UConn professor was ‘bullied’ out of job in CSE department

Dr. Peter Zeno was hired to teach a section of CSE 1010 - Introduction to Computing for Engineers for the fall 2017 semester. Zeno quit after several conflicts arose between him and the CSE department, the last of which was a conflict over his decision to give the class extra credit work and two midterms instead of one. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

A University of Connecticut professor feels he was “bullied” into resigning from his position as an adjunct professor in the computer science and engineering (CSE) department.

Dr. Peter Zeno was hired to teach a section of CSE 1010 - Introduction to Computing for Engineers for the fall 2017 semester. Zeno quit after several conflicts arose between him and the CSE department, the last of which was a conflict over his decision to give the class extra credit work and two midterms instead of one.

“The second midterm was voted on by the students and won unanimously,” Zeno said. “They didn’t want 45 percent of their grade resting on two exams, especially when they spent so much time on homework and labs.”

Zeno said CSE department head Dr. Alexander Shvartsman told him in an email the day before the second midterm to “be very careful in deviating from the syllabus,” and CSE department member Dr. Joseph Johnson “called him out” in front of students and other department members for adding the second midterm and the extra credit for his section.

“By this point, the TAs were no longer getting back to me, I had Dr. Johnson and perhaps Prof. (Jeff) Meunier (relaying) my every move to Dr. Shvartsman and I had to tell my students we were not going to have a second midterm. I really had no option but to quit this adjunct position with three weeks to go in the semester,” Zeno said in an email.

Zeno said he first attempted to quit his job on Sept. 28 because he wasn’t receiving return emails to his questions and was consistently receiving weekly lecture material from Meunier, another CSE 1010 professor, either right before or after his lectures for the week had already started.

“I would send questions to (Meunier) asking what topics were going to be covered, when I was going to get the slides, other questions about HuskyCT, teaching the class, etc. But he would never get back to me,” Zeno said.

Zeno said the lack of communication went on for weeks

“He was giving me material just before or after I was already teaching, and I myself needed to learn the programming language, at least enough to the point to teach it for that week,” Zeno said. “After a month of this, I got fed up and quit.”

Zeno said when he told Shvartsman he was quitting, Shvartsman told him he could “take over (his) class and do as (he) saw fit.”

“So, I covered some topics I thought were important for the class, but had never been taught in this course before,” Zeno said. “I asked the class if they wanted this background knowledge and many shook their heads yes.”

Shvartsman said he gave Zeno autonomy in how he delivers the course material, but required him to coordinate with the other two lecturers to ensure consistency throughout all sections of the class.

“I asked Dr. Zeno to take control of his part of the course ‘in any professional way,’” Shvartsman said. “It is unprofessional to deviate from the syllabus and the grading policy that is common to all sections of a course with hundreds of students and three faculty.”

Shvartsman said it’s important that the assignments and grading for CSE 1010 is consistent throughout its five sections taught by three different professors.

“If this is not the case, the students from the ‘harder’ sections will rightly complain – and they did,” Shvartsman said. “Equally important is that all students have consistent homework assignments. If this is not the case, then the students from ‘easier’ sections will not be as prepared for subsequent coursework.”

Zeno said he feels “terrible” that he let his students down by going back on the promises he made of extra credit work and the second midterm.

An anonymous first-semester mechanical engineering student who is in Zeno’s CSE 1010 class said Zeno’s departure was “pretty unexpected.”

“He seemed pretty into the subject of computer science,” the student said.

The student said Zeno taught his class differently than other professors in multiple ways, including by covering material that wasn’t taught in other professors’ sections and promising them chances to improve their grade, opportunities they never actually received.

“He promised us a regrade on the first midterm, which never happened,” the student said. “(And) he was giving a second midterm that, not only no other class was doing, but it wasn’t a part of the syllabus.”

The student said Zeno quitting was “the talk of the week.”

“But we’re all still pretty bummed that we never got extra points or a way to do better on our first midterm because the grades weren’t so hot,” the student said.


Gabriella DeBenedictis is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at gabriella.debenedictis@uconn.edu.