10 women complain about actions of UNLV health school dean

The president of the Nevada Faculty Alliance said a number of people have complained about the actions of a UNLV dean.

Robert Manis said “there’s more (people) coming forward all the time” with allegations against Shawn Gerstenberger, dean of the School of Community Health Sciences at UNLV.

“It’s definitely a pretty serious matter,” Manis said. “We’re concerned about the overall situation at UNLV and whether they’re actually going to act on this pretty egregious situation.”

The alliance has no authority to conduct an investigation, but complaints have been made to Dr. Sandra Owens, president of the organization’s UNLV chapter. She said she’s heard from about 10 current and former female employees over the past two weeks but could not confirm whether an investigation by another body is underway.

“I have listened to and provided to these women our best advice, advocacy and access to upper administrative staff at UNLV in order to seek relief,” Owens said, adding that she has encouraged them to contact the university’s office of compliance, human resources, or the university’s anonymous tip line.

“All of the complaints speak to a lack of congeniality and they speak to the creation of a hostile work environment,” Owens said.

Michelle Chino, UNLV professor emeritus, sent a letter to all members of the state Board of Regents, and Chancellor Thom Reilly, on Wednesday night expressing her concerns.

“I have known Dr. Gerstenberger for many years, and as he rose up through the faculty ranks he increasingly used his power and authority to subjugate and divide the faculty,” said Chino, former chair of the department of Environmental and Occupational Health at UNLV. “I have been privy to conversations with faculty, staff and students who have been retaliated against; who do not trust him; who do believe his empty promises; who have been lied to; and who have been silenced or punished unfairly.”

University spokeswoman Cynthia Brown on Friday said that she is unaware of any formal complaints that have been made, and even if UNLV did receive complaints, the university would not be able to comment on them. However, a spokesman for Reilly said the system office is aware of the situation and is monitoring the matter closely with the UNLV administration.

Chino said she’s been contacted by the university’s office of compliance asking for a meeting to be arranged. Gerstenberger and UNLV President Len Jessup did not return requests for comment.

Closure prompts complaints

Although she fears retaliation, Chino said she was compelled to come forward after learning that Gerstenberger suspended the maternal-HIV program, which was previously under the direction of Dr. Echezona Ezeanolue. Manis and Owens said the closure issue emboldened people to come forward.

Ezeanolue and the program’s pediatric nurse practitioner, Dina Patel, were placed on administrative leave and escorted off the campus last month. On Nov. 8, an attorney representing UNLV announced that the program was operational again — the same day a court hearing was held to ask the court to force the university to reopen the program.

The program is now directed by Dr. David Di John.

After Gerstenberger became dean in 2014, calls for transparency regarding money and how it was being spent in the school were ignored, Chino said.

“Since he became dean, there have been repeated requests (from faculty, department chairs) to him for financial transparency and accountability of the large amount of funding brought in by (the School of Community Health Sciences) faculty,” Chino said. “His response has been to further limit access, both directly and more covertly, to information that faculty are entitled to know, and funding decisions that should be the purview of faculty and program staff.”

Chino, 63, was so perturbed by an email exchange between herself and Gerstenberger in December 2014 that she decided to retire early.

“I’m one of the lucky ones who got out,” said Chino, who was 60 at the time.

Jessup has previously said that the suspension of the maternal-HIV clinic was due to irregularities in the way the program’s grant money was being spent. Gerstenberger said he called for an administrative audit of the program.

Patel and Ezeanolue said they are unaware of the allegations that have been made, and are not a part of any complaints against Gerstenberger.

However, Patel said they’ve been treated unfairly.

“It seems like what happened to us has happened to other people,” Patel said.

Owens said most of the women who have spoken to her believe Gerstenberger should step down from his position pending an independent investigation, and that a new dean be hired as his replacement.

“It’s very rare that complaints like this go to the point of termination of a tenured faculty member,” Owens said.

Contact Natalie Bruzda at nbruzda@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3897. Follow @NatalieBruzda on Twitter.

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