Former CSUF library dean Clem Guthro alleges university made false claims and misrepresented facts behind his firing

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A white outline of the Pollak Library against a red backdrop
(Dalia Quiroz / Daily Titan)

Former library dean Clem Guthro said Cal State Fullerton fired him without warning and berated him for holding up progress on library renovations and inquiring about his exclusion from top leadership teams he was hired for, according to two documents obtained by the Daily Titan.

The first document consists of a set of complaints, which Guthro said were never discussed with him before but were given to him on March 2 when he was called into the provost’s office and fired.

The second document consists of Guthro’s written responses to each individual complaint.

Chief Communications Officer Jeff Cook, responding in an email on behalf of Interim Provost Kari Knutson Miller, would not comment on the documents, but said that because the university had accepted a resignation letter from Guthro, “we consider the matter of his employment with the institution closed.”

Guthro said in a March 20 email that the university had only offered him the opportunity to resign 14 days after his firing.

In the firing document, one complaint was that Guthro “raised dissatisfaction with not being included in the President’s Senior Leadership Team and retreats.”

“This was the first time I had heard of (the Senior Leadership Team) and was unsure if this was something I needed to be a part of,” Guthro said in his response to the firing document. “One of the dates was a day when I was going to be at a meeting in Denver and I was wanting to know if I need to adjust my schedule to come back early. I do not remember discussing anything publicly other than asking if I was included (in retreats), and the provost said it would be addressed.”

David Forgues, vice president of Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion, said on April 19 that every academic dean is included in the Senior Leadership Team, but that Guthro, during his time at CSUF, was not.

When asked why, Forgues said he had no idea.

But Cook said in an April 22 email that the decision to include the library dean in the Senior Leadership Team wasn’t made until the appointment of Guthro’s interim replacement, Emily Bonney.

Guthro said that when he applied for the position of library dean, it included being a part of the President’s Advisory Board, the precursor of the Senior Leadership Team.

“CSUF, in my opinion, broke good faith in not living up to what was advertised,” Guthro said in his response.

Another grievance cited by the administration was that Guthro had been “working against” the CSU Libraries of the Future project, LOFT, a revision of CSU libraries to transform them into innovative, modern spaces.

The firing document claims Guthro’s non-collaboration created friction between him and his LOFT partners.

“Who said this? Which partners?” he asked in his response.  “I have been working tirelessly to move LOFT forward. At no time have I publicly or privately voiced an opposition to what LOFT was trying to accomplish. No one has expressed to me any frustration or that I was not being collaborative.”

Those plans, Guthro said in his response, were delayed by Facilities Management, who would not move forward with his plan to move much of the library’s special collections to a third party compact shelving service.

In the document, Guthro said in his response that Amir Dabirian, vice president of information technology, was “anxious” to move forward with plans to relocate some of special collections off the second floor so a potential study space developed by IT could take its place.

“This, to date, is impossible because of fire marshal restrictions. The compact shelving would be the quickest way to move forward,” Guthro said in his response.

Guthro also attributed other project delays to issues with sign-offs by the fire marshal.

“There have been several delays on the windows and the last meeting of the Pollak First Floor South Committee (Feb. 28) said the windows and life safety issues would take us into 2019. I can hardly be blamed for this delay,” Guthro said in his response.

Guthro was also accused, in the firing document, of delaying the renovation of the sixth floor of the Pollak Library South for wanting more space for archives.

“I expressed a need for additional space for archives. I would not be doing my job if I didn’t at least express what we needed. I know we might not get everything but needs should at least be on the table,” Guthro said in his response.

Emails between faculty, obtained by the Daily Titan on March 14, allege that Knutson Miller fired Guthro at the wishes of Dabirian over a turf war for library space.

Dabirian denied any conflict with Guthro in a March 14 interview.

The firing document also claims that Guthro planned to purposely place uncomfortable furniture on the first floor, so that students would not stay in the chairs for long periods of time.

“It was meant as ‘gateway’ furniture that would lead students into the center core including the space in front of the cultural centers. I was certainly aware of the need for comfortable seating. The stools that the designer and architect suggested had no backs and were very uncomfortable and I insisted they be changed to stools with a back,” Guthro said in his response.

In the firing document, Guthro was accused of saying he wanted to keep collections the same size and not work with faculty to increase space for students.

“This is incorrect. I was never asked this question. I have been having conversations with faculty on reducing the collections by working with faculty to place more space for students since August of 2017,” Guthro said in his response.

Guthro’s firing has prompted outrage by current and emeriti faculty, as well as the Patrons of the Library, who were “shocked and horrified” by the university’s decision, according to emails between faculty.

President of the Library Patrons Joanne Gass said in an email that, amid the tumult, at least one unnamed library patron has decided that he will not donate money to the university after he dies.

Guthro ended his response with a note about his wife who had been diagnosed with end stage liver disease and had been in the hospital for 150 days. Guthro said he would come into work at 7:00 a.m. and continued working on his laptop in the hospital during that time.

“I worked tirelessly on behalf of the university to move LOFT forward to make a difference for students,” Guthro said.

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