Former engineering dean sues Cal Poly and Karen Velie
December 15, 2010
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
A former Cal Poly dean of the College of Engineering has filed a lengthy lawsuit naming the California State University Board of Trustees, Cal Poly, journalist Karen Velie, and others, citing a dozen allegations including racial and religious discrimination, defamation and wrongful termination.
In an action filed Dec. 7 in Los Angeles Superior Court, Mohammad Noori, 57, said his complaints centered around his unsuccessful efforts in 2008 to assist a Saudi Arabia university in starting an engineering program. Noori also named as co-defendants Cal Poly’s Provost and Vice-President of Academic Affairs Robert Koob, engineering professor Unny Menon and blogger Roger Freberg.
He seeks reinstatement by the university to his previous position and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for alleged losses of income. Noori was hired as the College of Engineering dean in 2005 and demoted in June 2010.
Noori’s attorney says in the lawsuit, “In the fall of 2007,…as negotiations with the University of Saudi Arabia prolonged, a series of racial and defamatory attacks on Noori began by Freberg and Velie, which appeared on their respective websites. Menon provided internal materials to Freberg and Velie.”
Both Freberg and Velie said they stand by their articles which are still available on the web.
The Saudi proposal was controversial because it appeared to limit in a discriminatory manner those who could participate. CalCoastNews reported on February 14, 2008 in an article headlined: “An intriguing Cal Poly/Saudi project if you’re not a woman, Jewish or gay.”
The article details “a proposed Cal Poly agreement to develop an engineering program in Jubail from which women, Jewish people and gays would be excluded. The controversial co-venture pits a department head and a handful of administrators backing the project against an apparent majority of the Engineering College faculty.”
The issue was also covered by the Los Angeles Times and NPR’s California Report.
The website, in an June 10, 2008 article headlined “Cal Poly’s controversial dean of engineering dismissed,” reported: “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. “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’s interim provost Robert Koob met with Noori last Thursday and told him he had to step down.”
The article further reported that “prior to being hired at Cal Poly, Noori served as the mechanical and aeronautical engineering department head at North Carolina State University from 1999 to 2004. The administration forced Noori to step down as department head due to reported widespread dissatisfaction with his performance.”
Noori noted in his suit that he had been assured his proposed dismissal would be confidential until he was allotted more time to state his position. The next day, he said Velie arrived at his office and requested an interview about his dismissal.
Freberg, who writes a popular blog that often reports on Cal Poly occurrences, was alleged by Noori to have caused “defamatory articles, blogs to appear against the plaintiff (Noori), including one which showed Osama Bin Laden’s head placed on a Cal Poly jersey.”
“I used it as a metaphor for Cal Poly’s proposed relationship with Jubail University in Saudi Arabia,” Freberg said. “It is sad, this is someone who doesn’t understand free speech and obviously wants to strike back at all those who disagree with him.”
Noori also alleged retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination; breach of contract; negligent interference with economic advantage and intentionally inflicting emotional duress.
Noori was told to step down in June 2010, about six months before he would be vested in his state retirement. Cal Poly officials said he would join the faculty and teach mechanical engineering.
He has been on leave from the university since June. In the lawsuit, Noori claims venue in Los Angeles County is proper because he either lives in, or is doing business, there.
He is currently slated to teach at Cal Poly in the spring.
At an Academic Senate Executive Committee meeting, Norri told attendees that he was not Muslim. In the lawsuit, he claims he is.
Noori is represented by Charles Mathews of The Mathews Law Group, San Marino.
Daniel Blackburn, editor of KCCN.tv, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org