Tuesday, June 1, 2010
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Blowing the whistle on 'U' misconduct
Those who reveal wrongdoing should be rewarded, not punished
al Paul Dragicevich,
Gazette on Sunday.
T he University has set a new standard for public embarrassments. After blowing the whistle on alleged misconduct by fellow
University faculty, an assistant research professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, Dr. Andrei
Borisov, was forced to resign following a string of inappropriate actions and outright bullying by other faculty members and
University administrators. But Borisov's case is just one symptom of a more systemic problem at the University - an atmosphere
that discourages and often punishes openness and transparency. The University must purge itself of an environment that forces
faculty members to choose between academic integrity and their career.
Last month, separate reports by the Faculty Hearing Com-
mittee ofthe Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs
and the University of Michigan Chapter of the American Asso-
ciation of University Professors were released detailing faculty
and staff misconduct in the case involving Dr. Andrei Borisov.
According to both reports, on September 4, 2008, Borisov went
to the office of the chair of his department, Dr. Valerie Castle
in order to resign effective September 12, when he planned to
start a new job in the Department of Internal Medicine. Upon
arrival, he was met by both Castle and two Department of Pub-
lic Safety officers. Castle told Borisov that he had to either sign
a resignation letter effective that day or his employment would
be terminated. After convincing Castle to change the effective
date to September 12, Borisov signed the letter.
Nonetheless, when Borisov was escorted by DPS to his office
to gather his belongings, he was read a trespass order, arrested
for assaulting a police officer and disturbing the peace - the
latter two were both later dismissed - and ordered to have no
contact with anyone within the medical school. He was later
taken to the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital emergency room for
injuries to his wrist, where he told doctors that the damage
was done by DPS officers. This incident followed complaints
from Borisov to his superiors of plagiarism and misconduct
starting as early as 2006. Borisov filed a lawsuit against the
University in 2009, which is currently pending in Washtenaw
County Circuit Court.
On the surface of this episode are clearly inappropriate
actions by DPS. According to a recording of the September 4
meeting, one officer told Borisov, "Whether you want to sign it
or not, we're going to remove your stuff, you're going to be read
the trespass statute." Not only did DPS read a trespass order
to a clearly non-threatening, employed member of the Univer-
sity faculty (his resignation wasn't effective until September
12), but the recording also shows that Borisov was going tobe
accused of trespassing regardless of his actions. DPS never
investigated Castle's complaint that Borisov was "physically
threatening" - neither before nor after the incident. Instead,
the officers acted as Castle's personal henchmen and blindly
took her word as truth. DPS's involvement in this internal
dispute was not only inappropriate, but also a fundamental
betrayal of its primary objective to protect the entire campus
community, not solely administrators.
But, atits heart, the problem isn't with DPS. It's with the
treatment of Borisov by his superiors - in particular, Dr. Val-
erie Castle. In June, Castle began forwarding negative reviews
of Borisov to his would-be employers in Internal Medicine,
who would have almost certainly revoked their employment
offer then had Borisov not successfully convinced them of his
innocence. A few months later, rather than acceptingPBorisov's
resignation effective September 12, she insisted his resigna-
tion be effective immediately, which would allow DPS officers
to read him a trespass warning as an unemployed, ex-faculty
member. When Borisov refused, Castle allowed him to resign
effective September 12, yet DPS officers read him a trespass
warning and arrested him anyway. She facilitated a situation
in which the only possible outcome was a trespass order and
altercation. Since an arrest by DPS can bar a faculty member
from being rehired by another department at the University,
Castle's actions effectively destroyed both Borisov's reputa-
tion and career. This episode disturbingly suggests a delib-
erate effort to tarnish Borisov's standing in the academic
In light of all of the mistakes and misconduct involved in
this incident, it's clear that the broader environment at the
University is one that discourages openness and chokes aca-
demic freedom. Starting in 2006, Borisov complained to at
least seven different administrators at the department, school
and University level, and a letter was even sent to President
Mary Sue Coleman by Dr. Douglas Smith (a former faculty
member of the Medical School) regardingthe case. University
policy SPG 303.03 stipulates that "it is the shared responsibil-
ity of all members of our academic community to assure that
misconduct in academic endeavors is dealt with in a timely and
effective manner," and it irrefutably commands that an inqui-
ry be started whenever allegations arise.
And yet not a single serious effort was made to investigate.
Each administrator deferred responsibility to another, and
some even took deliberate action to retaliate against Borisov.
.Moreover, the fact that Borisov felt the need to tape record
his conversations with faculty and administrators further
implies that his concerns were being ignored, or, at least, not
being taken earnestly. Even worse, when the Faculty Hearing
Committee did the University's job for them by conducting an
investigation, the administrators involved blatantly refused
to testify. In a letter to SACUA, Provost Teresa Sullivan hypo-
critically argued that the report produced was one-sided and
successfully pressured the body to reject the report. Not only
was University policy ignored, but an atmosphere of secrecy,
mistrust and ethical bankruptcy was cultivated on the backs
of faculty members that dared to speak up.
Whether or not Borisov's allegations of plagiarism and
misconduct against his colleagues are true, the University
mishandled his case at every step. Administrators must treat
this issue with the grave seriousness it deserves and make the
sweeping reforms necessary to ensure that a career is not the
price to pay for having the courage to report wrongdoing.
The Daily is looking for a diverse group of strong, passionate student writers to join the Editorial Board. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for details.