Cal Poly’s controversial dean of engineering dismissed

June 13, 2010

Mohammad Noori


After years of controversy, high staff turnover and faculty discontent, Mohammad Noori, the controversial dean of Cal Poly’s College of Engineering, was asked last week to step down as the head of the university’s most prestigious college, CalCoastNews has learned.

The move caps more than two years of maneuvering by faculty and department chairs within the engineering college over how to deal with the increasingly unpopular Noori, 57.  Dissatisfied critics said Noori’s inability to manage budget deficits, a seemingly lack of leadership for such an important academic unit within Cal Poly and his failed plan for a proposed partnership in 2008 with an engineering school in Saudi Arabia project led to growing calls that he be fired.

CalCoastNews learned that Cal Poly interim provost Robert Koob met with Noori last Thursday and told him he had to step down.

When the news of the meeting reached CalCoastNews, calls were immediately made to Noori, Koob and outgoing Cal Poly president Warren Baker. Despite repeated attempts to obtain comment, none of the three responded.

Department chairs within the popular college, which has an estimated 5,000 students, were tight-lipped after the meeting, but were clearly happy that Noori is out as the engineering dean.

“I hope we can take steps to stabilize the college leadership and move forward in a positive direction,” said Glen Thorncroft, the new California Faculty Association president for the Cal Poly campus and a mechanical engineering professor. “It is unfortunate timing for this because we have a search for a new president and a new dean at the same time, when a new president often replaces deans.”

Saturday’s commencement events on campus are almost always attended by college deans, who, along with Baker, cheer on the graduating seniors. But Noori was nowhere to be seen at the commencement ceremony for the engineering students.

And while mechanical engineering chair Drew Davol said he was not able to discuss the specifics of last Thursday’s meeting between Noori and Koob, he said another college dean, whom he did not identify, went ahead and informed the faculty within that college that Noori was out as engineering dean.

For more than two years, the engineering college’s department chairs have been threatening to take a vote of no confidence against Noori as a last-ditch effort to get him replaced.

In 2008, five senior faculty members, three of whom were members of the search committee that recommended Noori’s hiring, presented former Cal Poly provost William 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 (sic.) 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.”

The chairs noted that after three years under Noori’s guidance, the internationally respected educational institution was operating at a deficit for the first time in its history. They said that Noori had fattened the size of his staff and granted high pay increases, along with title changes, to a select few staff members.

In addition, while the college’s advancement staff has more than doubled in number, fundraising under Noori had shrunk by half since his arrival in 2005.

Declining morale and a high level of staffing changes also plagued the college.

During Noori’s first three years at Cal Poly, staff turnover exceeded 50 percent. In addition, six chairs stepped down and numerous faculty and staff voiced their dissatisfaction.

Also, Noori was 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 claimed the plan would exclude many Cal Poly faculty — women, Jews and specific minorities such as gays — from involvement.

Even though the Saudi agreement had Baker’s support, it ultimately failed because Saudi officials and attorneys representing Cal Poly could not agree on contractual specifics.

Though the specific details of Noori and Koob’s meeting last week remain sketchy, CalCoastNews has learned that Koob gave Noori a number of options that he could use to facilitate his departure, including a year on campus with an office in the Robert E. Kennedy Library with full pay while he looks for a new job.

“I like Noori as a person, but I don’t think he was putting the college in the direction it should go,” said mechanical engineering professor Jim Locascio. “In New York, fired teachers are given as much as 10 years salary in their rubber room.”

Locascio’s comment refers to a so-called rubber room in the Kennedy library where high-ranking campus officials, including Durgin, come to campus and essentially have no work to do there while receiving full pay and benifits.

“Our rubber room is the library with what seems to be a one-year appointment,” Locascio said.

During the search for a new dean to replace Noori, the department chairs are expected to oversee the college while an appointed figurehead from administration provides oversight, CalCoastNews was told.

Prior to being hired at Cal Poly, Noori served as the mechanical and aeronautical engineering department head at North Carolina State University (NCSU) from 1999 to 2004.

The administration forced Noori to step down as department head due to reported widespread dissatisfaction with his performance.

“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, Noori left.

“You cannot 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.”

Not long before Noori landed his job at Cal Poly, he was the finalist for the dean of students job at Fresno State University. However, he failed to make it through the background review process and an internal candidate landed the position.

A native of Iran, Noori holds two doctorates in civil engineering. One PH.D is from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., and the other is from the University of Virginia.

Before going to North Carolina State, he was the head of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass., from 1991 to 1999.

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I’m so glad to hear about this!! One of my kids wants to attend the College of Engineering at Cal Poly, but I have heard horror stories from some of my friends who have kids who go to school there. I’m glad to hear they’re cleaning house!

Cal Poly should start hiring locally. What is their problem?

They should grandfather out all of the tenured spots and make them “at will.” That would give them the power to can the dead wood, or people who can’t manage….

Agree, tenure fosters mediocracy.

They should do the same thing with high school teachers. Try getting rid of a tenured HS teacher.

I think it is terrible that he was not at the graduation….as an alumnus…I know how hard I worked for my degree and how happy I was to get it….our dean was Peter Lee, and he was there!