Brandman Prof Smoller Resigns Amid Controversy

Fred Smoller, whose work on city compensation drew criticism from officials in Orange County, CA, has resigned from his post as head of Brandman University’s Master’s in Public Administration program, writes Teri Sforza at the Orange County Register.

“I was told city officials were upset with my involvement in the examination of city compensation, and other things I’ve written regarding city consolidation, which they apparently found threatening. Academics are often criticized for living in an ivory tower.  I’ve been criticized for trying to be relevant.”

Smoller couldn’t be fired as he has tenure, but it is believed the decision was a mutual one.

“There is an unfortunate rumor circulating that Dr. Fred Smoller was dismissed from his position as Director of the Master’s in Public Administration program at Brandman University.  This is totally incorrect,” said a written statement we received from Brandman spokeswoman Rita Wilds.

The Register reported last year about the grief Smoller was getting for allowing his  students to chase down the details of city manager pay in Orange County. Smoller had dispatched two of his public administration graduate students to a political campaign that was assembling the facts on public administrators.

Since then, Smoller has done a good deal of opining  about government efficiency, merging some of O.C.’s 34 cities, and voting online, and other bits of what some might consider public-administration blasphemy, writes Sforza.

“In a meeting with Dr. Smoller on Monday, Chancellor (Gary) Brahm said that they left with the mutual understanding that Dr. Smoller was to continue as the MPA director and Brandman would hire a director of government relations, who would also serve as a member of the faculty to add depth to the program.  Regrettably, on Tuesday, Fred offered his resignation as director.  He will continue as a member of the Brandman faculty.”

Because, Brandman say, this is a personnel issue, they refused to go into further detail.

Mark Petracca, long-time political science professor at UC Irvine believes it’s outrageous:

“When Marian Bergeson first came on the Board of Supervisors — right around the time of bankruptcy — her proposal was to do away with county government. She didn’t stick around to make that happen, but it’s hardly a radical thing to say. It’s something worth taking seriously as an idea. It’s certainly not an idea for anyone to get upset over — never mind go to the president of the university to get someone removed from a position of responsibility.”

In some quarters this is seen as an attack on academic freedom.

“It sounds like he got removed from his position for being politically controversial, and that’s always very disturbing,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine’s School of Law. Chemerinsky himself had problems with his position in a climate of political wrangling, as reported in the Register.

“What happened to me is ancient history well chronicled,” Chemerinsky said. “I’m not going to draw any comparisons at all. But it’s  always troubling for someone to be fired or lose a position because of his views.”

Barbara Kogerman, whose city manager compensation survey set a lot of this in motion, said:

“Their ‘off with his head’ approach in muzzling academic freedom and engaging in political retaliation constitutes a gross misuse of public funds on the part of the League of California Cities, Orange County Division,  and the  Association of Orange County Cities.”