Saturday, August 30, 2008

[U of M folks, in particular, may
find the addendum at bottom
especially interesting.]

The Strib monitors recent developments in the Sainfort/Jacko debacle:

Professor accused of holding two jobs drops titles at U

By JEFF SHELMAN, Star Tribune

August 29, 2008

One of the two University of Minnesota professors accused of drawing paychecks from two universities at the same time resigned his leadership position in the school's Academic Health Center.

Francois Sainfort, who came to Minnesota from Georgia Tech with his wife, Prof. Julie Jacko, resigned as the head of the Division of Health Policy and Management in the university's School of Public Health.

Sainfort, who will remain at the university as a professor, has been permanently replaced by long-time U Prof. Ira Moscovice.

Sainfort will also no longer carry the title of Mayo Professor of Public Health.

Those moves means that Sainfort will lose $95,000 annually from the compensation package he agreed to nearly a year ago. He is still being paid his base salary of $265,000.

Sainfort and Jacko remain under investigation for double-dipping, both by the Georgia attorney general's office and by the U's general counsel.

Georgia officials could indict the couple while U officials could begin the process to revoke their tenure.

"In his discussion with me, he stepped down because his situation with Georgia was going to be dragging on for quite a while," said John Finnegan, the dean of the U's School of Public Health. "He recognized the division really needed stable leadership."

"Obviously, the situation that happened to Francois Sainfort and Julie Jacko has not been a positive one for us," Finnegan said.

A call to the couple's attorney was not returned.

Sainfort and Jacko were expected to begin working full time at the U in January. However, in a February e-mail to a Georgia Tech administrator, Sainfort described his workload at the Atlanta school as "completely full," and that neither he nor Jacko had signed contracts with Minnesota.

Alleged double-dipping

The U contends that the couple signed contracts in October 2007. Georgia Tech has said they signed contracts to work there for the entire 2007-08 school year after they signed with Minnesota. The two resigned from Georgia Tech on May 24, about a month after accusations of double employment became public.

"We have cooperated with the Georgia Attorney General's Office and we were led to understand that they were going to be deciding what path to go down by the end of August or early September," Finnegan said.

"The last thing that I heard through the [U's] Office of General Counsel was that the attorney general's office in Georgia was a long way away from determining what they are going to do. Well, that's terribly damaging to Francois as you can imagine, because this just hangs on and on and on. That's what Francois recognized when he came to me and decided step down as division head.

"What I'm hopeful for is that the Georgia attorney general will choose not to file charges and that they can continue here in their faculty leadership roles."

Jacko requested a leave from her position as director of the Institute of Health Informatics until the end of September. She is currently "lead faculty" for the institute. Both she and Sainfort were considered star hires for the university.

Awaiting Georgia documents

Mark Rotenberg, the U's general counsel, said his office is awaiting documents from Georgia before making a decision on the couple's future.

"We have certain issues with expenses that were charged to both institutions that we are looking at which are related to, but not the same as, issues that are of apparent concern to Georgia attorney general's office," Rotenberg said. "We have only limited ability to obtain documents until they are done with their investigation."

Finnegan said Sainfort and Jacko will continue in their roles as professors. The two are also working to obtain sponsored research grants.

Will this continue to fly? I think not. One of the commenters on the Strib website has it about right:

"Obviously, the situation that happened to Francois Sainfort and Julie Jacko has not been a positive one for us." Finnegan said.

Nothing 'happened to' Sainfort and Jacko. It is correct to say that Sainfort and Jacko and their [alleged] misdeeds 'happened' to the U and to Georgia Tech. But that kind of smarmy, passive voice 'non-judgmental' language is just new age sophistry, a namby-pamby doublespeak that allow people who do WRONG to get off...

And Rotenberg?

"We will try to piece this together in regard to whether something serious has indeed happened here in regard to so-called double-dipping." Mark Rotenberg, U of M general counsel

Lord, love a duck...

And OurLeader?

"I think we need to put ourselves in the position of acting according to the highest ethical principles. I believe our people do that now and I believe our people will be doing that in the future as well." President Bruininks (Daily: 6-18-08)

This situation is starting to resemble the light rail fiasco.

