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Stanford Report, August 26, 1998

Letter from Casper to Pfefferbaum: 8/26/98

President Casper’s letter to Professor Pfefferbaum

The following is the text of a letter sent to Professor Adolf Pfefferbaum by President Gerhard Casper on August 21, 1998.

I am in receipt of the decision of the Advisory Board of the Academic Council concerning disciplinary charges I brought against you. It is now my responsibility, pursuant to the terms of the Statement on Faculty Discipline, either to accept the recommendation of the Advisory Board or to reject the recommendation and resubmit the matter to the Advisory Board for further proceedings. For reasons that I will discuss, I have decided to accept the decision of the Advisory Board.


Note: President Gerhard Casper on June 30 wrote to the Advisory Board seeking clarification of some points of the board’s report, and Professor Bradley Efron, chair of the board, replied in a letter of July 21. Because these letters primarily concern individual salary and benefit details, information that usually is confidential between a faculty member and the university, the university chose not to make them public.


This proceeding required the Advisory Board to address an important principle: the right of the University to require all members of the faculty to perform their assigned academic duties. The necessary corollary of this right is that a faculty member may not unilaterally change his or her academic duties by imposing an involuntary reassignment upon the University.

The charges against you arose from your unilateral decision in June 1996 to leave your position as an employee of the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Hospital, where you had been performing your academic work since you first joined the Stanford faculty in 1974. You were advised that your assigned position as a Stanford faculty member was at the VA Hospital, and that Stanford's billet, programmatic need and source of funding for that programmatic need remained at the VA. You were further advised that if you did not return to the VA Hospital by July 31, 1996 (later extended to August 30, 1996), the University would have no choice but to view this as an action that effectively terminated your position on the faculty. You responded that as a member of the faculty, you were entitled to demand a new assignment on the Stanford campus when you became dissatisfied with your VA Hospital assignment. This assertion was incorrect, and I brought charges against you on the grounds that you were not entitled to abandon your position at the VA Hospital and demand reassignment of your academic duties.

The Advisory Board has concluded, after extensive hearings on this matter, that "Professor Adolf Pfefferbaum is guilty of 'neglecting the academic duties that he has undertaken to perform within the University' in violation of Section I, Paragraph 2 of the Statement on Faculty Discipline." The Board stated that it "agrees that Professor Pfefferbaum's actions were a serious breach of academic duty, incompatible with reasonable administrative efforts to staff and fund the Medical School, and that these actions warrant a severe penalty."

In this instance, the Advisory Board also determined that, notwithstanding your misconduct, it believed you should be entitled to some mitigation of penalty. In particular, the Advisory Board stated that your actions, though seriously misguided, were not characterized by base motives and that the penalty should therefore be a three-year suspension without pay and a $20,000 fine, rather than dismissal. Whether or not I agree with this conclusion as to your motives, I will let the Board's conclusion stand. I do so, however, taking comfort in the Advisory Board's related determination that henceforth no faculty member will be able to claim such similar good faith.

The Advisory Board's decision firmly establishes the essential principle that it is a violation of Stanford University policy for a faculty member to abandon his or her existing academic assignment and demand that the University locate a new assignment. The Advisory Board states "anyone now attempting to impose an involuntary academic reassignment on the University would not be acting in good faith, and would not in our opinion receive similar mitigation of penalty from a future Advisory Board." I strongly concur in the Advisory Board's assessment. So that there is no mistake, faculty members who engage in the type of behavior engaged in by you will be subject to sanctions, up to and including dismissal from employment with the University.

With respect to the Advisory Board's other bases for reducing your penalty, I think you should know that I disagree with the Advisory Board's judgment that these are relevant criteria. Specifically, the Advisory Board noted that prior to abandoning your VA assignment, you were an accomplished academic. I would expect no less from any tenured member of this institution, and therefore I do not agree that this should mitigate the penalty.

The Advisory Board also indicated in recommending a reduced penalty that some of its members believed that more might have been done by the School of Medicine administration to address alleged difficulties faced by some Stanford faculty at the VA. On this point, however, it should be remembered that the vast majority of Stanford faculty apparently are quite satisfied with the working relationships at the VA; that the "working environment" issues you alleged were in fact rejected as unfounded by the Hearing Officer appointed by the Advisory Board; and that the faculty at the VA have and have had a number of appropriate avenues to pursue in the event of difficulties at the VA.

As you know, I also asked the Advisory Board to provide guidance as to the terms and conditions upon which you would be allowed to return to the University. Your return imposes difficult burdens upon the University based upon the fact that, as a result of your conduct, you have made it extremely difficult if not impossible to return to your previously assigned position. To carry out the Advisory Board's recommendation, the VA hospital administration would need to find a reasonable academic assignment for you and, failing that, the University apparently must find such an assignment and possibly assume responsibility for a portion of your salary that would previously have been paid by the VA.

The Advisory Board has recommended that if you pay a $20,000 fine, complete a three-year suspension, and accept a reasonable academic assignment, the University should attempt to find some assignment for you comparable to what would be done for any other faculty member with your qualifications. In accordance with this request, I have directed the Dean of the School of Medicine to undertake his best efforts to find an appropriate assignment for you, either at the VA or elsewhere, following your suspension consistent with the Advisory Board's decision.

With respect to your compensation, the Advisory Board has determined, as part of the penalty, that your salary for the period of July 1, 1996 through August 31, 1998 should be fixed (as outlined in the order of the Superior Court) at $22,795 per year. As to the future, the Advisory Board has recommended that your compensation will be frozen at its 1996-97 level until the time of your return. Accordingly, at the time you return to Stanford, your academic base salary will be $148,500. That salary amount is to be appropriately reduced by pension payments you receive from the VA. Of the remaining net amount, you would be expected, as are other faculty members, to fund much of the cost through your efforts to obtain grants, gifts or similar support. You will receive no benefits during the period of your suspension and will receive no credit during that period in calculating your future benefits. Benefits include all monetary benefits such as tuition credits for offspring and all non-monetary benefits such as credit toward sabbatical leave. To the extent that salaries for faculty in the School of Medicine are adjusted upward after your return, you will receive proportionate adjustments if justified by performance. You will be eligible to return to active faculty status as of September 1, 2001.

Your three-year suspension will begin on September 1, 1998. You shall pay a $20,000 fine to the University no later than October 1, 1998. You shall also notify me of your intention to abide by the Advisory Board's ruling and to return to active faculty status in September 2001 in accordance with the foregoing terms and conditions. SR