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By Jessica Vega
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 10, 1998

Faculty Senate torn over whistleblower protection law

UA Faculty Senate members yesterday were divided on whether to support a bill that could change Arizona's whistleblower law, which will be reviewed today by a state legislative committee.

The state whistleblower law shields employees from retaliation for disclosing information in matters of public concern. The UA is exempt because it has its own system in place.

The proposal, HB 2182, would allow UA employees with allegations of illegal activity, mismanagement, waste, or abuse of authority to be protected from wrongful termination even if they make the allegations to a dean, chancellor or president, or at public hearings. Reports to those people are not protected under the current whistleblower law.

The bill would also make the Arizona Board of Regents responsible for protecting whistleblowers and would allow university employees to seek protection from the independent state personnel board.

Provost Paul Sypherd said the University of Arizona should maintain control of its own whistleblower policy because nothing is wrong with it.

"I think it's very dangerous to say 'OK state, we're doing a lousy job - take over,' when we're actually not," Sypherd said at yesterday's meeting.

The regents, he said, established UA's separate whistleblower policy to "deal with whistleblowers within the context of the university."

"As a provost, cases like these are a real pain to deal with," Sypherd said. "I'm very reluctant to turn (this) over to state personnel."

Sypherd said the UA deals with a small number of whistleblower cases. The actual number of cases was not available, said Sen. Thomas Troy, because it is not always clear which cases involve whistleblowers.

Carol Bernstein, president of the American Association of University Professors' Arizona conference, who is proposing the whistleblower policy modification, said under the current system, cases referred to UA President Peter Likins have been ignored.

"I know of many cases in the past where there's been refusal to respond," said Bernstein, a microbiology and immunology research associate professor. She did not identify specific cases.

Bernstein told senators there would be many benefits to a change in the whistleblower law. If the proposal is made law, whistleblowers would be able to report to the regents or the state personnel board instead of Sypherd, she said.

Bernstein said the proposal would also allow the UA to pay whistleblowers' attorney fees. Whistleblowers who have publicly disclosed university misconduct information have faced job termination, demotion with salary reduction and other retaliation, according to a report on the legislation from the Arizona Faculties Council, which supports the bill.

"State law gives you more protection than the U of A in the internal process," Bernstein said.

The House Government Reform and States' Rights Committee is scheduled to hear the bill today. If the committee approves the proposal, it will go before the House for a full vote.

"The most important vote is tomorrow," Bernstein said. "To have made it this far means we're better than 50 percent of the bills that have been introduced to the Legislature this year."

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