Professors sue state over ethics exam

By Gus Bode

Two SIUC professors and the faculty union filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Illinois’ inspector general, demanding the state drop possible discipline over an ethics exam that 159 university employees failed in the fall.

The suit – filed against Inspector General James Wright and the Executive Ethics Commission – claims the state acted illegally by threatening to discipline faculty members who failed the online test.

State officials claimed those who failed took the test too quickly, while the lawsuit states the minimum time requirement was not listed in the Ethics Act.

Advertisement

The Illinois Office of the Executive Inspector General in November found 65 SIUC faculty members in violation of a minimum time limit set on a statewide ethics test every state employee had to complete. A form was given to all failed test takers to sign, which would mark them as non-compliant.

Signing the form could have brought discipline, including firing.

“We’re contending that the state violated its own ethics law by doing what they did to me,” Faculty Association President Marvin Zeman said. “If you violate the ethics law, then you are unethical.”

While most employees who failed signed the form, Zeman did not.

Ralph Loewenstein of the Hagen and Smith, P.C. law firm is representing Zeman, mathematics professor Walter Wallis and the faculty union. Loewenstein said he found the inspector general’s office in violation of the Ethics Act, and said Zeman has a strong case.

“It’s our position that the ethics commission and the executive inspector general lack the authority to establish a minimum time in which to complete the ethics training,” he said.

Inspector General spokesman Gilbert Jimenez said he had no comment because he had not talked with Zeman’s attorneys or seen the lawsuit, which was filed in Sangamon County Circuit Court in Springfield.

Advertisement

The ethics exam, required for all state employees under the 2003 Ethics Act, included about 80 Web pages of information and 10 questions based on the information. Some questions asked test takers if they should look away or tell a supervisor if they see a coworker abusing office resources.

Zeman said the inspector general’s office also violated a collective bargaining agreement with SIUC because it threatened discipline – including termination of employment – for employees who didn’t sign the form. Zeman said the university is in charge of punishment, not the state.

SIUC spokesman Rod Sievers said the university supports the rights of individual’s to “seek redress” for wrongs suffered.

“Anybody can file a suit if they feel they’ve been wronged,” he said. “The university recognizes there were perhaps some problems with the test.”

Sievers said the university recognizes there were problems with the time requirement on the ethics exam. He said administrators would have to see what comes of the lawsuit before deciding what action to take.

Zeman said the lawsuit seeks to get the state to drop all possible disciplinary actions, admit it violated the Ethics Act and pay for attorney fees.

“All we are asking is that they stop doing what they are doing,” he said.

[email protected]

536-3311 ext. 268

Advertisement