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Editorial: University should settle researcher's lawsuit and move on

Arizona Daily Wildcat,
January 12, 2000
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With any luck, the long saga of the university's struggle against Marguerite Kay will soon be over. It seems that if the Board of Regents agrees to settle her claim for $3 million for breach of contract, they can put the worst of the affair behind them. Already, the university has allowed this situation to drag on too long, and they should seize the opportunity to even begin to bring an end to it.

Behind all of this lies the underlying problem - the university incorrectly fired Kay. That's not to say that she didn't do anything incorrectly - it's quite possible that she did commit academic misconduct. When the university officials found out about her misconduct, they decided the best way to minimize the damage was to get rid of Kay as quickly as possible. In doing so, however, they didn't follow their own procedures for firing faculty.

Apparently, Kay's suit expects her to be reinstated, and given back pay for the duration of the period that she was not working. This is not a reasonable expectation. Since this debacle began, the only reason to rehire Kay would have been to go through the firing process correctly, so that she would have nothing to complain about. If the university had done this earlier, they might have been able to avoid this court case, but it is too late now. Rehiring her would only give more attention to her case, and distract the university from what it needs to be working on.

Damage from Kay's various actions against the university is far worse than any monetary damages a court may award. Nothing can possibly be won in a protracted legal battle. By the same token, the university can't win anything by settling with Kay. It's a lose-lose situation, and it should be brought to an end as quickly as possible. All they can hope for at this point is to achieve their original goal of maximizing damage control.

At this point, the best thing for the university and for everyone involved is to just let the situation die. The university should admit that it acted incorrectly, pay her an appropriate amount of money and move on.

In monetary terms, her claim is not astronomical. She has not only lost her job, she has lost her reputation. While this isn't necessarily a major problem in many professions, a research scientist with a tarnished reputation has significantly depleted career opportunities. Even if she were to regain her job, she would have a difficult time starting her research anew. Whatever problems she may have caused for herself were exaggerated by the university's improper actions, and the Board of Regents should be held monetarily accountable.

Kay's lawyer says that her client wants the case to be over, so that she can get on with her research. For all extents and purposes, the university should be following the same ideal. With all of the projects the university is currently engaged in, a continuing legal battle will occupy more of the university's money and attention than it is really worth.

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