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State, UA review whistleblower policy

By Tate Williams
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 11, 1999
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As an Arizona Senate committee reviews the university whistleblower policy, the UA Faculty Senate is again struggling to keep it under the Arizona Board of Regents' control.

The state's Government and Environmental Stewardship Committee will hear a bill Monday that would take away university oversight of whistleblower cases.

A similar bill went to state Legislature last February, but was redirected after the three Arizona university presidents requested the matter be handled internally.

Arizona's whistleblower law shields employees from backlash if they disclose information in matters of public concern. The university is exempt, however, because it has its own policy.

Sen. Tom Freestone, R- Mesa, yesterday questioned the effectiveness of the university's whistleblower policy.

"If the university was doing it correctly, the bill wouldn't be before us," said Freestone, the Senate committee's head.

The issue returned to the Senate because of continued complaints from whistleblowers, said Carol Bernstein, state conference president of the American Association of University Professors.

"All 45 whistleblower cases . . . in the previous 5 years were decided against the whistleblowers," Bernstein said in an e-mail interview yesterday.

She said the university's policy should be at least as strict as federal law and irreversible by administration. Alterations by the university have included loopholes that allowed employees to be dismissed unjustly, Bernstein added.

The Faculty Senate's Academic Personnel Policy Committee met yesterday with an independent third party arbitrator to revise the policy.

The committee's plan, to go before the Faculty Senate March 1, aims to keep the issue under university control, said committee member Tim Troy.

"If the only way we can get objective hearings is through legislation, it would appear we are not doing a good job of internal housekeeping," he said.

Presiding Officer of the Faculty Senate Jeffrey Warburton said he wants a "fair and equitable" plan that includes faculty and staff input.

Last year's attempt to amend the law passed the House and Senate, but ran into complaints from the three university presidents because of a possible constitutional violation, Bernstein said.

The state constitution puts the universities under the Arizona Board of Regents control. The original bill called for employees to answer to a "separate personnel system," according to a letter drafted by the presidents.

The new bill removes the questionable section, but demands stricter language, similar to federal law, Bernstein said.

Regent Jack Jewett agreed the current policy needs change, but doesn't think legislation is necessary.

"This is an issue that the universities can and should deal with, and are dealing with," he said.