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UI's paid administrative leave policy for faculty commendable

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | DECEMBER 15, 2010 7:10 AM

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Accusation of criminal wrongdoing, whatever its nature, doesn't mean one is guilty. And it shouldn't mean one should lose her or his job because of the stigmatization that often accompanies such charges.

Four University of Iowa professors are currently on paid leave because of alleged misconduct.

While the more than $400,000 paid out to these professors is a steep price, it's the price of fairness and justice. We shouldn't jettison two of the principles our legal system is predicated on — due process and presumption of innocence — simply because of financial inconvenience.

After charges are decided upon, the university decides whether disciplinary actions are warranted.

While on leave during the course of the investigations, the professors receive their normal salaries.

Two of the professors on paid leave are UI Assistant Professor Toshiki Itoh and Professor Gary Hunninghake. Itoh was recently convicted on two counts of assault, and he will face a retrial next year on a charge of sexual abuse. Hunninghake allegedly falsely reported an offense to Chicago police earlier this year; UI police recently finished an investigation, and county prosecutors will not bring charges.

The paid-leave policy was influenced by the Iowa Supreme Court case Simpson v. Iowa State University. In this case, the court noted that "public employees who can be discharged only for cause have a constitutionally protected property interest in their tenure and cannot be fired without due process." The court also concluded that employees should continue to receive pay and benefits.

Some look askance at the UI's policy, arguing paying faculty while on leave for alleged misconduct wastes money. Rep. Linda Miller, R-Bettendorf, recently told The Daily Iowan, "It seems like an awful lot of money for not doing what you're supposed to be doing." Others argue the university is promoting illegal activity.

It's easy to inveigh against the policy for underwriting academic quiescence or coddling alleged criminals. But fundamental principles of our liberal democracy are at stake. Dollars and cents shouldn't trump fairness and justice.

As Supreme Court Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter once wrote, "The [Constitution's] Due Process Clause embodies a system of rights based on moral principles so deeply embedded in the traditions and feelings of our people as to be deemed fundamental to a civilized society as conceived by our whole history." There are no excuses, no ifs, ands, or buts; every person is entitled to her or his right to justice and liberty. Every person is innocent until proven guilty. The professors are on leave due to alleged misconduct and have a right to receive full compensation.

If the faculty member is in fact guilty, the university has rules in place to ensure an appropriate punishment is established. If innocence is determined, the faculty member will not have suffered monetary damages (though he or she would have likely suffered reputation and mental harm).

The university's current policy for faculty is a good one. UI spokesman Tom Moore told the DI an e-mail, "The bottom line is that all faculty and staff are entitled to due process." And that's how it should be.


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