Summary of Recommended Changes Regarding the Disciplinary
Process for Serious Criminal Misconduct
Last fall, Regent President David G. Walsh appointed a committee to review the UW System disciplinary processes applicable to faculty and academic staff members in situations involving charges of criminal misconduct. Several recent instances in which faculty members were convicted of felonies prompted concerns that the university's internal disciplinary processes were not effective in resolving related employment issues involved in these cases. Of particular concern were the length of time required to complete the internal process; the continuation of substantial salary payments to those who could not, because of incarceration, or should not, be performing their duties; and the undermining of public confidence in the university's ability to fulfill its teaching, service and research missions. President Walsh created the Committee on Faculty and Academic Staff Disciplinary Process (Committee) to consider these and other problems, and to recommend any necessary rule or policy changes to the Board of Regents, subject to shared governance review.
The Committee has now met five times, and has agreed upon the attached draft of a new, expedited process for the disposition of disciplinary matters involving serious criminal misconduct. The draft creates a new chapter of the Board's administrative rules to deal specifically with circumstances where faculty members have engaged in serious criminal misconduct. While the language as drafted applies to faculty, it is anticipated that parallel provisions would be established to govern the indefinite academic staff, a group of employees which enjoys a status and procedural protections similar to faculty tenure. The new rules would make several significant changes from current procedures:
(1) Definition of serious criminal misconduct. At the heart of the Committee's proposal is the definition of "serious criminal misconduct." This is the term that describes the kind of egregious misbehavior warranting initiation of the expedited dismissal process, possible imposition of suspension without pay, and constituting just cause for dismissal. As defined, "serious criminal misconduct" has two essential elements: (a) conduct that constitutes the commission of a felony and (b) either poses a danger to public safety; or seriously impairs the public trust in the university and the university's ability to fulfill its mission; or seriously impairs the faculty member's fitness or ability to fulfill his or her duties, or the efficiency of the colleagues or students with whom he or she works. By requiring both elements, the definition ensures that there is a nexus between the felonious activity and its impact on the university.
(2) Expedited time limits. The time periods for conducting investigations, filing charges for dismissal, conducting hearings at the campus level and moving matters forward to the Board for review and final decision on termination have all been shortened, with the goal of establishing a process that could be completed within approximately 60 days. Enlargement of the time periods as set forth in the new language would occur only if necessary to obtain critical evidence or to meet due process requirements, and only with the approval of the provost. The creation of this expedited process will allow the university to deal promptly with the most serious instances of misconduct.
(3) Suspension without pay. The new language would also clearly provide for suspension without pay during the pendency of the internal process where: (a) A faculty member has been charged with serious criminal misconduct, and the provost has determined that there is a substantial likelihood that the faculty member has engaged in the conduct as alleged; (b) A faculty member is unable to report for work due to incarceration, condition of bail or similar cause; or (c) A faculty member has been convicted of serious criminal misconduct.
In developing these proposals, the Committee has been mindful of a number of related issues, including the rights of employee due process secured by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution; state law prohibiting discrimination based on a conviction record, unless it can be shown that the conviction is related to the position in question; and the existing administrative rules and institutional policies and procedures governing the employment of faculty and academic staff. The draft language attempts to achieve a balance between and among the sensitive and important interests at stake. The proposal is now at a point where initiation of the university's shared governance review process is appropriate.