November 22, 2017

Firing of professor Ibrahim Wazir raises questions

Webster University alumna Sona Klucarova began studying math with professor Ibrahim Wazir in Vienna nine years ago. Klucarova calls him the “soul of the department.”

Later, Klucarova taught math as an adjunct professor in Vienna. As head of the math department, Wazir became her supervisor. They worked together until she left Vienna to pursue her doctorate in the United States. Klucarova said Wazir dedicated most of his life to building and improving Webster Vienna.

Wazir, a 33-year employee of Webster Vienna, was released from his duties March 28. He was fired after sending an open letter to the Webster community worldwide about what he considers “unethical practices” of the institution, as The Journal reported April 5. Klucarova said if professors like Wazir are let go, then no faculty or staff member can feel safe about their future at Webster Vienna anymore.

The letter

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Ibrahim Wazir

Wazir was the math program coordinator of Webster’s Vienna campus. His open letter discussed what he called the “unethical practices that have been allowed to run rampant at our campus for far too long now.” Wazir’s complaints included the qualifications of those on the executive board, a lack of consultation with faculty and staff regarding a strategic plan and a lack of response by administration regarding formal complaints.

The letter also discussed an overall negative work environment, the lack of knowledge of these issues by university administration and more. Wazir’s letter was sent to all faculty and staff in Vienna, other university officials worldwide and The Journal. It was sent via email on the afternoon of March 27. Within a day, he was relieved of his duties.

Webster Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin said because this is a personnel matter, the university cannot comment.

Adjunct faculty member Terri Reilly, a member of Faculty Senate, said the immediate firing of a longtime faculty member is concerning. She said the swiftness of his termination took her and many faculty members by surprise, especially since it was the middle of the semester and the second term had just begun.

“The letter came out and not 24 hours later he was fired. That was shocking,” Reilly said. “I don’t think that any of us could have predicted that that would happen, even though professor Wazir was opening himself up to that possibility [of being fired]. The immediate retribution was shocking.”

Reilly also said it seems to her and other faculty members that Wazir’s letter was an act of desperation.

“You don’t make these kind of moves lightly,” Reilly said. “And immediately he did pay the price with it with being fired.”

Klucarova said although she is not at Webster anymore, she found out about Wazir’s letter because she is still subscribed to the school’s electronic bulletin.

“I was very surprised and shocked to see professor Wazir leave Webster Vienna,” Klucarova said. “To me, professor Wazir was the math department at Webster. He was the soul of that department.”

The electronic bulletin email Klucarova received was from Vienna Interim Director Johannes Pollak regarding Wazir’s letter. The email was sent March 29, and read that Wazir “is no longer teaching at WVPU” (Webster Vienna Private University).

“We acknowledge the email Mr. Ibrahim Wazir sent on Monday, March 27, and we wish to inform you that we have since addressed the matter internally and that while this is a busy time for everyone, we will try our best to be available to address questions or concerns,” the email read.

A bigger concern for Reilly is not that a longtime faculty member lost his position for speaking out, but that the effect of his actions has created a “chill factor” – people are not discussing the issues openly. She said the “chill factor” comes on top of an already existing culture of fear.

She said given the university’s current financial status, there is a culture of fear among faculty and staff who are worried about losing their jobs.

The current financial status Reilly is referring to is the consecutive budget shortfalls of the university. In September, The Journal reported that Webster faced another decline in graduate enrollment, and if the trend does not reverse, Webster could face a sixth consecutive budget shortfall in 2017.

“So when we’ve been on pins and needles for a while over our current financial status, people are worried about whether they are going to have a job or not,” Reilly said.

Klucarova said she knows Wazir well and that he is a reasonable, calm and collected individual. “He can endure a lot and doesn’t act impulsively. I am 100 percent positive that he wouldn’t have written such a letter if he hadn’t believed that the issues at Webster were getting serious,” Klucarova said. “Seeing professor Wazir send such a letter got me thinking that the situation at Webster Vienna must be really alarming.”

Klucarova said she feels sad about Wazir’s termination. “I think it is very unjust and unfair to thank a person who has dedicated most of his life to building and improving a university by simply getting rid of him from one day to another,” Klucarova said.

Faculty Senate President Gary Renz said he does not know any further information beyond what is in Wazir’s letter.

Moving forward

Vienna faculty and staff “voted overwhelmingly” March 29 to have the Webster Vienna Works Council (WVWC) – described as representing Vienna employees – ask the Executive Board and General Assembly for a statement regarding the letter sent by Wazir, according to an April 14 email from WVWC.

The council sent requests for an official response via email to the Executive Board and General Assembly April 3. As of the April 14 email, WVWC has not received a response. In the email, WVWC said they have spoken to Webster University President Elizabeth Stroble and Provost Julian Schuster via phone, and “they assured us that we are welcome to contact them when necessary, but that they prefer us to try and resolve Vienna campus issues locally first. They therefore advised us to once again request a statement from the Vienna leadership, namely the Vienna University Council.”

The email said WVWC has now put in another request with the Vienna University Council for a statement and is awaiting a response. In order to make progress, Reilly said it is critically important that there be more transparency and communication between administration and faculty. She said if there had been more transparency and communication, some of these current issues might have been mitigated.

“Certainly [more transparency] would not have led professor Wazir to act in desperation knowing that he could lose his job,” Reilly said.

Another step Reilly hopes to see is to have an independent body investigate the issues that Wazir brought forward in his letter. She said the body must strive for a balance of interested parties and investigate all the allegations Wazir made in his letter. However, Reilly said of course, people should not jump to conclusions and assume every single thing in a letter is factual, but that every allegation warrants investigation to get to the truth.

“I think it would be a mistake to just sweep all of this under the rug and pretend like it never happened, or pretend that the allegations never happened,” Reilly said.

In addition to his long tenure at Webster University Vienna, Wazir received the William T. Kemper award in 2014, according to Webster University library archives. The Kemper award is given to four faculty members every year for excellence in teaching.

Reilly said it is helpful to remember that Webster is a very big and complex global institution with many moving parts, and it makes sense that faculty does not need to be involved with every aspect of running a big institution – that’s what administration is for. However, for these current issues, Reilly said she would like to see everyone working together.

“In any institution, faculty should trust administration and administration should trust faculty,” Reilly said. “We need to get to a point where we’re trusting each other so we can move our ship forward.”

The Journal will update this story as it develops.

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