A fight over the future of Greek studies instruction at the University of Illinois at Chicago has spilled into a local courtroom, where a professor who was denied tenure and lost his position at the university has alleged three of his former colleagues owe him at least $4 million for allegedly sabotaging his tenure application in a bid to redirect donor money to them and save their own jobs.
On Feb. 9, Pietro Bortone, formerly an assistant professor in Modern Greek Studies at UIC’s Department of Classics and Mediterranean Studies, filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court against defendants John T. Ramsey, Nanno Marinatos and John Vaio, each members of the faculty in the same UIC department.
According to the complaint, Bortone, who lived in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, had worked at UIC since 2003, and sought tenure at the university in 2008, under the terms of his contract, which allowed him to do so during his sixth year of teaching at the university.
However, at about the same time, the complaint said the university moved to “terminate the teaching of Ancient Greek” – which was taught by Marinatos and Vaio – “and to terminate the Latin major,” which was taught by Ramsey. The complaint said the decision was based “on the grounds that (those) courses were unsuccessful in attracting students and were an unjustifiable cost to the university.”
According to the complaint, this decision could have resulted in a decision by UIC to eliminate the entire department, and “dismiss unsuccessful faculty members” or to reassign them elsewhere. According to the complaint, this could have resulted in the three defendants losing their jobs or at least certain positions within the university and reductions in their salaries.
However, the proposal did not apply to Bortone’s courses, the complaint said, allegedly because “Modern Greek Studies did not depend on university funds because it had been funded by an endowment of money” provided by wealthy Greek donors.
Following UIC’s announcements concerning the future of the ancient Greek and Latin subjects, Bortone alleged the three faculty members launched a conspiracy to publicly oppose UIC’s plans, while also souring the outside donors against Bortone and to torpedo his tenure bid in an effort to divert the donor money to their subjects.
Bortone alleged the defendants used friendships with the donors to mislead them into believing the funds they had donated were used to create a “Chair in Modern Greek Studies” position, and Bortone had not upheld their expectations for that position. In reality, Bortone’s complaint said, no such position had been established and he was not expected as a “junior faculty member” to bear any responsibility for appeasing outside donors.
This, Bortone alleged, then caused the donors to exert pressure on the university to divert their money away from Modern Green Studies to the subjects taught by others in the department.
At the same time, Bortone said these same faculty members, who took leading roles in reviewing and supporting his application for tenure, undercut his work and “devalued” his scholarship, including a book and article he had written.
This opposition came despite assertions by Bortone that his work “had not only demonstrably met, but exceeded the department’s official requirement for tenure.”
The opposition of his colleagues then caused a separate UIC committee and the university’s provost to reject Bortone’s tenure application, costing him his job at UIC.
Bortone’s complaint included counts of tortious interference with a contractual relationship; interference with prospective economic advantage; and civil conspiracy against all three defendants. He asked the court to award $1 million in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages, plus fees and costs.
Bortone is represented in the action by attorneys Thomas D. Rosenwein and Stacey Kamin, of the Rosenwein Law Group, of Chicago.