Learning Ethics

Lou van den Dries, a mathematics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, apparently has to pay the state $500 because he didn’t go to the mandatory ethics class.

In Illinois professors at public universities are state employees. By the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act all Illinois state employees must spend an hour a year in ethics training. The professors objected to the class as Orwellian but finally he gave up. According to an Associated Press article in the Chicago Tribune:

Van den Dries skipped the training starting in 2006. In 2010, in response to a request that he take the training while he was away from the university, the professor responded that his status as a tenured faculty member — a position with strong protections against firing or other forms of on-the-job discipline — freed him from the requirement that he take the course.

“My understanding is that as a tenured faculty member I am a citizen of an academic community rather than an employee, certainly in matters of this nature. … Faculty cannot be ordered around as if they were part of a ‘chain of command.’ I am enjoying my sabbatical,” he wrote.

Cole Kain, chief of staff and general counsel for the state Office of Executive Inspector General, thought that Van den Dries was setting a bad example. “As a ‘citizen of an academic community,’ Professor van den Dries should strive to set a positive example for himself, students and others, and complying with state laws, including ethics laws, is a step in the right direction,” Kain apparently explained.

It was, no doubt, Van den Dries’s opinion that opposing a stupid law was setting a positive example but eventually he relented, reasoning that it was cheaper and easier to go to the class than continue to pay legal fees to avoid it. According to the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission, the professor settled, agreed to pay $500, and attended the class.

Kain did not indicate that Van den Dries was a better professor or more ethical person as a result of attended a one-hour mandatory class offered by the state.

The state has forced all employees to take the ethics class since 2004.

Juries have convicted four Illinois governors of corruption, two of them since 2004. But then, not all of these guys took the magical ethics course.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer