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A former Iowa State University teaching assistant is suing representatives of the Board of Regents and ISU Graduate College after he was fired for neglecting his duties by, among other things, failing to grade homework on time and changing homework assignments.
“Several of my colleagues pointed out to you that your unilateral action of altering the homework assignments had compromised the fairness of the grading scheme of the course, as these assignments account for a substantial fraction (30%) of the students’ final grades,” ISU Physics and Astronomy Department Chair Frank Krennrich wrote in a Nov. 12, 2020, letter to teaching assistant and graduate student Youssef Eweis. “Even after reiterating these concerns, I did not get a sense that you are aware of the damage your actions have done.”
Eweis, in his lawsuit filed earlier this month, denied the wrongdoing that got him fired; accused ISU administrators, faculty and staff of lying; asserted the regents denied him a right to appeal; and demanded back pay, reinstatement, and suspension of the defendants’ salaries — including Krennrich and ISU Graduate College Dean William Graves.
“Ultimately this dismissal purely seems like a form of oppression against my opinions regarding the problems in the department concerning the lack of professionalism and equity,” according to Eweis’ appeal to the university, which was included in the court records.
Eweis suggested he fell weeks behind in grading in 2020 — in part — due to COVID-19. “I got tested for COVID (it was negative thankfully) and was very concerned with my health at the time,” Eweis wrote. “I did not have the temporal awareness to immediately notify (lecturer Angela Zalucha) of my illness due to experiencing fatigue.”
Eweis, who reported earning a master’s degree in astrophysics from ISU between 2019 and 2021, was awarded a graduate teaching assistant job for an initial period of August 2019 to May 2020 and was reappointed from August 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy on Nov. 12 notified him the position would not be renewed for the spring semester and his teaching duties under Zalucha would end immediately “due to a recent incident.”
In that notice, Krennrich reported Eweis had fallen more than three weeks behind in grading; made “substantial changes to the homework assignments”; disrespected Zalucha by saying her assignments were “badly made”; and ignored her insistence he not regrade assignments she’d reviewed “after you had fallen behind by 3 ½ weeks.”
“On Nov. 6, Dr. Zalucha became aware that you again had ignored her instructions not to regrade the assignments in question,” Krennrich wrote. “You had already started to change student grades for these assignments.”
In response to Eweis’ appeal to ISU, Dean Graves formed a committee that reviewed the issue and found — “after careful deliberation” — it to be “without merit,” according to a letter Iowa State Associate Counsel Heather Smith sent the Board of Regents asking it to not consider Eweis’ appeal.
ISU President Wendy Wintersteen, Smith wrote, “issued a letter to Mr. Eweis on March 11, 2021, indicating that the dean of the Graduate College is the final university authority on issues related to the termination of graduate assistantships.”
Board Counsel Aimee Claeys – named as a defendant in the lawsuit – told Eweis via April 19 letter his complaint “does not involve any of the categories of mandatory appeals set forth in the Board of Regents policy.”
Thus, she said, the board won’t consider it and his termination is final.
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