Mystery in CPR 358

Two years ago, a woman in USF’s English Department was awarded her Ph.D.

She began to apply for positions at USF and other universities throughout the country. The letters of recommendation were in place, and she felt confident in her chances.

Then one day she was approached by her dissertation professor. He asked her why she had chosen not to include his letter of recommendation in her file.

The woman was quickly confused. The letter should have been there. She begins investigating and discovers what she says is evidence “the omission of this letter was an intentional act.” In addition, she feels her case was not unusual, suggesting that no less than six students had suffered a similar fate.

Incensed, her husband filed suit against the chair of the English department. And thus, the long saga of Donna and Ed Schlosser, which has run its course largely out of the media’s roving eye, begins.

Now, after mountains of paperwork and countless e-mails, Schlosser characterizes the case as “closed.”

The Schlossers claimed victory last week and canceled litigation following an announcement by the case’s defendant, department chair Steve Rubin.

“We were about to really go the whole nine yards,” Schlosser said. “At that point they had an emergency meeting and (Rubin) resigned.”

In a Sept. 6 letter to Judge Charlotte Anderson, Schlosser further explained his reasons for withdrawing his lawsuit.

“My wife and I will accept his resignation as evidence that the English department has made a positive first step toward the careful management of student records,” the letter said.

But while Rubin’s sudden departure may seem like a clear affirmation of the Schlossers’ allegations of record tampering, the English department and university officials stand by their judgment that no such action took place.

R.B. Friedlander, associate general counsel at USF, said Rubin, who did not return repeated phone calls Monday, left to pursue a higher-ranking job at Adelphi University in New York. She said his departure had nothing to do with the Schlosser case, and that the university had investigated the case and found no evidence of tampering.

“There was no proof that a letter was lost,” Friedlander said. “Dr. Rubin did make a determination that a letter was not sent. … I don’t believe Dr. Rubin changed his story at any point.”

In a letter dated Feb. 19, 2001, Rubin describes the “important letter” as being “inadvertently omitted from her file.”

Friedlander further responded to Schlosser’s allegation that the university did not investigate the incident. She called the statement an “interesting theory.”

While Rubin took the brunt of the lawsuit because of his status as department chair, Schlosser places the blame squarely on the shoulders of professor Gary Olson. Schlosser said if Olson did not directly alter the records, he had intimate knowledge of the person who did. The reason? Schlosser suggested Olson wanted to control who was hired into the English department at USF, therefore controlling the power structure in the department.

“At that point, Olson wanted to control voting eligibility,” Schlosser said.

In a request to Tom Gallagher, treasurer, insurance commissioner and fire marshall for the state, Schlosser listed five requirements to resolve the claim. In addition to an apology and a request for the records to be locked, Schlosser requested that Olson not be allowed to access student records.

Friedlander said the records are locked, and access is on a “need-to-know” basis. She said Olson serves as graduate student adviser, and has thus been granted record access without student permission.

“He would have to have access,” Friedlander said. “They are the university’s records.”

Olson, for his part, said he never removed the questioned letter from Mrs. Schlosser’s file. He said no one has proved the letter made it to the file in the first place.

“We all feel sorry that Donna Schlosser did not get the job she was looking for, because we all very much support her,” Olson said. “But it’s sad that the Schlossers have felt it necessary to blame the English department and individuals in it for her inability to secure a job.”

Olson said the letter may have also been misplaced. Either way, he said the incident was purely an accident and not an intentional act.

But that did not dissuade Mrs. Schlosser, who was unhappy to the point that she wrote a letter explaining the incident to USF President Judy Genshaft. Mrs. Schlosser noted in a letter that she received a concerned response from Genshaft. Genshaft, however, was off campus Monday and could not be reached for comment.

Schlosser said the man who brought the entire incident to light was USF professor John Hatcher, who handled Mrs. Schlosser’s dissertation. Hatcher said the omission of the letter in Mrs. Schlosser’s file may have had a negative effect on her job search.

“It’s hard to speculate, but it certainly couldn’t have done any good,” Hatcher said. “The only thing that might have caught their eye was the fact that I directed the dissertation and didn’t have a letter of recommendation.”

Hatcher said he had little to do with the investigation, participating only in a fundamental inquiry that set the chronology of the matter. He said he presumed the matter was not intentional.

That seemed contrary to an e-mail dated April 11, 2001 that Hatcher sent to Mrs. Schlosser.

“I have found out that as a result of the information from my discussion, Gary (Olson) will be dealt with in an appropriate way by ‘the powers that be,'” the e-mail said. “Since apparently this has happened before (such complaints about him), I doubt very seriously it will be some mild cautionary statement, especially since Steve (Rubin) values greatly having a department that has harmony and is not at war.”

Records such as these that Schlosser has kept seem to beg more questions than provide answers. While Rubin is a thousand miles away and the lawsuit now gone, the rhetoric between Olson and Schlosser continues. And after two years of disagreement, it is unclear when the saga will end. Schlosser said he is sure of Olson’s guilt.

“He had knowledge of it, a motive, means and opportunity,” Schlosser said.

Meanwhile, Olson claims a victory of his own. Olson merely laughed at the suggestion that Rubin had left USF to escape Schlosser’s allegations, and that there had been tampering.

“I think that’s crazy,” Olson said. “I’m pleased that justice has been done, and that these allegations have been proven to be frivolous.”