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University of Michigan Closes Ethics Center, Claims Ethics in Public Life Achieved

The University of Michigan has a long history of breakthroughs. A quick look at any patent search engine, and you will find over 2,000 patents have been registered by U of M for advances in science, medicine and other fields. Here are just a few of the patents held by the University based on research conducted by the institution’s faculty, researchers and students.

Method for treating psoriasis

Vehicle stop lamp system

Military helmet with visor

Infant car seat liner

Protective helmet for athletes

Youth hockey helmet

Solid state beta-sensitive surgical probe

Method and apparatus for composition and display of three-dimensional image from two-dimensional ultrasound scan data

The list is long and impressive. Yesterday, the University of Michigan added another gold star to its own reportcard when its spokesman announced that, due to budget cuts made by the state of Michigan, the University’s Center for Ethics in Public Life would be shuttered. The Michigan Daily broke the story.

In the piece written by Michelle Narov, a staff reporter, University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald explained not only why the Center was being closed (budget cuts), but why the closure of the institute wasn’t really anything to worry about. Fitzgerald told The Daily:

The center is not closing because it failed to promote its message, but because it had already met its goals. “The evaluation was that its mission of ethics in public life was now sort of embedded in the community. And the provost’s office believed that would be sustained without having a specific center focused on that.”

Fitzgerald’s claim comes just a few months after former U of M football coach Rich Rodriguez was sanctioned by the NCAA and Dr. Mary Sue Coleman, U of M’s President, was forced to sit beside the coach and listen while NCAA officials read off a list of sanctions that included putting the institution’s football program on three year’s of probation. Then, Michigan’s Athletic Director minimized what sports journalists dubbed the “worst known violations in the program’s history.” Dave Brandon was quoted as saying that the violations “mostly involved players stretching.” Sports writer Joe Lapointe wrote this about Brandon’s behavior: “Brandon, a politically ambitious Republican who came out of the pizza business, tried to minimize the violations Thursday, insisting they mostly involved players stretching. It sounded as if he was stretching the truth.” According to LaPointe, “Brandon attacked the reporting of the Detroit Free Press, the paper that broke the scandal, as ‘overdone’ with quotes taken out of context. He said the allegations were ‘false and misleading.’ He said the violations of practice time were a matter of minutes, not hours.”

Clearly, Fitzgerald appears to believe that University of Michigan students are foolish enough to accept his explanation. The majority of Michigan students know “ethics are not embedded in the community,” because 75 percent of them have (will) cheat while undergraduates, according to research done by the Center for Academic Integrity (CAI). Students at Christian colleges cheat (think Concordia College, nestled near U of M’s North Campus). According to a poll, 19 percent of over 450 college faculty reported cheating while in college. Interestingly, according to a different poll, 93 percent of college faculty reported that they care if their students plagiarize or cheat.

On the CAI’s web site, you can find a link to the new scholarly journal Plagiary: Cross Disciplinary Studies in Plagiarism,  Fabrication and Falsification. Its subject matter is not confined, as you might think, to student plagiary, but rather also addresses plagiarism, fabrication and falsification by faculty and college administrators. After all, more than one college president has been caught giving speeches that contain whole passages of material lifted from unattributed sources. In February of 2010, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that, “The president of Malone University, a small liberal-arts institution in Canton, Ohio, announced his resignation on Monday after concerns surfaced that he had used unattributed materials in some of his speeches.” He’s one of a sorry line of college presidents who have been caught stealing the written work of others and passing it off as their own.

Here in Ann Arbor, ethics in public life is certainly not embedded in the community. Quite the opposite.

For instance, John Hieftje’s 2010 campaign literature carried the endorsement of Dr. Paul Courant, University Librarian and Dean of Libraries at the University of Michigan. In 2002, when John Hieftje, who holds a B.A. from Eastern Michigan University, was hired to teach graduate-level courses in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and given a $90,000 pro-rata salary, it was Paul Courant who hired him and set his high salary. Librarian Courant burbles in his endorsement about Hieftje’s “remarkable leadership and skill in a tough budget environment.” Courant is not identified as having hired Hieftje, or as having set Hieftje’s salary well above what Michigan normally pays temporary lecturers. He’s just Paul Courant, U of M administrator extraordinaire, a guy who just happens to think John Hiefje is a good old boy.

Ironically, just a few days before U of M closed its Center for Ethics in Public Life, the national media slammed AnnArbor.com for what was perceived as a serious ethical lapse and clear conflict of interest in appointing David Lampe to the .Com’s editorial board. Lampe is a senior administrator at the University of Michigan, arguably the most complex and largest institution AnnArbor.com is supposed to investigate and cover. AnnArbor.com’s Kontent King, Tony Dearing, defended the appointment, which was called “mind-boggling” by a former Ann Arbor News staffer who’d been stone-walled by Lampe while trying to gather information during an investigation about academics and athletics at University of Michigan.

Ann Arbor City Council members Christopher Taylor and Stephen Kunselman both ran for office pledging to put into place a much-needed ethics policy. Several City Council members have serious conflicts of interest that, in other cities, would be investigated and reported on during election season. In Palo Alto, California, the daily newspaper in its candidate profiles includes whether mayoral or council candidates have “conflicts of interest” through connections or employment at Stanford University. The shuttered Ann Arbor News never bothered to include that information in its candidate profiles, nor has AnnArbor.com focused on possible or existing conflicts of interest that entangle candidates for office, local or otherwise.

Partially as a result of the negligence of local newspapers, John Hieftje is not alone in taking endorsements and political donations that are ethically suspect. When she last ran for re-election in 2008, according to campaign finance records, First Ward Council member Sabra Briere raised $4,500. She committed a campaign finance violation for taking $2,000 of the $4,500 she raised from local developer Dennis Dahlmann (she also got a $300 donation from Dahlmann’s attorney, Steve Zamorwitz). It was Briere, along with Fifth Ward Council member Mike Anglin, who subsequently pushed to have Dahlmann’s proposed development of the Fifth Avenue Library Lot parcel get a second look after the project had been axed by the Council committee in charge of evaluating the proposals. Anglin raised $8,489 when he last ran in 2009, and accepted $500 from Dahlmann.

City officials throw business and money to the companies of individuals who serve on city boards and commissions. For instance, employment lawyer David Nacht sits on the Board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority by mayoral appointment. His initial term was an exceptionally long 10 years. In December of 2010, the City of Ann Arbor cut a $25,000 check to Nacht Law. Council authorized a $300,000 contract for capital improvement projects with Bona & Kolb, as well as Mitchell & Mouat, and two other firms. Bonnie Bona sits on the Planning Commission, and Mouat sits on the board of the Downtown Development Authority. On February 16, 2010, City Council amended the original contract with Bona & Kolb to add $100,000 to the fee.  The names of the firms appeared nowhere on the Council agenda.

The truth is that Ann Arbor’s elected officials, faculty, staff and students at the University of Michigan need guidance on issues of ethics more than ever before. To state otherwise, as Rick Fitzgerald does, is wrong. Fitzgerald’s glib assertion is contradicted by academic research, news stories, the behavior of University of Michigan’s former football coach and its current Athletic Director. The notion that ethics is “sort of embedded in the university community” is farcical considering the fact that the University of Michigan permitted David Lampe to serve on the editorial board of the local newspaper, when it’s clearly unethical for him to do so, according to national media analysts.

Rick Fitzgerald needs a subscription to Plagiary, because his assertion that “ethics in public life was now sort of embedded in the community” is a classic example of a fabrication. 

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