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Tanner v. Board of Trustees





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Champaign County; the Hon. James N. Sherrick, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied February 21, 1984.

Plaintiff, Gerard E. Tanner, appeals a judgment of the circuit court of Champaign County entered on June 1, 1983, after a bench trial, refusing to issue a writ of mandamus ordering defendant, the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, to award to plaintiff a degree of doctor of philosophy in business. We affirm.

Plaintiff filed a two-count complaint in the circuit court of Cook County on August 4, 1975. Both counts alleged that plaintiff had enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign campus, and had completed the requirements for the doctorate sought. One count requested that defendant be ordered to issue the degree. The other count sought monetary damages for defendant's wrongful denial of the degree. Upon defendant's motion, the venue was transferred to Champaign County. On defendant's motion, both counts were dismissed on February 15, 1976. On appeal this court held that the mandamus count stated a cause of action and reversed and remanded as to that count. The judgment on the count for money damages was affirmed on the theory that such an award could properly be awarded only in the court of claims. Tanner v. Board of Trustees (1977), 48 Ill. App.3d 680, 363 N.E.2d 208.

Upon remand, and after various preliminary rulings were made, a bench trial commenced on May 26 and 27, 1982, with evidence being heard upon a second amended complaint sounding only in mandamus. Nearly a year later, on April 27, 1983, further evidence was presented and on April 28, 1983, oral arguments were heard and the court pronounced a ruling which was reduced to a written judgment denying relief and filed on June 1, 1983.

On appeal, plaintiff maintains (1) the trial court abused its discretion in finding that defendant required a candidate for a doctorate to submit to oral preliminary examination; (2) even if such requirement existed, defendant had waived the requirement or was estopped from enforcing it; (3) the trial judge denied plaintiff a fair hearing because it failed to review all of the evidence; and (4) plaintiff was denied a fair hearing because the trial court refused to require counsel for plaintiff to withdraw from the case.

The thrust of plaintiff's case is based upon our language in deciding the case in the previous appeal. We said:

"Although we recognize that the University is under a discretionary and not a mandatory duty to issue degrees to persons participating in its curricula * * * the University may not act maliciously or in bad faith by arbitrarily and capriciously refusing to award a degree to a student who fulfills its degree requirements." (Tanner v. Board of Trustees (1977), 48 Ill. App.3d 680, 682-83, 363 N.E.2d 208, 209-10.)

Plaintiff testified to certain conduct by faculty members which would have been arbitrary and capricious. However, these allegations were strongly denied by either the persons involved or other witnesses. The trial court could properly have rejected this testimony, and we see no purpose in repeating it here. In the succeeding paragraphs we set forth the evidence, omitting plaintiff's testimony which was denied by credible testimony and which could have been rejected by the trier of fact.

The evidence showed that the program for obtaining a degree of doctor of philosophy usually has three stages. In the first stage the candidate (1) is accepted by the school, (2) obtains an advisor from the faculty, (3) with the guidance of the advisor, selects certain classroom study to undertake, (4) completes the courses, and (5) takes a comprehensive examination covering those courses. In the second stage, the candidate undergoes preliminary examinations to determine whether the candidate is knowledgeable in his selected field and likely to be able to write a worthwhile thesis. In the third stage the candidate performs the research, writes a thesis, and defends it before a committee selected to examine the candidate. If the candidate successfully defends his thesis and it is accepted by the committee, the candidate has completed requirements for the degree.

The evidence is undisputed that plaintiff was accepted by the defendant institution for its Ph.D. program in business, took the various courses agreed upon, passed those courses with high grades and was excused from taking the comprehensive examinations. The major dispute concerns plaintiff's performance on the oral examination, preliminary to his writing his thesis.

In seeking the Ph.D. in business, plaintiff selected management science as his "major area" of study and statistics as his "minor area." Richard Evans was the leader of the faculty group interested in management science.

In September 1972, Evans asked plaintiff to select a preliminary examination committee who would give him those examinations. Plaintiff selected his advisor, Vjvijay Marathe, Walter Rom, and Donald Roberts. Marathe and Rom specialized in management science, while Roberts specialized in statistics. Plaintiff originally planned to take the exams in October, but Evans suggested that December would be a better time. The committee decided to have each of the members prepare written questions to be given to plaintiff to answer in the week between Christmas and New Year's Day with oral examination to follow. Marathe and Rom were to submit questions concerning management science, while Roberts' questions were to be on the subject of statistics. Marathe and Rom submitted their questions at the proposed time, but Roberts did not submit his questions.

While awaiting the preliminary examinations, plaintiff had secured employment as a lecturer at the University of Illinois at the Chicago Circle campus which was to begin in January 1973. In early January, plaintiff left for the new job after having obtained a waiver of the requirement that a doctoral candidate remain in residence until preliminary examinations had been completed. For this and other reasons, plaintiff made several requests to Roberts to give him Roberts' portion of the written examination. In March, plaintiff made a request to Marathe that Roberts be removed from the committee. A few days later Roberts submitted an examination and plaintiff completed it. Oral examinations were set for April and plaintiff made preparations, but a few ...

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