Cal Poly College of Engineering budget bleeds
June 6, 2008
By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN
Red ink sullies Cal Poly’s College of Engineering and the internationally respected educational institution now operates at a deficit for the first time in decades, according to a slide prepared, presented, and distributed by the College of Engineering during the fall conference.
Former and current associates on both coasts point blame at the controversial three-year reign of college dean Mohammad Noori, the highest paid dean, adding salary and perks, in the California State University system.
Declining morale and a high level of staffing changes also plague the college. During the past three years, staff turn overs have exceeded 50 percent. In addition, six chairs have stepped down and numerous faculty and staff have voiced dissatisfaction.
Noori, contacted on his cell phone by UncoveredSLO.com, said, “I can’t talk with you,” and terminated the conversation.
Running on an annual budget of approximately $25 million (including student fees), the college fell short $540,000 last year. Funds to cover the deficit were pulled from discretionary, civil, electrical, and aero accounts, leaving less of a cushion to handle this year’s anticipated $1.3 million shortfall.
However, the provost office’s contention is that the budget has been balanced since at least 2001, said Cal Poly spokesperson Stacia Momburg.
Noori also is the guiding force behind a controversial effort by Cal Poly officials to provide College of Engineering expertise and personnel to help start a similar institution in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. Critics of the plan contend women, Jews and other minorities will be excluded. The university expects to receive $5.9 million for the deal.
During his stay, Noori has fattened the size of his staff and granted high pay increases, along with title changes, to a select few staff members. That increased the dean’s office operating costs by about $1 million, and has generated allegations of cronyism and preferential treatment for his supporters and friends.
For example, university sources said Noori reclassified Debbie Garcia’s title from “administrative analyst” to “Administrator 1.” The name change included a pay raise of 34 percent. The salary of Noori’s former assistant, Donna Aiken, increased 66 percent, attributed to her transfer to a management position.
Momburg contends the $1 million increase in spending is spread out into other college units and is not totally due to dean office and staff expenditures.
During the current statewide budget crisis, faculty salary increases have been limited to no more than five percent over the past few years.
The college advancement department staff has more than doubled in number; fund raising under Noori, in the meantime, has shrunk by half since his arrival.
Noori’s salary has increased 11 percent over the past two years; his $900 monthly housing allowance is additional to his $213,000 annual salary.
An anonymous letter sent to specific Cal Poly college chairs in April 2007 in a North Carolina State University (NCSU) envelope claimed Noori had been asked to step down from his position as the mechanical and aeronautical engineering department head due to numerous allegations and widespread dissatisfaction.
Shortly thereafter, Cal Poly Provost Bill Durgin met with academic chairs of the college and became visibly emotional while asking the matter be put to rest to “protect the college’s reputation,” according to numerous sources.
Cal Poly Professor Mike Cirovic said, “Durgin wanted to quell rumors that would not help, and in fact, would harm the college.”
A few days later, according to sources, Durgin announced to faculty that he had researched the allegations, and that they had turned out to be unfounded. He went on to say the individual they suspected was responsible for the letters would be reprimanded.
Durgin did not respond to requests for comment.
However, UncoveredSLO.com received numerous reports from faculty and staff at NCSU that Noori got an unprecedented number of negative faculty comments while there, during a mandatory faculty review. The review prompted complaints of “bullying,” hiring unqualified applicants of a similar ethnic background, and mismanaging funds.
“He is an incredible bully who doesn’t respect his faculty,” said Larry Silverberg, Professor and Associate Head of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at NCSU. “This place shut down while we waited for his contract to run out.”
After five years at NCSU, following the review, Noori stepped down.
“You can not dispute the level of controversy with this guy,” Silverberg added. “There were allegations of plagiarism, inappropriate e-mails from Noori, poor judgment in financial matters, and a very poor record with staff. More than half the staff left while Noori was here.”
Upon his departure, the college undertook two financial reviews aimed at reorganizing the college’s budget and Noori moved on to Cal Poly, said numerous NCSU sources.
“NCSU knew when they unloaded Noori on Cal Poly that it was good riddance to bad garbage in an unnatural, unfinished, un-sanitized caress,” said a long time NCSU engineering department affiliate.
Last October, five senior faculty members, three of whom were members of the search committee, presented Durgin with this written request:
“We represent a group of faculty concerned about the possible decline in the high standards and rankings we have become accustomed to. We are acting to prevent damage to the reputation of the University and College we love. Dr. Noori’s arrival on campus raised all sorts of expectations, expectations that unfortunately have not been met.
“Faculty are very disillusioned with Dr. Noori’s performance as CENG Dean: The number of faculty ready to sign a “no confidence” exceeds the threshold specified in the 1994 Senate resolution on the procedures for faculty initiatives to demand administrator terminations based on no-confidence.
“We believe that CENG Faculty does not wish to put Cal Poly through the public spectacle of a vote of no confidence, and request a reassignment of Dr. Noori. We believe his actions in several areas are sufficiently deficient to warrant this action and rise to the level requiring extraordinary actions mentioned in Dr. Baker’s memo to the Academic Senate regarding the Senate resolution mentioned above. Dean Noori falls short in most of the major responsibilities of a Dean.
“Trust: Of greatest concern is a lack of trust between Dr. Noori and many faculty based on promises he has made and broken. Without basic trust CENG cannot work together to reach our potential.
“Public Relations: He has not been able to articulate in an effective manner a vision for the college. His public speaking skills are lacking and his presentations are severely flawed due to inadequate control of the English language and lack of focus.
“Fundraising: Under Dr. Noori’s leadership the 06-07 CENG advancement performance in fund raising has dropped from the lead college position it enjoyed in prior years to about half; ranking barely above CLA.
“Fiscal Management: Spending for the administration of CENG has increased by over $1 Million in the less than two years of Dr. Noori’s tenure; including special appointments for newly created positions.
“Personnel Management: RPT evaluations written by Dr. Noori have contained numerous errors and are not considered to be an accurate evaluation of a candidate’s performance. He has had to retract some of those.”
Sources claim Durgin advised the group not to take any action.
“Durgin told us Dean Noori would be improving and asked us to help,” Cirovic said. “No action was taken.”