Cal Poly College of Engineering dean may step down, sources say

The dean of Cal Poly’s nationally acclaimed College of Engineering, who has faced strong criticism from some faculty in the past, may be leaving the post after four years, sources say.

But Mohammad Noori said Tuesday that he remains the college’s dean and plans to discuss issues relating to the college’s future after Cal Poly Provost Bob Koob returns from a vacation next week.

Noori wouldn’t comment on any possible departure from his position or whether he has been asked to step down or move into a new role on campus.

“My main interest is to make sure students are best served and that whatever changes occur strengthen the college,” Noori said.

Koob was unavailable for comment. Cal Poly public affairs officials said only that Noori is currently the dean, noting that personnel issues may be kept confidential under state law.

But several sources in leadership positions at Cal Poly, including one in the engineering college, said Tuesday that Noori will soon step down as dean — though it was unclear if he’ll take on a new role at the university.

The sources didn’t want to be identified because of the confidential nature of the conversations between Noori and the university.

Critics have said Noori lacks strong leadership and fundraising skills, and good judgment as a manager.

“He isn’t a disliked person, but I think he’s had a hard time being a leader,” said Jim Locascio, a mechanical engineering professor.

Faculty complaints include budget deficits, allegations that money hasn’t been allocated properly and growing class sizes in some departments.

And they cite his role in trying to form a university partnership with the Saudi Arabian government to set up an engineering college there.

The deal fell through over a contractual disagreement, but that was after some questioned the ethics of the proposal and voiced complaints about the segregation of women and discrimination against minorities in education in Saudi Arabia. Critics also said Noori should have backed out of any negotiations from the start.

Cal Poly officials said that discrimination in the hiring of Cal Poly faculty in the Saudi Arabian partnership would not have been allowed.

Noori acknowledged Tuesday that he could have surveyed the campus community better to gauge the level of acceptance of the proposal.

Two years ago, faculty members Unny Menon, Michael Cirovic, James Meagher, Rakesh Goel and Frank Owen presented a complaint to former Cal Poly Provost William Durgin seeking Noori’s reassignment.

After his third year at its helm, in 2008-2009, the College of Engineering showed a budget deficit of nearly $3.7 million, according to university reports.

But that wasn’t alarming considering budget constraints in recent years in the Cal State University system, said Larry Kelley, the university’s vice president for administration and finance. Kelley said that while current numbers weren’t available, Noori helped to close the college’s deficit gap this year.

Noori said Tuesday that he managed to bring a budget strained by challenging cuts “to zero balance this year, which was remarkable.”

And he said in his first year, the university took on 450 more students, which impacted the college’s budget situation. The College of Engineering’s enrollment is about 5,000 students, making it Cal Poly’s largest college.

For the second year in a row in 2009, U.S. News and World Report named Cal Poly’s engineering program the nation’s best for schools whose highest degree is a bachelor’s or master’s.

Noori said his accomplishments have included raising grant money from $2.1 million in his first year to $6 million this year.

He also said the number of female freshman entering the college has grown, which was one of his top priorities when he took over.

In regards to his skill as a manager, Noori said that he has tried to build consensus and develop partnerships with the industry, citing a project-based learning institute he formed that brings in $600,000 a year, he said.

Noori earned $206,143 in 2009, according to the Sacramento Bee’s salary database for state employees.

Before coming to Cal Poly, Noori served as the head of the mechanical engineering department at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts and was head of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University.