Monday, August 15, 2005

Michael Zimmerman's letter to the editor

The Dean of COLS wrote a letter to the editor last night:

To the Editor,

Stew Rieckman embodies and enhances the Northwestern’s frequent lack of respect for and understanding of the University of Wisconsin and its employees in Sunday’s column. In case you missed it, he asked, inflammatorily, what would have happened if serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer had been a faculty member. He answers his rhetorically suspect question by concluding that the University would have done nothing. He concludes his rant by informing readers that if they’re “not outraged,” they’re “probably drawing a paycheck from UW system.”

Rieckman’s upset that tenured faculty members who break the law aren’t summarily fired. He ignores two critical points. First, depending on the circumstances, faculty members can be placed on unpaid leaves while legal battles are fought. Second, rules and regulations have been established on every campus for dealing with issues of this sort. Those rules and regulations have to be congruent with rules established by the UW Board of Regents and by the state legislature. Implementation of those rules has to be scrupulously fair and able to withstand review by the state’s Employment Relations Commission as well as state and federal courts.

Rieckman implies that a better policy would be to fire first and worry about legal details later. He mocks UW System for creating a system that includes “due process.” His system might be more comforting to those looking for instant “justice,” but it’s likely to lead to chaos. And, I might add, the concept of “due process” is embodied in the US Constitution.

Finally, it would be nice if Rieckman got the “facts” embedded in his fictional account correct. He says “Professor” Dahmer collected “three months accrued vacation pay.” Sorry, Mr. Rieckman, but unlike newspaper editors, professors do not earn paid vacations.

I’ll be looking for his apology to the hard-working UW faculty across the state.

Michael Zimmerman
Dean, College of Letters and Science
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

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