Editorial: Kay court debacle should have been prevented
When Pima County Superior Court Judge Stephen Villarreal released his ruling this week, he did nothing but restate what was clear from the outset - UA President Peter Likins should not have fired Alzheimer's researcher Marguerite Kay in the first place.
Kay, a former UA microbiology and immunology professor, was dismissed in 1998 in response to a Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure's finding that she falsified research on Alzheimer's disease.
The court found that the UA violated Kay's right to counsel during CAFT hearings and prematurely terminated her.
According to Don Awerkamp, Kay's attorney, "The judge said we were right, that the university violated her rights with the CAFT hearing. It seems pretty obvious that the university has to reinstate her."
But this issue is still far from being resolved. Whether or not Kay is guilty of scientific misconduct was not addressed in this particular hearing. Villarreal did not call for the UA to immediately reinstate her.
Sadly, this ruling came before Likins admitted the mistake he made in following CAFT's advice, and reinstated Kay on his own until further investigations could be conducted.
Instead, the case gained national attention when it was highlighted in a recent issue of the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS)'s Science magazine. It has become a national example of disputes over scientific research.
According to Science magazine's article, "One thing is certain: Likins is discovering- as others have before - that disputes over scientific conduct rarely die. They just get more expensive."
Likins learned this the hard way.
Instead of allowing an attorney into the proceedings and waiting until Kay's innocence or guilt was adequately proven, the UA made a knee-jerk reaction and fired her.
As Villarreal ruled, a charge of scientific misconduct is too serious to have been dealt with in the expedient fashion that CAFT did.
According to Villarreal, "There is no reason to find that the statutory rights...can be temporarily set aside because the university was operating under the mistaken belief that it could preclude Dr. Kay's lawyer from speaking at the scientific misconduct hearing."
Several faculty senators supported the rehiring of Kay on at least two occasions.
In August, the UA Committee of Eleven unanimously passed a resolution supporting Kay's reinstatement. At a September Faculty Senate meeting, several senators spoke out in Kay's favor, claiming that prematurely dismissing her was unfair.
But Villarreal's and faculty senators' statements continually fell on deaf ears. While Likins' hands were not tied on the matter, he refused to take the appropriate action and reinstate Kay.
If Kay did commit the crime of falsifying her research and it can be proven beyond a shadow of doubt, Likins would have every right to fire her -ěpermanently.
But the time has come for the UA to reevaluate Kay's case.
Hopefully, this time, the investigation will be done right.