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Stanford Report, December 10, 1997

Explanation of Pfefferbaum case: 12/10/97

Background on faculty discipline case of Adolf Pfefferbaum

A public evidentiary hearing in the faculty discipline case against medical school professor Dr. Adolf Pfefferbaum was held at the request of the faculty Advisory Board last week.


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A tenured professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences in the School of Medicine, Pfefferbaum was hired to fill a position at the VA in 1974 and from that time forward was a paid VA employee. He retired on July 1, 1996, from his position at the VA, charging that working conditions for him there were intolerable. The university previously had informed him that his faculty billet was linked to his VA position and that leaving his VA position would be regarded as resigning from the Stanford faculty. After giving him an opportunity to seek reinstatement at the VA (which he refused), the university removed Pfefferbaum from the university payroll as of Sept. 1, 1996.

Last fall, Pfefferbaum brought suit in California Superior Court arguing that his retirement from the VA did not constitute resignation from his Stanford faculty position. In February 1997, the court, without ruling on whether Stanford has a right to dismiss him, agreed that he had not resigned from Stanford, but had been dismissed. The judge ruled that if the university wished to dismiss Pfefferbaum, the university's policy on faculty discipline gave him the right to a hearing by the Stanford Advisory Board.

In May 1997, President Casper brought formal charges under that policy against Pfefferbaum, asserting that his actions constituted neglect of his academic duties. Pfefferbaum requested a hearing on these charges before the Advisory Board ­ which is composed of seven full professors elected by the faculty.

Advisory Board Chair Bradley Efron summarized the issues that the Advisory Board will decide in a letter to the attorneys for the two sides. After considering the hearing officer's findings and listening to arguments from both sides, the board first will consider whether Pfefferbaum's academic duties included working at the VA as a VA employee, such that his retirement from the VA constituted neglect of those academic duties.

If the board finds in favor of the university's position, Efron stated, a second issue will arise: Pfefferbaum argues that even if retirement from the VA was inconsistent with his academic duties, he had sufficient cause to leave his assignment. In 1995, Dr. Richard Mazze, who at the time served as chief of staff of the Palo Alto VA and associate dean for veterans affairs at the School of Medicine, initiated Pfefferbaum's removal from his VA administrative post as deputy chief of staff for psychiatry, following a dispute between Pfefferbaum and Mazze.

Although Pfefferbaum concedes that the dismissal was within the VA's authority and did not by itself interfere with the performance of his academic duties, he charges that Mazze subsequently took other actions that made the environment at the VA so hostile for him that he could not remain employed there.

If the Advisory Board agrees with Pfefferbaum on either of these two issues, it can recommend that he not be disciplined. If the Advisory Board agrees with the university's charge and does not agree that Pfefferbaum had sufficient cause to leave the VA, it can recommend disciplinary action. At the beginning of the hearing process, University President Gerhard Casper indicated to the Advisory Board that the maximum sanction considered should be dismissal.

The Advisory Board has decided that before it will hear final argument by Pete McCloskey, Pfefferbaum's attorney, and Eli Gould, who is representing the university, six questions of fact upon which the two sides disagree are relevant to Pfefferbaum's claim that he had sufficient cause to leave the VA and must be resolved. The board enlisted Richard Marcus, a law professor at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, to act as hearing officer, presiding over last week's public evidentiary hearing. The hearing was open to the public at Pfefferbaum's request.