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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Professor fights to keep job

    A tenured professor in the College of Medicine is fighting to retain his position after being dismissed last year in what he claims was discriminatory termination.

    Michael Demeure, a surgery professor, said he was denied a leave of absence and dismissed after using all of his sick days while he recovered from surgery on his rotator cuff.

    In a hearing Monday night to determine whether Demeure would retain his tenured position, he appealed the termination on the grounds that he was wrongfully dismissed.

    The College of Medicine and the University Physicians Healthcare contend that the reasons for his dismissal stem from a violation of his contract, which states that no College of Medicine professor eligible for UPH membership may hold their own practice elsewhere.

    With only five full-time general surgeons on staff, University Medical Center could take a hit from the loss of Demeure, who is the only fellowship-trained endocrine surgeon in Southern Arizona, specializing in endocrine and pancreatic cancer operations, he said.

    Demeure has been on Best Doctors, Inc.’s list of top American doctors for the past seven years and is president-elect of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons.

    “”He’s a highly skilled surgeon and research person, and a valued member of the Cancer Center,”” said David Albert, director of the UA Cancer Center and professor of pharmacology, public health and medicine.

    Demeure completed his surgical residency at the UA in 1988 and joined the College of Medicine faculty as the chief of general surgery in December 2001.

    Soon after, he was removed from his position, after Hugo Villar was appointed interim department head, Demeure said.

    In March and April 2006, Demeure underwent two shoulder operations for a torn rotator cuff and in May notified the College of Medicine that he would likely return to his clinical practice in 4-6 weeks.

    After receiving a letter stating that he had been terminated, Demeure may never be able to return, pending the outcome of the hearing.

    Around March 16, 2006, when he received his notice of termination, Demeure said he received an e-mail from Norm Botsford, chief executive officer of UPH, saying that he had been terminated because he was disabled, and that he could be reinstated if his doctor provided a release letter.

    From there, a complicated process of appeals ensued, ultimately culminating in Demeure’s dismissal by UA President Robert Shelton. The dismissal came after Demeure refused an offer to conduct 50 percent of his clinical work at Kino Hospital, instead of at UMC, which would limit his ability to work in his specialized field because of a lack of equipment and personnel.

    “”When they finally made him an offer, they made him an offer that any reasonable physician in his position would refuse,”” Don Awerkamp, Demeure’s attorney, said in his opening statement Monday night.

    Demeure received another offer on Oct. 24 that would have shifted all of his clinical work to Kino Hospital. He neither accepted nor declined,

    deciding instead to hold out for reinstatement to the post he held before his shoulder operations.

    Because Demeure is conducting a clinical practice outside the auspices of UPH, and because UPH has deemed him eligible for membership, Villar terminated Demeure from his tenured faculty position as a professor of surgery in the College of Medicine, Dale Dannenman, attorney for the College of Medicine, said Monday night.

    The terms of the College of

    Medicine’s tenure policy were brought to light as Dannenman called two witnesses to testify before the Committee for Academic Freedom and Tenure, which will ultimately decide Demeure’s fate.

    Committee member Roberto Guzman, a chemical and environmental engineering professor, asked Phil Malan, vice dean of the College of Medicine, about the value of tenure at the college.

    “”The question that’s relevant for me is, again, ‘Can UPH dictate the terms of tenure for the College of Medicine?’ “” he said. “”We’re all trying to defend the tenure process.

    “”Based on what I read here, there is no academic freedom,”” Guzman said to Malan, pointing to the Oct. 24 contract offer’s requirement that all of Demeure’s clinical work be conducted at Kino Hospital.

    Tenure matters are handled differently in the College of Medicine compared to other UA colleges, Malan said.

    In May 2007, Demeure filed a tortuous interference lawsuit against Villar, alleging that Villar misrepresented the facts he presented to the UPH board of directors, on which Villar sits as a member, to have Demeure fired.

    That same month, Demeure filed for permission to sue UPH for wrongful termination on the basis of discrimination against his disability and his Hispanic ethnicity.

    Both suits are still being litigated.

    According to Section 3.04 of the University Handbook for Appointed Personnel, “”No action involving personnel matters shall be based on unlawful discrimination or other unconstitutional grounds.””

    Shelton, Villar and Juan Garcia, vice provost for faculty affairs, did not reply to the Wildcat’s request for comment.

    The hearing is set to resume Nov. 28, followed by a final session on Dec. 13.

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