Brazaitis removed from WVU teaching position this fall

WVU has removed English professor Mark Brazaitis from the classroom for the fall semester and barred him from campus pending completion of an evaluation through the university’s Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP).

Brazaitis, who serves as Morgantown’s deputy mayor and 6th Ward city council representative, forwarded a letter from Gregory Dunaway, dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, to The Dominion Post and WAJR News. The letter is dated Aug. 10.

In the letter, Dunaway explains Brazaitis will remain a WVU employee and continue receiving pay and benefits if he completes the following:

  • Participation in an assessment process through the FSAP, which may include an evaluation by a licensed provider, independent from WVU.

 

  • Sign a release allowing the university’s FSAP provider to discuss assessment results with the independent provider

 

  • Receive clearance through the FSAP office to return to the university and his teaching functions

 

WVU issued a public statement on Saturday. It explains that the university doesn’t typically comment publicly on such matters, but Brazaitis has made the  issue a public matter.

“Professor Brazaitis’ recent activities have caused West Virginia University to be concerned about his well-being. The university has a responsibility to its students, faculty and staff to provide a safe atmosphere, conducive to learning. It also has a responsibility to assist its faculty and staff when they are in need.”

Brazaitis was the subject of an overnight search by the Morgantown Police and Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department after law enforcement was called to his Courtney Avenue residence on the  evening of Aug. 6.

Sources, including information provided in  emails between Brazaitis and Dunaway, indicate there was an attempt to have Brazaitis involuntarily committed, which led to him running from his home and into the nearby Haymaker Forest.

About 15 hours later — around 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 7 — he turned himself over to  police and was checked into Ruby Memorial Hospital for evaluation. Later that day he left Ruby and traveled to Pittsburgh’s Western Psychiatric Institute, where he said he was quickly told, “Go home. You’re fine.”

Brazaitis provided a copy of his discharge form from the Pittsburgh facility for placement on the public record during the Aug. 8 Monongalia County Commission meeting. It states he was checked in at Western Psychiatric Institute at 7:04 p.m. on Aug. 7.

Brazaitis has spoken publicly about his past struggles with mental illness and has written about the topic in a number of his books, stories and poems.

Dunaway explains, “If you are released to return to all elements of your role through the process outlined above, we will be happy to return you to your standard, non-modified role and to the instruction of your classes, as soon as feasible.”

If the necessary paperwork to begin the FSAP process isn’t signed by Sept. 10, Brazaitis will be placed on a leave of absence without pay. Dunaway goes on to state that Brazaitis is only to be on campus for FSAP appointments or pre-scheduled meetings with his supervisor or dean.

Asked Saturday if he wanted to comment on WVU’s decision, Brazaitis provided a photo of the certificate naming him the  university’s 2009-’10 Benedum Distinguished Scholar.

Prior to sharing the letter from Dunaway, Brazaitis copied The Dominion Post on emails between himself, Dunaway and Brian Ballentine, chair of the WVU Department of  English. The emails describe a meeting in which Brazaitis said he was asked to “sign away my right to teach the 2 classes I am scheduled to teach this semester.”

He notes he didn’t sign the forms, explaining “I sensed a trick; I smelled a rat.”

He goes on to write, “Realizing that I was, in fact, going to be ‘set up’ — forced to sign some paperwork that [WVU President] Gordon Gee and [Provost] Joyce McConnell, two people I thought cared about me and knew at least a little about mental illness, had drawn up has left me feeling utterly traumatized …”

Brazaitis said he feels betrayed by the university and states, “I am not currently suffering from ANY mental illness.”

In a message sent to former students on Saturday, Brazaitis wrote “Just wanted to inform you that, for no good reason, your university won’t let me teach this coming semester.”

He goes on to say, “I don’t know why. You might ask the gentlemen (and the provost) who are copied on this email. They are obliged to provide you with an explanation.”

The events of the past week were the boiling point after more than two  months of increasingly frequent and sharp public criticism of WVU and other local stakeholders by Brazaitis in his capacity as deputy mayor and city councilor — comments that have led  his colleagues on council set to discuss whether he should keep the deputy mayor designation.

Councilor Ryan Wallace raised the question recently, noting council is not seeking his removal from office, just the deputy mayor title.

In one of the email exchanges with Dunaway, Brazaitis asks if he’s now being removed from the classroom as punishment because “I’ve started asking questions about WVU and its relationship to Morgantown, particularly its poorest people.”

Brazaitis has been employed by the university since 2000.

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