University Should Not Fire Whistleblower Professor Who Protested Illegal DNA Policy, Says ACLU

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
April 6, 2010 4:30 pm

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Dismissal Would Harm Free Speech and Expression


AKRON – The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today urged University of Akron officials to reconsider their decision to dismiss an adjunct faculty member who previously resigned his position in protest over an illegal University policy to collect all job applicants’ DNA. Professor Matt Williams’ resignation in October 2009 led to a firestorm of public criticism over the controversial policy, which was later repealed by the University. The University of Akron later rehired Professor Williams to teach two classes in the spring 2010 semester.

ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said, “Professor Williams took a principled stand against a policy that blatantly violated federal laws and our most fundamental privacy rights. By blowing the whistle on this ill-advised policy, he actually saved the University from possible future legal problems and embarrassment. Unfortunately, his only reward has been the loss of his job.”

In December 2009, the University’s Department of Continuing Education signed an agreement allowing Professor Williams to teach two classes in the spring 2010 semester. He successfully completed one course scheduled from February 10-March 10, but was informed that they were terminating their agreement to teach a course from March 31-May12.The University claimed Williams was unreliable because he had resigned his position in the middle of the previous semester over the DNA policy.

“Professor Williams has taught at the University of Akron’s main campus since 2007 without any similar incident. He only resigned his position after confronted with a University policy that presented numerous moral, ethical and legal conflicts. When he was rehired after the policy was repealed, he taught his first spring 2010 course uninterrupted. The decision to fire him at this point seems more punitive for speaking out than protecting the interests of students,” added Link.

The University of Akron has procedures in place for faculty to file grievances over personnel matters. Professor Williams has filed an appeal over his dismissal and is currently waiting for University officials to decide if they will consider it. The ACLU of Ohio sent a letter to officials who oversee the grievance committee urging them to consider his request.

“Institutions of higher education should encourage an environment where faculty, staff, and students feel comfortable expressing ideas and taking a stand on issues that are important to them. Professor Williams modeled how one person can make a difference when confronted with something that is ethically or morally troubling. University officials should celebrate personal conviction and activism, not punish it,” Link concluded.

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