Long after it has become obvious that something has to be done
about a situation that is increasingly harmful to the U, our administration does nothing in the hope that ignoring the problem might somehow make it go away.

If only Georgia Tech decides not to prosecute them then everything will be OK?

It won't.

Rapid, decisive, and punitive action last April MIGHT have saved this pair, but now it is too late. One obvious solution would have been to ask them to return the U's money for the double-dipping period which could then have been euphemized as a "misunderstanding." Otherwise, in the immortal words of Ray Charles: "Hit the road, Jacques!"

But that would have required action based on integrity and ethical principles. Words about integrity are not in short supply at the U - see above - but walking this talk? Not so much in evidence. Instead we find our administrative leadership collectively rotating their wet fingers in the breeze and praying that they can avoid having to use the adminspeak admission of failure: "Mistakes were made."

And how do you think faculty are going to feel who have to work with these folks, Bob? Shouldn't faculty leaders be chosen by the ah, er, faculty?

Guess not.

Apparently faculty opinions are of little concern. In the imperial words of the provost of the Academic Health Center:
"People will think what they want to think."

Added later:

Here is a fine example, from the comments section of the Strib web site, of what passes for administrative logic at the U:

"So much for due process

Have they been charged, tried or convicted of anything either here or in Minnesota? No? Well that does it, then. They must be guilty. Whatever happened to getting your day in court?

posted by finne001 on Aug. 30, 08 at 5:30 AM

3 of 17 people liked this comment. Do you?"

Those so inclined can use the U of M people search and, use the "Search by" pulldown to choose Internet ID, then type in finne001 in the search field. Voila!

finne001, I think giving Sainfort and Jacko their day in court is exactly what needs to be done and as soon as possible.

Why don't you get right on this? Maybe a little better job of vetting in the first place would have saved us a lot of trouble? Whose responsibility was that?

Duke was apparently a little more cautious in vetting Sainfort for a deanship.

Do you think that we have enough evidence to proceed on our own based on the Regent's policy on double dipping?

Do you think that since last April, our ace university counsel, Mark Rotenberg, may have gotten sorted out whether, at any time, these folks were getting two paychecks for the same pay period?

Somehow this doesn't seem to be a very difficult thing to establish. There are income tax records. Under appropriate circumstances they may be obtained either voluntarily or otherwise. See Mark Rotenberg for further information - that's his job.

Or perhaps we should try something really novel and ask them? Someone apparently did this last February at Georgia Tech and the response did not seem truthful. Maybe more honest results could be obtained under oath? Ask Mark Rotenberg - that's his job.

You don't have to wait for Georgia Tech or the Georgia Attorney General's office to begin proceedings. Don't try to hide lack of appropriate administrative action in this matter - very damaging to the U - behind a smokescreen of due process concern.

Unless finne001 suffers from identity theft, he is not exactly unbiased in this matter. The shop-worn (at the U of M) phrase "conflict of interest" comes to mind.

By all means Jacko and Sainfort should be afforded due process - that is not the issue here and finne001 should know it.

Here's a legal aphorism to chew on: "Justice delayed is justice denied."

Maybe Sainfort and Jacko are deliberately being allowed to twist slowly in the wind so that they will do the right thing - for the administration - and just leave? Thus saving our various deans and provosts further embarrassment without having to admit their own contribution to this fiasco.

Wouldn't be the first time...


Flying Lily said...

Twisting in the wind while drawing down a $500K compensation package is probably not so bad, esp. if the job duties are completely undefined...

Mr. B. said...

and you have a horse under you.

Anonymous said...

Great commentary, as usual. Was glad to finally see an update on the subject...

I have believed for several months that the U is just covering their a** by not canning those two long ago. Given their State status, it is relatively easy for those two to fight back for unfair termination in the seemingly miniscule chance that no charges are filed from Georgia.

This being said, I would think that the U needs for GA authorities to drop the hammer on these two in order to safely cut them loose. Maybe this is the source of the delay...

Regardless, your assessment is correct. Technically, I am sure that it would have been fairly simple to request some records (the GA & MN papers did this) regarding - at the very least - the double-dipping allegations, pit this against the Regent's policy, and then make the U's case.

In the end, this is an ugly situation and bound to get even more ugly once some actual charges arise from GA...