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However, Ronald L. Dougherty, chairman of the mechanical engineering department, pointed to Romkes' funding troubles. "Dr. Romkes is an exceptional faculty member in many ways," Dougherty wrote in his October 18, 2010, review. "However, the independence of his research/scholarly program has not been clearly established."
In December 2010, the School of Engineering's Promotion and Tenure Committee voted unanimously to promote Romkes. Committee chairman Alfred Parr cited Romkes' research and teaching abilities as reasons to grant him tenure. Parr also addressed Romkes' lack of independent funding, writing, "Unfortunately, his field of expertise is computational fluid dynamics where funding is very tight."
The dean of KU's School of Engineering, Stuart Bell, ignored Parr's recommendation.
In a December 20, 2010, letter to the University Committee on Tenure and Promotions, which also had to review Romkes, Bell wrote that Romkes' inability to fund his research was a requirement for tenure outlined in the mechanical engineering department's tenure-evaluation document.
"It [the expectation that researchers find their own funding] is common to most engineering programs at U.S. research universities," Bell wrote. "In this case, the current record of the candidate does not indicate independent sustainability."
In March 2011, the University Committee on Tenure and Promotions voted 7-3 to deny Romkes tenure. KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little didn't have to write anything to justify her decision. She checked the "deny" box on a form dated April 14, 2011.
The rule cited by Bell was passed by mechanical engineering faculty in 2009 for use in the school's tenure evaluations, and states, "Candidates must demonstrate ability to attract external funding for their research, as demonstrated by funded external grants with the candidate as principal investigator."
Romkes' supporters have dubbed Bell's argument the "P-I rule." The use of the P-I rule has ensnared the university in a murky ethical spot because it was never approved by the Faculty Senate Committee on Standards and Procedures for Promotion and Tenure, which must sign off on all promotion and tenure rules. Committee chairman William Keel wrote an April 2011 e-mail to Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, a colleague of Romkes' and an associate professor of aerospace engineering, saying the rule had not been approved.
"So, just to be clear, would it be safe to say that the only P&T rules which are applicable at a SoE [School of Engineering] level and within its Departments are those established prior to 2009?" Barrett-Gonzalez replied to clarify.
"From my perspective, yes," Keel answered.
A few days later, Keel e-mailed Barrett-Gonzalez to further explain why the P-I rule's use was improper: "Ron, we have never seen the ME [mechanical engineering] document; we did review a SoE document dated November 2008 — that was reviewed and returned to the school for revisions and we are still waiting for that revised document from the school."
In an e-mail to The Pitch, KU spokeswoman Jill Jess says the Faculty Senate Committee on Standards and Procedures for Promotion and Tenure must approve all tenure guidelines. A universitywide review process is still under way. But the department, she says, correctly applied the rules to Romkes.
"So, yes, the rules do need to be reviewed by the committee as part of the new procedure," Jess said in a statement. "But the tenure guidelines in place were valid during Dr. Romkes' review, and the guidelines under which he was evaluated for promotion and tenure were not materially different from previous guidelines."
Many professors say the move by the chair of Romkes' department and the dean of the School of Engineering to disregard the advice of his colleagues and vote against Romkes' receiving tenure is rare.