UI professors found in violation of Ethics Act
September 27, 2015
Nearly two years after physics professor George Gollin’s unsuccessful campaign for democratic congressional candidate, three University professors became the subject of an ethics investigation by the Illinois Executive Commission.
Leon Dash, journalism professor, Nancy Blake, literature professor and Laura Greene, physics professor, were found in violation of the Ethics Act which led to the investigation.
“Any violation of the Ethics Act’s prohibition on use of State property or time for political purposes is serious enough to warrant inquiry,” said Daniel Hurtado, chief of staff and general counsel of the office of executive inspector general.
Dash said he was considered to be in violation of the act because of a one-sentence email reply to Gollin, sent to his University account, in which Gollin asked Dash to introduce him as a candidate at a local Democratic Party meeting.
“I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican,” he said. “But I became wrapped up in an ethics violation after responding to a request from a colleague with whom I am friendly.”
Dash said he realized in hindsight he was in violation of the Illinois ethics regulations because it was connected to partisan political activity and not a part of state or University activities.
In a public statement to the Office of the Executive Inspector General, Laura Greene said she did not intentionally violate the act, and therefore, the law does not apply to her situation.
“It is abundantly clear that an unintentional and inadvertent use of a State email account for a political purpose is not a misappropriation of State property.” Greene stated.
Additionally, she said she felt the findings ignored both the facts and the law.
“I have been a long-time zealous advocate for the University of Illinois, as well as a tireless and ethical professor of physics,” Greene said. “A couple of email exchanges that inadvertently took place on my University email account and that were not even initiated by me simply do not justify the conclusions in the report.”
Dash said he met with two investigators from the Springfield Ethic Commission office in May 2014.
“One of the investigators had called me to set a meeting date and indicated I was the subject of an ethics violation, but think as I might, I could not recall any ethics violation,” Dash said. “When the two investigators met with me, they showed me my one-sentence reply to Professor Gollin.”
Dash said he told the ethics investigators the error was an “inadvertent mistake” and he said he felt they were doing their job.
Hurtado said Dash, Greene and Blake could have avoided the ethics inquiry by paying closer attention to the Ethics Act, or consulting with their ethics officer.
Robin Kaler, University spokeswoman, said the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act and University policy do not allow the use of University resources for prohibited political activity, and the University takes violations of state law and University policy very seriously.
“The entire experience has definitely put a chill on any future political activity I might have engaged in,” Dash said.
Nancy Blake could not be reached for comment.