An Arabic professor at the University resigned at the start of the semester after issues of alleged religious discrimination, confusion about employment agreements and requests to change students' grades, according to the professor and documents obtained by The Red & Black.
"Since summer 2010, I started to feel that if I could leave this place with dignity and honor, it would be the right thing to do," said Haider Bhuiyan, a former temporary lecturer of religion at the University. "Everything has worked out really well."
Bhuyian taught Arabic language courses and religion courses on Islam, beginning when he was hired in September 2007. He resigned from the University at the end of fall 2011, said Tom Jackson, vice president for public affairs.
Bhuyian now works as an assistant professor at North Georgia College and State University.
At the beginning of January 2012, Bhuiyan sent an email to his former students at the University apologizing for leaving so suddenly.
"I told them, 'Trust me, I resigned for a good reason,'" he said.
Bhuiyan said he was asked by two associate professors of religion, Alan Godlas and Kenneth Honerkamp, to give students higher grades than they deserved.
Godlas said he and Honerkamp were Bhuiyan's immediate supervisors.
"So please give him an A in the course he took with you, I believe ARAB 2004, for all the effort and perseverance he has shown over the last two years of learning Arabic," Honerkamp wrote to Bhuiyan in an email about a graduate student in May 2011, which Bhuiyan provided.
Multiple attempts to reach Honerkamp by phone and email were unsuccessful.
Godlas requested that he and Honerkamp give input on another graduate student's grade, according to an email from Godlas to Bhuiyan in January 2011.
"Because of [her] dangerous health issues (which inshallah have finally been clarified by her doctors), she will be taking your tests/quizzes when she is ready to take them and outside of class," Godlas stated in the email. "At the end of the semester, Dr. Honerkamp and I will meet with you, and we will discuss her performance and determine her final grade together."
Bhuiyan said the student never contacted him asking for special consideration for her health issues.
He said Sandy D. Martin, the head of the religion department, told him that Godlas and Honerkamp didn't have the right to approve grades for his classes.
Multiple attempts to reach Martin by phone and email were also unsuccessful.
During the past two years, there were issues of "miscommunication" between Bhuiyan and his supervisors, Godlas and Honerkamp, Bhuiyan said. Despite his requests to meet in person, Bhuiyan said Godlas and Honerkamp would only communicate with him via email, aside from exchanging greetings at the mosque they attended outside of work.
"They would not talk to me," Bhuiyan said. "Only one time in these two years, I think, one of them said 'hello' to me."
Their reluctance to meet in person made it hard to discuss the issues of discrimination, grading and employment that arose, Bhuiyan said.
Bhuiyan was involved in two investigations of alleged discrimination with the Equal Opportunity Office, both of which found no evidence of discrimination.
In the first investigation, completed in December 2010, the Equal Opportunity Office investigated allegations "that comments you made during your class and in one-on-one meetings with some students were inappropriate and went beyond the recognized academic freedoms with regard to sexual orientation and religion," according to a letter to Bhuiyan from E. Janyce Dawkins, associate director of equal opportunity.
Multiple attempts to contact Dawkins by phone and email were unsuccessful.
After talking to more than 25 of Bhuiyan's students, Dawkins found no evidence of discrimination by Bhuiyan.
"None of the students who responded to my request indicated that they were offended by any comments or discussions in your sections," Dawkins wrote in the letter. "Moreover, the students indicated that any religious comments were appropriate to the cultural aspect of the Arabic language and served to enhance the academic experience."
Bhuiyan's former students expressed similar opinions — that his comments about Islam dealt with the cultural aspect of the religion and were appropriate for class. Most said they liked and respected him as a professor and as a person.
Mayesha Manzoor, a sophomore management information systems major, said she enjoyed his classes so much that when she heard he wouldn't be teaching anymore, she questioned whether she wanted to continue taking Arabic.
"A lot of people did question whether they wanted to stay in the class because they didn't know if another teacher would be able to have that connection, that comfort zone, he put out there for us," she said. "He did make sure you could understand the cultural side of Islam, but I don't think he tried to promote Islam in any way."
Hannia Hafeez, a sophomore international affairs and Arabic major, said she had heard rumors that Bhuiyan was "partial to students who wore the head scarf," but she didn't notice him favoring any students. She said she didn't wear a head scarf or hijab, and he treated her fairly. His only favoritism was that he seemed to prefer students who worked hard and were well prepared, she said.
In May 2011, the Equal Opportunity Office concluded a second investigation. This time, Bhuiyan alleged Godlas and Honerkamp had discriminated against him based on religion, when he was not hired in the department of religion's search for an Arabic lecturer.
"You pointed out that you had filled that position since 2007 in a temporary capacity with favorable performance evaluations," wrote Dawkins, summarizing Bhuiyan's claims in a letter obtained by The Red & Black. "You also cited the Department's offer of a permanent position to you and the Department's subsequent withdrawal of the offer as additional evidence of discriminatory actions."
Dawkins wrote the case was pursued because Bhuiyan's visa would expire soon, and he wanted the religion department to sponsor him for permanent residency. The investigation found the decision not to hire Bhuyian was not based on religion.
