colleagues.  

The board recommended Provost Rahul Shrivastav direct Docherty to follow Bloomington campus policy, including referring the issue to the FMRC, in order to impose severe sanctions on Sinno. Docherty can pursue sanctions under university policy, only if the sanctions are not severe, the board wrote in a March 28 opinion obtained by the Indiana Daily Student.  

On Dec. 15, Docherty suspended Sinno for allegedly misrepresenting an event with speaker Miko Peled organized by the Palestine Solidarity Committee as an academic event on a room reservation form in November.  

“As the result of your conduct during the interview, your credibility deficiencies, my concerns regarding your judgment in advising the student organization, your failures to follow relevant policies and procedures, and evidence obtained during the investigation, I have serious concerns about the effect your behavior may have on members of the campus community,” Docherty wrote in a Dec. 15 letter to Sinno. 

The decision received pushback from faculty who claimed Docherty had violated IU policy when she bypassed the FMRC in Sinno’s suspension. Docherty argued that university policy, which does not require a FMRC hearing, supersedes the Bloomington campus policy and reiterated Sinno’s right to a post-disciplinary appeal with a separate entity called the Faculty Board of Review — the same body that has now concluded IU violated policy. The provost also publicly supported this interpretation at a Bloomington Faculty Council meeting in January. 

In addition to Bloomington campus policy granting a faculty member the right to a FMRC hearing with the ability to have advisors, call witnesses and organize a defense, the campus policy requires a higher standard of proof — “clear and convincing evidence” as opposed to a “preponderance of the evidence,” according to the FBR document. 

The board writes that Docherty’s arguments for why she chose to forgo campus policy were not persuasive. They specifically cite her argument that university policy usurps campus policy when the two conflict, responding that university policy references the Bloomington campus policy that requires an FMRC hearing. A letter written by law professors Steve Sanders and Alex Tanford, who were involved in updating university policy, confirms this fact, the board wrote in their opinion. 

The board also ruled IU violated campus policy once more during the board’s own review process by handing over confidential information and refusing to share certain documents with Sinno. In the first week of March, Docherty provided a “confidential dossier” on Sinno to the members of the board, they wrote. The dossier included bias incidents reported by students and alumni against Sinno, as well as emails and letters illustrating conflicts between Sinno and some faculty members and administrators since 2022. According to the document, the dossier additionally contained “a report on an incident involving Professor Sinno from 2019, and two reports concerning incidents involving Professor Sinno from 2010 at least one of which may be subject to a confidentiality agreement.” 

On March 6, the board asked Docherty to provide a copy of the documents to Sinno, but she refused. The board wrote that they could not consider the dossier in the proceedings against him because Sinno was not given the opportunity to respond.  

The board’s policies prohibit the individuals and groups involved in the proceedings from trying to influence the board’s decision, requires information be provided to all parties and does not consider anonymous allegations — which was the case with many of the bias incident reports.  

“Moreover, disclosure of information subject to a confidentiality agreement may itself be a violation of university policies,” the board wrote.   

The FBR’s decision alone does not change the circumstances of Sinno’s suspension; instead, it is a recommendation for the provost to act. Though the provost is not obligated, he indicated he would act on the FMRC’s recommendation at a Bloomington Faculty Council meeting in January. 

“In new cases that may come in on appeal, if the Faculty Board of Review feels a given policy has not been followed appropriately, and makes that recommendation to me, for example, to refer a matter to campus policy which may involve the Faculty Misconduct Committee instead of or in addition to their review, I am happy and I’m committing here today that I will act on that recommendation as appropriate,” the provost said at the meeting. 

The FBR decision also emphasized the importance of tenure and shared governance. The board expressed concern over IU General Counsel’s involvement in interpreting IU policy, writing that while the office can provide advice, the final authority should rest with faculty and administrators who know the university and its mission best  

“Our IU Constitution charges the administration and faculty with determining such matters, not the General Counsel,” they wrote. 

In an emailed statement to the IDS, Sinno expressed satisfaction with the decision.  

“I am pleased that the Faculty Board of Review finds that VPFAA Carrie Docherty not only violated IU policies by imposing severe sanctions by herself but also violated them again in a desperate attempt to defend herself against the accusation of violating policy,” he wrote. “Not only is this ironic, it is also shocking because the Vice President of Faculty & Academic Affairs is the IU administrator we entrust with upholding IU policies. Having Carrie Docherty in this office is like entrusting the fox with guarding the henhouse.” 

Mark Bode, executive director of media relations at IU, said the university would not comment on personnel matters.  

When asked if Shrivastav would follow the FBR’s recommendation at a Bloomington Faculty Council meeting Tuesday following the board’s ruling, Shrivastav also said he could not legally comment on personnel matters.  

Immediately, Sinno shouted from the audience, “I give you permission.”  

The provost still would not comment.  

Sinno v VPFAA Opinion Final by marnmead

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