At a university with more than 5,600 faculty members, it’s unrealistic to expect every single one to be professor of the year. But while the University can’t be expected to make sure every professor is a master lecturer, it should be expected to hire and maintain a staff of high integrity and quality. The recent scandal regarding the dubious ethics of political science lecturer Lawrence Greene raises important questions about how well the University screens its potential faculty members and ensures they teach at the highest level of quality.

The scandal began last month when the Michigan television station WXYZ aired a segment criticizing Greene. The segment described how Greene cashed thousands of dollars in pension checks made out to his deceased parents by Ford Motor Co. and angered several former clients by allegedly failing to do the job for which he was hired. Because of these problems, he had his license to practice law in Michigan suspended twice: once in 1998 and again in 2003.

Despite these professional concerns, the University has employed Greene as a lecturer for the past six years. Days before the segment aired, Greene withdrew from teaching his course “Constitutional Politics, Courts, Politics and Society,” citing medical concerns.

Greene is not the main problem though. While these personal troubles are problematic if true, the real concern here is how the University failed to act already. Either the University was unaware of Greene’s questionable professional qualifications before and during his time as a lecturer or, more troubling, it just didn’t care. In both scenarios, the University owes students an explanation.

Take, for instance, the first of these two scenarios. Because of the records containing this information are public, there’s no reason the University shouldn’t have known that Greene’s license had been suspended both before he was hired and during his first year as a lecturer. The University has a responsibility to check the professional qualifications of the faculty that it employs, both before and after they are hired. If the University didn’t notice these professional faults in Greene, it just wasn’t paying attention.

On the other hand, if the University was aware of Greene’s shortcomings, why did it overlook such serious professional flaws? License suspension is no small matter. In Greene’s case, a lecturer who couldn’t maintain his legal license was charged with teaching hundreds of students about the legal system in his political science class on constitutional law. If someone can’t be trusted by the state to practice a profession, that person certainly can’t be trusted to teach others how to do so.

In the end, it’s not the University that suffers when faculty with questionable qualifications remain in the classroom — it’s the students who pay the price. Students expect an outstanding education from the University when they pay thousands of dollars in tuition fees each semester. To give it to them, the University must maintain the highest standards for its faculty. That means that it must be keeping a close eye on its faculty, even after they make it through the application process.

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