Thursday, November 23, 2017
Education

USF scientist resigns, ending a short tenure filled with turmoil

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TAMPA — A prominent University of South Florida scientist has voluntarily resigned in an agreement with USF, ending a short tenure riddled with grievances about his behavior.

The agreement follows months of discord between Herb Maschner, 58, and colleagues. His resignation date is Oct. 31.

In a March email, the College of Arts and Sciences dean excoriated Maschner for "insulting and unprofessional" treatment of his colleagues. Dean Eric Eisenberg also decried Maschner's "poor judgment," including assigning his teenage sons to operate expensive university equipment on upcoming trips, potentially taking the place of USF students.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: USF faculty complained of a hostile, sexist, boorish boss

Other issues led the dean to "doubt (Maschner's) ability to manage complex projects smoothly and without blaming others when things do not go as planned."

Maschner had already been stripped of a leadership title after he failed to disclose a sexual harassment finding from his previous job at another university. He'd already been told to improve his behavior. And an internal review of faculty concerns was underway. The reprimand was to be "a serious wake-up call."

Maschner contested it. But complaints kept coming.

In the resignation paperwork, USF says it has no reason to terminate Maschner for misconduct. Both parties agree there was no wrongdoing.

Maschner will receive six weeks' pay of his $195,000 salary. He also will take a multimillion-dollar grant with him.

He did not respond to a request for comment. USF does not comment on personnel matters.

USF began recruiting Maschner in 2014, while he was at Idaho State University. Prominent in the field of digital heritage, Maschner came to USF to lead a center that digitally documents historical sites. He would prove key in securing a $4.6 million grant from the Hitz Foundation.

However, he quickly sparred with colleagues.

This summer, an exhaustive legal review revealed Maschner to be an insensitive, hostile boss, but fell short of faulting him for discrimination. Maschner vehemently denied those claims.

The lawyer who compiled it acknowledged having a hard time finding facts amid the conflict. What emerged, she wrote, was a picture of Maschner's aggression and attempts to undermine coworkers.

USF responded with a memo further curtailing Maschner's role in the center he once led, called CVAST, or the Center for Virtualization and Applied Spatial Technologies. For instance, he would need his boss to sign off on proposals for using the Hitz grant money.

At least one complaint about Maschner is still ongoing.

The 11-page resignation agreement outlines the specifics of Maschner's last months at USF and beyond. Much of it focuses on the Hitz grant. For instance, USF will have to return $138,000 in equipment to the foundation.

USF also agreed to "permanently and unconditionally" remove a copy of the March reprimand from Maschner's file. Now it will be held only as long as public records law requires, marked as having "no administrative significance and superseded by voluntary resignation."

Maschner contested that reprimand, asserting his academic freedom. He also defended placing his sons on research teams, saying that decision was within his discretion.

The agreement also allows Maschner to pursue 501(c)3 status for a company he created earlier this year with a mission mirroring that of CVAST. Before, proceeding with company activities would have violated USF policy. Now Maschner may go ahead.

Until he leaves, he will work off campus, helping transition USF away from the Hitz grant.

USF has instituted mandatory reference checks since the Idaho State revelation. The university didn't know that Maschner had violated Idaho State policy for sexually harassing a graduate student until Maschner approached USF three years later, as an Idaho newspaper readied to publish a story.

Contact Claire McNeill at (727) 893-8321 or cmcneill@tampabay.com.

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