Student banned from campus appeals to regents

Rebecca Cooper

An ISU graduate and former post-doctoral research assistant who was banned from campus about a year ago is fighting for his right to set foot on university grounds.

Hadi Tabbara, a Lebanese student, was banned from campus Oct. 19, 2000, after he was released from his research assistant job with the agricultural and biosystems engineering department.

After a long legal battle with Iowa State, the ban against Tabbara is still in place. The next step for Tabbara, he said, is an appeal to the state Board of Regents.

“I have been in contact with two people at the executive office of the Board of Regents,” said Tabbara, who currently works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Phoenix, Ariz. “I requested the board discuss my case, but they have been very vague.”

Charles Wright, director of the Board of Regents Legal Affairs, Human Resources and Information Systems branches told Tabbara that Iowa State did not submit the request on time for the board to discuss the case at its September 2001 meeting. Tabbara said he turned in letters to the university requesting his case be heard by the board in July and August.

“I wrote to President [Gregory] Geoffroy asking him to immediately send my request to the executive office of the Board of Regents so that they would review the final decision Iowa State made in May,” Tabbara said.

Geoffroy’s office forwarded the letter to the Board of Regents, asking the case be heard.

Wright responded by mail and said he would place Tabbara’s case on the agenda for the Oct. 17 and 18 meetings , which will be held in Ames, Tabbara said.

“Many people have told me that these hearings are a waste of time and that Iowa State and the Board of Regents will never take the side of a student over faculty, staff or administration,” Tabbara said. “Only if they do interviews and interrogations will I believe the Board of Regents is serious.”

The board will issue a ruling based on a review of the case papers, and Tabbara will not be allowed to speak at the hearing, he said.

Tabbara said he received a letter from the board’s executive office Sept. 24 that said any further submissions for his hearing must be received by Sept. 25.

“One day was not enough,” he said. “It takes longer than one day to send mail. I called Mr. [Robert] Barak, executive director of the board, and told him that I objected to this treatment and that it was extremely difficult to reach Mr. Wright to discuss matters with him. “

Tabbara said he decided to go public last week when he wrote letters to the Daily and the Des Moines Register.

“I decided to let the Board of Regents debate this matter without any further submission from me,” he said, “and I have decided any submission to Iowa State or the Board of Regents will be done through the public.”

Litany of threats

Tabbara said he came to Iowa State from Lebanon in 1986 to begin his doctorate study in soil chemistry. He left for North Carolina State in 1987 because of disputes with some agronomy personnel.

Tabbara said he was threatened by another student at North Carolina State, so he left to join family in Canada.

He was invited back to Iowa State in 1996 to conduct research under Alfred Blackmer, professor of agronomy. Tabbara worked for several departments at Iowa State over the course of two years.

He was admitted as an ISU doctoral student in 1998, and said he was mistreated by his supervisors.

Tabbara tried to file a complaint about the treatment he received to the ISU affirmative action office. The office determined Tabbara’s complaint had no merit.

Agronomy and university personnel said they felt threatened by Tabbara and filed complaints with the Department of Public Safety.

DPS served Tabbara with two letters – one from the affirmative action office and one from DPS.

The affirmative action office letter stated that Tabbara’s complaint had no merit.

The DPS letter stated that Tabbara was banned from the ISU campus.

Paul Tanaka, director of University Legal Services, said a student can be banned from campus two ways – by DPS or by a trial through the Dean of Students Office. Tabbara was banned through both.

“It can occur during the student conduct process because of an incident, or DPS can issue a letter restricting access from campus,” Tanaka said.

“This has happened by a DPS letter two or three times since I have been here, but I do not know how often it happens through the Dean of Students office.”

Ali Tabatabai, professor of agronomy, refused comment but did express concern in the publishing of Tabbara’s accusations.

“I don’t feel that such things should have been published,” said Tabatabai, who was the agronomy doctoral program supervisor in the 1980s. “You can talk to Mr. Tanaka. He has the whole story, and I really shouldn’t comment on the case.”

Tabbara was allowed to finish his doctorate and received his degree from Iowa State in spring of 2000. After more complaints, he was banned from campus by the Dean of Students Office on Oct. 19, 2000.

Pending decision

Tabbara said Iowa State offered to expunge everything from his academic record but keep the allegations on his DPS file. He refused the offer.

“I give Mr. [Warren] Madden and anyone at Iowa State the legal right to release to the public at Iowa State any information they deem to be correct about me in these allegations,” Tabbara said.

“The reason they won’t is because they know implicitly that I am innocent.”

Tabbara said he would like Iowa State to admit it is wrong, expunge the allegations from his academic and DPS records and to apologize publicly to him and his family.

“The actions occurred only after multiple faculty members complained of his disruptive behavior and felt threatened,” Tanaka said.

Tanaka said Tabbara went to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission in Des Moines with his complaints against the university. The commission ruled that Tabbara’s complaints have no merit, Tanaka said.

After he heard about Tabbara’s case from a friend, Bill Kunerth, professor emeritus of journalism and mass communication, spoke to administration, faculty and co-workers from around the world about the case. Kunerth spoke to Tabbara about the extensive details of the case and encouraged him to use the university legal system.

“I was convinced that he had a very strong case,” Kunerth said.

“The university had not looked into the serious charges that he made, and I felt he was getting a raw deal. I think they had every right to do the investigation, but there was another side which was not investigated.”

Tabbara said he is worried that similar actions will be taken against other people by the university.

“I’m absolutely worried that they will do this to another person,” he said. “And am equally worried that they did it to people before me.”

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