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Testing Ethics in Illinois
By Tony Williams

As readers of The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Chicago Tribune, and The Chicago Sun-Times know, over 5,000 Illinois state employees have had their successful certificates of compliance with the State Ethics Test removed. Their “crime” involved completing the test in less than ten minutes. Executive Inspector General Spokesman Jimenez publicly accused those responsible of cheating by using “cheat sheets.” Although legal and constitutional questions exist over surveillance techniques used by the State to monitor these tests, those who do not sign a form admitting “non-compliance” face penalties “up to and including termination of employment.” After Thanksgiving Break some 65 SIU faculty members and over 100 civil service employees were warned that failure “to complete the offline training by the due date will be subject to potential disciplinary action.”

It appears that SIU Administration expects employees, who passed the test originally (and have certificates of compliance) to sign a document incriminating them. Although they may escape dismissal by the State by signing, they make themselves liable for future disciplinary action by the University and lose all right of appeal against any decision made against them.
To its credit, the SIU Faculty Union filed a grievance against the University as well as pursuing further legal action. At the same time, the very question of an Ethics Test introduced by a Democratic Governor under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office on charges of possible corruption raises several issues. Apparently, this ten-minute minimum time limit was never invoked previously. Instead, it was suddenly introduced immediately after the Governor’s re-election. Significantly, former Democratic Senator and current SIU President Glenn Poshard waited until this re-election to fire Chancellor Walter Wendler (whose sympathies were never ‘Democratic’) before his contract expired. Something rotten is clearly happening in the state of Illinois on both government and SIU levels.

No time limit was ever specified on the Ethics Test instructions. But it did mention that subjects “should” spend between thirty minutes to an hour doing this test. Note that a subjunctive verb is used here, one allowing choice rather than a coercive verb such as “must”. One then wonders why those who spent 11 to 29 minutes doing this test did not have their certificates of compliance revoked.

Threatening letters were issued to “non-compliant” employees immediately after Thanksgiving. The situation is more serious for international faculty. According to immigration law, they may be deported for the most minor criminal offense. Also, they could be permanently excluded from applying for American citizenship since evidence of a “good moral character” is a major requirement.

SIU’s Ethics Office has violated the “reasonable accommodation” clause of the 1990 American Disabilities Act on at least one instance. When this test was first imposed, a faculty member requested the alternative of doing it on hard copy rather than on the computer due to eyesight problems concerning reading material on the internet over a long period of time. This was abruptly refused. This presented no problem during the initial phase of the Ethics Test but it has now due to the arbitrary imposition of the ten minute rule. When the problem was brought to the attention of Associate Chancellor for Diversity, Dr. Seymour Bryson and Ethics Officer Corey Bradford, they both refused to recognize that an error had been made and denied the applicant’s request that a letter be written to the Governor’s Office pointing out that a mistake had been made. Instead, they hid behind “the letter of the law” pointing out that since the individual was not then registered under the ADA Act, the request was invalid. Both administrators showed no sympathy for the problems the applicant would face with the INS concerning being “criminalized” by the removal of a certificate of compliance for a test that had been successfully passed.

Some faculty might face disciplinary action. But I wonder if students will be content knowing that other instructors, who have passively signed a document admitting guilt over a test they originally passed, are the right people to teach them anything about personal freedom, intellectual integrity, and standing up for their rights. Again, SIU Administrators have shown how well they can be trusted with the future of this campus. After all, if they don’t discipline” non-compliant” faculty, Governor Rod might not give them any more money for their Sports Stadium.

Tony Williams teaches at SIU, and was one of the faculty who refused to sign the form after having his ethics exam passage revoked. On January 26, he received a letter from the SIU ethics office declaring that it “found that there is sufficient evidence of your successful completion of the training requirements of the Act.”