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August 9, 1983


Appeal from a judgment of the Circuit Court for Barron County: James C. Eaton, Judge.

Petition to Review Granted.

Foley, P.j., Dean and Cane, JJ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cane

Dean Patterson appeals from a judgment affirming a decision by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. The board affirmed a decision by the University of Wisconsin Center System Appeals and Grievance Committee that the committee had no jurisdiction over a dispute concerning whether Patterson quit or was discharged from his position as a tenured instructor. Patterson contends that he was denied his statutory and constitutional rights to due process of law because he did not have a hearing before an impartial tribunal to determine whether he voluntarily quit or was discharged. Because we conclude that Patterson was denied due process, we reverse and remand with directions.

Patterson was appointed to the faculty of the Barron County campus of the Wisconsin State University System in 1969. He taught courses in geography, history, and anthropology. Patterson became a tenured instructor in 1973 and continued teaching at the Barron County campus of the University of Wisconsin Center System.

During the 1976-77 academic year, the UWC-Barron County Steering Committee received formal student complaints concerning Patterson's teaching. In December, 1977, the committee adopted a resolution requesting an investigation and evaluation of Patterson's work. Dean John Meggers advised Patterson of the impending investigation, and Patterson later requested that he be placed on sick leave for the second semester. His request was granted.

While Patterson was on sick leave, arrangements were made for him to teach two geography courses during the fall semester of the 1978-79 academic year. Meggers informed Patterson that Chancellor Edward Fort would reassign fifty percent of Patterson's workload for the year in consultation with the geography department.

When the fall semester began, no students had enrolled in either of the courses Patterson was scheduled to teach. Consequently, both courses were cancelled. On November 20, 1978, Daniel VanEyck, Associate Chancellor for Academic Affairs, wrote Patterson informing him that there was insufficient enrollment at the Barron County campus to assign him teaching responsibilities. VanEyck asked Patterson to meet with Meggers to discuss alternative assignments for the academic year. Patterson met with Meggers, who indicated that he wanted Patterson to do a project on campus compiling student profiles and demographic information. Patterson apparently agreed that the project was acceptable, and he was asked to begin work on the project as of December 4, 1978.

Patterson briefly appeared on campus on December 4, but did not report for work the rest of the week. Meggers informed VanEyck in memoranda dated December 15, December 22, December 29, January 5, and January 12, that Patterson had not reported for work on the project assigned to him. VanEyck wrote Patterson on January 18, 1979, at Fort's request and with his authorization. VanEyck informed Patterson that if he failed to report by 8:30 a.m., January 23, 1979, for the work to which he had previously been assigned, the university would treat his absence as a resignation from his position. Patterson wrote to Fort informing him that he refused to resign while the investigation of his teaching continued. Patterson also stated that he was willing to teach classes, but he refused to accept other duties until fully cleared of all charges and then only after the geography department approved the other duties. Patterson finally indicated that he would neither resign nor accept the assigned student profile project. The executive committee of the department of geography and geology subsequently approved the project.

Patterson again wrote to Fort and indicated that he could not work while the charges against him were unresolved. He requested a leave of absence while the university proceeded with discharge or grievance procedures. Fort wrote to Patterson informing him that, although the investigation continued, no charges had been filed against him. Fort also indicated that Patterson's continued absences from work since December 4, 1978, were unexcused, and that the university was therefore treating his absence as a resignation as of January 23, 1979. Patterson replied that he disagreed with Fort's characterization of his conduct and demanded a hearing on whether he had resigned or was discharged.

Fort wrote to Patterson asking him to meet with VanEyck, Meggers, and Dr. Eugene Hartmann in Meggers' office to enable Patterson to offer a statement or evidence to refute Fort's Conclusion that Patterson had resigned. Fort stated that Patterson could bring any person of his choice, including legal counsel, and that the meeting would be tape-recorded. Patterson attended the meeting alone.

After the meeting, which Fort did not attend, Fort wrote to Patterson and indicated that, based on his review of the record of the meeting, he concluded that Patterson had resigned. Patterson asked the appeals and grievance committee to hold a hearing on the question whether Patterson resigned or was discharged and, if discharged, whether the grounds for discharge were adequate. The committee informed Patterson that, based on the evidence and arguments presented through correspondence among it, Patterson, and his attorney, there were insufficient grounds to conclude that Patterson's dispute was a "dismissal for cause" subject to the provisions of Wis. Admin. Code § UWS ch. 4 (1975) *fn1 and that the dispute was neither a grievance or complaint subject to Wis. Admin. Code § UWS ch. 6 (1975) nor an appeal as defined in Wis. Admin. Code § UWS 3.08 (1975). The committee also indicated that it did not have the authority or professional training to rule on "complex and subtle applications of case law."

Patterson appealed to the board of regents, which sustained the committee's decision that it lacked jurisdiction over the dispute, and concluded that the record established that Patterson was not discharged. Patterson appealed to the circuit court pursuant to sec. 227.20, Stats. *fn2 The court affirmed, concluding that Patterson had quit and that he was afforded due process in the form of the reviews by the appeals and grievance committee, the board of regents, and the circuit court.

Patterson does not seek review of the circuit court's Conclusion that he quit and was not discharged. Patterson instead argues that he was entitled to a hearing before an impartial tribunal to determine that question, ...

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