Still, Jackson said different professors in the department practiced different "areas" of Islam.
"We had competing types in that department," he said.
"The Lecturer in Arabic search was opened in March 2011 when the Department was told that you could not be sponsored for permanent residency without a search," Dawkins wrote in the letter. "[The Office of International Education] informed the Department that the sponsorship could only go forward if you emerged as the best qualified candidate. You were not identified as the best qualified candidate and I find that the committee's decision based not to identify you for interview is based on an objective evaluation of all candidates without religious bias."
Jackson said the University did not require a national search for the best qualified candidate, but that might be a specific requirement of the religion department.
Godlas wrote to Bhuiyan in an email from February 2011, that stated he should start looking for another job, though the search to find the candidate did not begin until March.
"If I were in your place, I would NOT be confident that you will necessarily be hired," Godlas wrote to Bhuiyan. "From now on, if I were in your situation I would be spending all of my free time looking for a new job; and then, as soon as the job advertisement comes out for the Arabic position here, I would apply for it; and make the best presentations possible in the application process."
Although Godlas wrote that it was a suggestion rather than an official communication, Bhuiyan said Godlas was the chair of the hiring committee for that position. Godlas wrote Bhuiyan should look for another job before other candidates could apply and before he could judge their qualifications.
Jackson said the hiring decision was made by the religion department.
Bhuiyan wrote in the email he was highly qualified for the position, including his doctorate in Arabic, his qualifications to teach Bengali and Urdu courses and positive evaluations from students.
During this investigation, the EOO examined additional evidence that Bhuiyan had discriminated against students the previous summer. Dawkins wrote Bhuiyan was found to have violated the University's Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy for making anti-Semitic remarks to graduate students and making comments in class that represented his personal beliefs rather than an academic presentation of the material.
Though Godlas was Bhuyian's immediate supervisor, he said he was unable to comment on Bhuyian's performance as a teacher.
Godlas directed questions regarding religious discrimination within the department to Jackson.
"There were some rumors, but as I mentioned, people make those allegations against me and other professors," he said. "It's par for the course teaching something as volatile as Islam today in the U.S."
As evidence that he was not religiously biased, Bhuiyan said that he had participated in Bridging Religious Divides — a program in Salt Lake City. This qualification appeared on Bhuiyan's CV, listed on a proposal on the University's website.
Bhuiyan said Dawkins' letter was inaccurate.
"You cannot believe what she wrote," he said.
Meeting with students
At a meeting on Jan. 27, Godlas spoke to students about Bhuiyan's resignation. He said the University had found that the allegations of religious discrimination were untrue.
Research has shown that it is important to teach language and culture together, he said, but Islamophobia can make it difficult for professors to deal fairly with Islam in Arabic language classes.
Sometimes, professors who try to dispel prejudices about the religion may be accused of promoting Islam, he said.
Bhuiyan's former students asked questions about why he had left so suddenly and if he would be returning.
"It seemed very odd, him leaving, and it didn't really seem like him," Debashis Ghose, a senior microbiology major, said in the meeting.
After the meeting, Ghose said that Godlas' explanation seemed pacifying.
"It seemed very easy to avoid the issue," Ghose said.
Briauna Bailey, a fifth-year criminal justice and international affairs major, said Bhuiyan's comments about Islam were usually responses to students' questions.
"As far as religion, some people would ask questions about Islam and he would answer them, and it was very helpful," Bailey said. "I had no experience where he was trying to discriminate or force Islam. I think everyone was surprised to see him go, and sad."
Bhuiyan was originally hired as a temporary lecturer in 2007 and was eligible to be reappointed as a permanent lecturer after receiving his doctorate, according to a letter to Bhuiyan from Sandy D. Martin and former Franklin College Dean Garnett Stokes in September 2007. His employment contract was renewed for the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years, according to letters from Martin to Bhuiyan.
In October 2010, the religion department offered Bhuiyan the position of Lecturer beginning that semester, according to a letter from Martin and Stokes to Bhuiyan. Subsequent letters delivered to Buiyan in February 2011 revealed confusion about whether Bhuiyan was a temporary lecturer or lecturer.
"I write to you to advise you that you should disregard the intent-to-renew contract letter offered to you on February 9, 2011," Martin wrote to Bhuiyan on Feb. 28, 2011. "Although your position is ranked as Lecturer, your work with the Department of Religion is classified as temporary."
Bhuiyan was again offered a temporary lecturer position for the 2011-2012 academic year, which was a compromise to give him more time to file for a visa so he and his family would not have to leave the country. In fall 2011, Bhuiyan emailed Arthur Leed, associate director of the legal affairs office, about his classification as a temporary employee.
Bhuiyan cited the Employee Categories of the University System of Georgia, which states, "Once an individual has served as a 'temporary' employee on an institution's payroll for a twelve (12) month period he/shall (sic) not thereafter be employed as a 'temporary' employee until a period of thirty (30) calendar days has elapsed."
Bhuiyan was hired as a temporary employee for his entire time at the University, from September 2007 until December 2011.