University of Alabama-Huntsville provost Vistasp Karbhari is still the only candidate for the presidency of UT-Arlington, even after questions were raised about his role in a shooting at the Alabama school.
Karbhari is currently been sued by the families of staff members who were killed by another professor on the Huntsville campus in 2010. The state Board of Regents released a statement yesterday afternoon, after a closed-door meeting:
This incident was discussed during the interview process, and Dr. Karbhari was heralded by his university for his leadership during such a critical time. He was described as compassionate, committed to taking care of victims’ families and was praised for his ability to steer the campus through one of the most terrible experiences imaginable.
Under Alabama state law, public universities have absolute immunity and cannot be sued. In light of that, attorneys for families of two of the victims filed a wrongful death lawsuit naming Dr. Karbhari, as the university’s chief academic officer.
While all of the Regents were aware of the shooting incident on campus, not all were aware of the lawsuit at the time Dr. Karbhari was interviewed. As we continue to discuss the lawsuit with Dr. Karbhari and his attorneys, he remains our sole finalist for president at UTA.
The Shorthorn, UT-Arlington’s student paper, spoke with search committee members about the decision:
The Shorthorn asked Pedro Reyes, search advisory committee chairman, if the search advisory committee knew Karbhari was named in the lawsuit before recommending him to the Regents and if the committee informed the Regents of it.
Reyes did not answer directly but referred The Shorthorn to a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article where Dan Formanowicz, biology professor and search committee member, said the committee knew but did not think it was a “big issue.”
That doesn’t mean the lawsuits are frivolous, said James Quick, presidential search advisory committee member and Distinguished Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior.
“The events in 2010 in Huntsville were absolutely tragic; however, the advisory committee was well aware of that history,” Quick said. “What sometimes happens – as a result of trauma in tragedies – is people lash out and strike at the nearest or most logical target. And they may or may not have any merit.”
Though there are questions about whether all regents knew of Karbhari’s lawsuit history, it’s important to understand that the advisory committee included two regents who were “fully engaged in the vetting” of Karbhari, Quick said.
Regents Alex Cranberg and Wallace Hale, were on the search advisory committee.
Jennifer Fox, Student Congress president and search advisory committee member, said she is still confident in Karbhari and doesn’t think the lawsuit will impact his ability to lead UTA.
“I understand the public’s reaction and I think it is only natural to have questions when something like this is brought to everyone’s attention,” she said.
Under Texas law, universities must wait 21 days after naming a finalist to complete the hire.