Past nursing anesthesia students, however, say the way MSU officials dealt with their program in 2009 illustrates the university's larger administrative approach to dealing with controversy.
'We were thinking we had wasted $70,000 on nothing'
Students in MSU's nursing anesthesia program said the problems began in late 2008 and 2009, when the program was reeling from tremendous faculty turnover. The nursing anesthesia program ran into problems with the Council on Accreditation in 2009 and was put on probation over issues with governance and program evaluations.
The nurse anesthesia program regained full accreditation in 2010, but MSU shut down the program in October 2011 because of staffing concerns.
When MSU hired Ron Smith to head the nurse anesthesia program in 2009, a number of faculty members left MSU and students were told that, because of the lack of quality instruction before he took the helm, they would have to begin their program all over again, according to students.
"We were thinking we had wasted $70,000 on nothing," said one student, "and it just devolved from there."
At least one of the students decided to sue. According to court documents filed in Brewer's case, Smith heard about the potential lawsuits and made threatening comments, telling students he "wanted to kill all of them" and that "any student seeking legal advice would never graduate."
MSU denied the allegations against Smith, according to MSU's August 2011 response to Brewer's lawsuit.
The day after Smith's alleged comments to students in March 2009, Artis visited the nursing anesthesia class. According to students present in the meeting, Artis then passed out one student's email detailing complaints against Smith to the entire class.
"I get this nasty little email that was sent by one of you," Artis told the students in the recording. "I took pretty good offense to that email, pretty good offense."
She then asked any student in the classroom to raise their hands if they had felt intimidated by Smith's previous comments. Smith was in the classroom as Artis asked the question.
"Do you think it's appropriate to ask with Dr. Smith sitting in the room with us?" one student asked.
"Yeah, don't you think this is sort of a power play right there, trying to scare people?" asked another student.
"You've said clearly that you felt physically threatened, and my understanding is that you know that may be misconstrued," Artis replied to students. "You know, professionally I could have said 'Aww, Ron you know you maybe should have kept that to yourself' and you know, 'maybe that has no place in the classroom.' But the bottom line is [Smith] lives here, he works here. The faculty have demonstrated nothing more than that they are committed to ride this out and to see you through this program."
On March 23, 2009 -- one week after Artis spoke to students -- Smith was fired from MSU, according to court documents.
At least two students in the nursing anesthesia program filed lawsuits against MSU related to how Artis, Smith and other employees in the program handled the 2009 situation.
Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.har...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.