News Local/State

U of I Faculty Use Of Work Email For Politics Violated Law: Ethics Panel


A state ethics panel says three faculty at the University of Illinois Urbana campus violated Illinois ethics laws when they used their campus email addresses to discuss political activity for a congressional candidate in 2013.

The Illinois Executive Ethics Commission ruled that three tenured professors should not have used their email addresses at work for political activity --- in this case discussing campaign work for unsuccessful 13th District Democratic congressional candidate George Gollin, another faculty member previously cited for the same violation.

Physics Professor Laura Greene told investigators her email traffic is so heavy, she didn’t consider her two emails a violation. In a later public statement, Greene argued that the use of her campus email account for campaign work was "inadvertant and not intentional", and threfore, not a violation of state law. "Unless the conduct is intentional, there can be no violation", she wrote. In additon, Greene says that the Executive Ethics Commission report found that she violated University of Illinois guidelines, which she notes, "do not have the force of law".

Journalism Professor Leon Dash said it only occurred to him later on reflection that he was violating ethics rules.

And Literature Professor Nancy Blake said in a statement that her mistake only violated university guidelines, not state law, and "ignore the realities of technology in the modern workplace, as well as the nature of the modern workplace itself".

But the Executive Ethics Commission says the state Ethics Act tolerates no exceptions. In its analysis, the Commission stated that "the Ethics Act does not allow State employees to engage in prohibited politica activity even though the employee: is a tenured faculty or professors of a State university; did not think about what they were doing (or not doing); describes their conduct as an error which was 'miniscule'; used State resources that only represented a fraction of their emial use; or did not think about using their personal email as opposed to their State email."

It found that all three professors violated the law, and while it’s not turning the cases over to the Attorney General's office for prosecution it recommended that the university take whatever action it sees fit. That differs from the earlier citation against George Gollin, who was fined $5,000.

When asked for comment about the citations against Greene, Dash and Black, an administration spokesperson at the University of Illinois Urbana campus said they don’t comment on specific personnel matters. But Robin Kaler says use of university resources for what’s considered “prohibited political activity” is a violation that the U of I takes seriously.

(This article was updated at 4:20 PM, 9/18/15 and 9:45 PM, 9/20/15).