Courant Editorial: Crimes Should Be Factor In Professor Promotions

February 17, 2015

Editorial as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

Lawmakers need to fix one way in which state universities and colleges promote their faculty: They need to take into account a professor’s criminal history.

A bill would make personal factors, as well as professional ones, part of the promotion process. It deserves legislators’ approval.

The background: Last year, Ravi Shankar, who teaches poetry at Central Connecticut State University, was promoted from associate professor to full professor even as he was serving prison time. He was behind bars because he had violated the rules of his probation.

The university and the state Board of Regents could not consider Mr. Shankar’s criminal history in weighing his promotion even though he had, at various times, been convicted in a credit card fraud scheme and for drunken driving, driving without a license and evading responsibility.

State Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, who introduced the bill, says administrators’ hands were tied because, under the collective bargaining agreement with the professors’ unions, promotion decisions must be based only on academic matters — not on criminal ones.

That’s absurd. Yes, professors must have excellent academic qualifications. But teachers are also role models. As the regents themselves said last spring, “We believe that faculty and staff must be held to the highest standards inside as well as outside the classroom.”

Sen. Witkos’ bill would allow universities and colleges to consider a professor’s criminal history as part of the criteria for promotion. The details must still be hashed out, but as Sen. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, noted, the higher education committee isn’t worried about minor infractions such as traffic violations.

Because it will likely mean tinkering with the collective bargaining agreement, some pushback from unions is to be expected. But more transparency can only be good for the state university system.