Director's termination shocks U of M
News of the termination of Curt Guenther, long-time director of communications services, was met with shock and sadness from the University of Memphis community last week.
"Curt is a very good person, and I would hate his reputation, that he has worked hard to maintain, to be tarnished in any way, because he certainly does not deserve that," said Deborah Baker, retired media relations director and former interim director of the division of public relations.
Baker hired Guenther as assistant director of communications services in 1994. As media relations director, she held what is essentially the same position that Guenther held. She was struck by not only his credentials, but his personality as well.
"I was impressed by not only his book background and obvious capabilities, but he was also a very warm person," Baker said. "He had the kind of personality and work habits that I thought would be great for the position."
Throughout the time they worked together, Baker said he treated everyone with courtesy, and he was a true professional at all times.
"I hired him as assistant director, and I have never regretted that. I felt like I made a great decision," Baker said. "He was truly a pleasure to work with every single day."
"For the past 18-and-a-half years I have served the University of Memphis in a public relations capacity, the last 15 of those years as director of communications services," Guenther said. "I believe that my work here has been beneficial to the University and hope this matter can be resolved so that I can continue to work on behalf of the University."
A University administrator who works in another department and who wished to remain anonymous said multiple faculty and staff members across campus were shocked by the way Guenther was fired.
"Most feel the firing was handled in a most unprofessional manner," the administrator said.
When Guenther was fired April 23, he was only given until the end of the day to clear out his office and exit the premises.
"That kind of treatment seems very wrong for someone like Curt," Baker said. "I don't understand how anyone could treat him that way. That is usually the type of dismissal that is reserved for someone who does something harmful to the workplace, extremely disrespectful or dangerous."
Linda Bonnin, vice president for communications, public relations, and marketing, is his direct superior. Her superior is Shirley Raines, the president of the University.
Bonnin said that she would not comment on personnel matters.
Non-faculty employees who feel they were wrongly terminated have two avenues to file formal grievances. The first is a Tennessee Uniform Administrative Procedures Act hearing, which is handled by the Office of Legal Counsel. During this type of hearing, the employee is allowed to bring an attorney.
The other is a President's Panel Hearing in which three to five members, appointed by the president or a designee, hear the grievance and report their recommendation to the president. The employee is not allowed legal representation during this type of hearing.
Guenther's reputation spread far beyond fellow administrators. He impacted students and members of the Memphis community as well.
"It was always my experience when dealing with him that he was respectful at the University of Memphis and also to the local media. All of the reporters I knew thought very highly of him," said Trey Heath, information specialist in marketing and communications for Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis & Shelby County, and former editor of The Daily Helmsman.
Heath worked with Guenther almost daily during his years as managing editor and editor-in-chief at the University newspaper and developed a high level of respect for him.
"I was the editor at the Helmsman when Taylor Bradford was murdered. That was one of the most traumatic things to ever happen at the University," Heath said.
At the time, the recently appointed vice president for communications, public relations and marketing, Bob Eoff, was not available.
"Curt was on the front line of it. He dealt with that better than you could ever expect. He did a great job. He was very professional dealing with the craziness of both the local and national news swarming the campus," Heath said.
Guenther's ability to remain calm in tense situations was something that stuck out in Baker's mind as well.
"He always behaves as a gentleman, regardless of circumstances. He is one of the kindest and courteous individuals I know," Baker said. "We had crises that came and went, but Curt was always the calmest person in the room. He was always the calm in the middle of the storm, but he was always responsive."
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