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Faculty Senate raises concerns over “investigative leave”

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Faculty Senate discussed changes to a proposed policy that would allow Wichita State to force an employee to turn over their office keys and access to their email account and take a mandatory leave pending the outcome of an investigation into alleged misconduct.

The proposal, which was approved by the Faculty Senate’s executive committee, would allow the university to place any university employee on “investigative leave” and confiscate their office keys and email access before an investigation is concluded.

The changes will not be approved by the senate, but its input — to endorse or not to endorse the policy change – will be considered by Human Resources and the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity.

The policy defines investigative leave as a “mandated leave that removes an employee from the University pending the outcome of an internal investigation of alleged behaviors and/or actions that may violate University policy, rules and/or employment expectations.”

According to the latest draft of the proposed policy, employees placed on investigative leave can be expected to surrender their WSU ID, keys, and other university property or information “as deemed appropriate” pending the outcome of an investigation.

Additionally, employees placed on investigative leave can have access to their university emails and computers revoked. The draft also says the employee is expected to maintain confidentiality regarding the investigation.

Several senators voiced objections to details of the proposed investigative leave policy.

Doug English, a senator from the chemistry department, voiced concern over the possibility of wrongful accusations.

“If somebody just doesn’t like that individual, and accused them of theft, for instance, what protects that person if they’re wrongly accused?” English said.

Director of Human Resources Judy Espinoza said an employee may be spared from investigative leave if the accusations don’t involve a “threatening” work environment.

“It depends on what people are saying. You definitely have to find out — is it credible?” Espinoza said. “There’s a lot of fact-finding.”

George Dehner, a senator from the history department, said there was no need for faculty placed on investigative leave to be barred from their offices and email accounts.

Faculty don’t have, generally, proprietary information to the university,” Dehner said.

Espinoza said the decision to deny a faculty member access to their office depends on the violation they are accused of.

“There would be times where you would not want them to be accessing information that belongs to the university,” Espinoza said.

Dehner said the confiscation seems to be the default approach by the university when an employee is placed on investigative leave.

“It seems to be a default process that removal from the university means removal from your office and email,” Dehner said.

Espinoza said sometimes employees are placed on investigative leave to remove them from an unsafe work environment, and that the Human Resources department struggles with the negative connotation that comes with the term “investigative leave.”

“Sometimes we might be placing someone on investigative leave  …  to protect them,” Espinoza said.

Dan Close, a senator from the Elliott School of Communication, suggested that the senate table the vote on whether or not to endorse the proposal. The senate agreed to refrain from voting Monday and continue discussion of the policy during a future meeting.

“It can’t be like that. It can’t be that simple,” Close said. “The university can’t be that hard-nosed about wanting to strip faculty from this university the way it has been showing itself to be in the last few years.”

Faculty Senate President Carolyn Shaw said the handling of alleged Title IX violations is a different process.

Processes are different, investigation is the same,” Shaw said.

Dehner said he had heard of faculty being removed even when cases did not involve “sexual harassment or some immediate thing.”

“It just seems to be a matter of course that when HR begins an investigation, that faculty members are removed from their offices and removed from their email,” Dehner said.

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