UI professor fined $500 for skipping ethics training for years

UI professor fined $500 for skipping ethics training for years

URBANA — A University of Illinois math professor, who has called state ethics training "Orwellian" and akin to "Big Brother reducing us to the status of children" has been fined $500 for not completing training several years in a row.

He's also now taken the online ethics training after years of refusing to do so.

This is the first time the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission has levied a fine against a state employee for not complying with the training requirement of the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act, according to Cole Kain, chief of staff and general counsel for the Office of Executive Inspector General.

Tenured UI Professor Lou van den Dries refused to complete the online training in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, according to the Office of the Executive Inspector General, which filed a complaint with the ethics commission. The commission enforces the ethics act.

In 2007, van den Dries said "mandatory ethics training for adults is an Orwellian concept and has no place in a civil and free society. It is Big Brother reducing us to the status of children. Symptoms: monitoring of the test taking, the 'award' of a diploma for passing the test. It betrays a totalitarian urge on those in power to infantilize the rest of us.

"An unfortunate byproduct of the computer revolution is that it has given new tools in the hands of unwise rulers to annoy us for no good reason. Rather than go meekly along, we should vigorously protest and resist whenever demeaning schemes like ethics training rear their ugly head," he wrote.

Since 2004, state employees have been required to undergo annual ethics training, by the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act. The training, which takes about 40 minutes to an hour to complete, is conducted online or in person. Every year about 99.9 percent of the university's approximately 49,000 employees comply with the requirement, according to UI spokesman Tom Hardy.

Van den Dries was reminded several times by several university administrators, including then-Urbana Chancellor Richard Herman, to complete the training.

After not taking it in 2009 and in response to a request by an administrator to do so in 2010, van den Dries said he had "never done it, and will never do it. ... I'd get physically unwell in the attempt."

"My understanding is that as a tenured faculty member I am a citizen of an academic community rather than an employee, certainly in matters of this nature. Citizenship is incompatible with mandatory annual 'ethics training.'" ... Faculty cannot be ordered around as if they were part of a 'chain of command.' I am enjoying my sabbatical. Best, Lou."

"As a 'citizen of an academic community,' Professor van den Dries should strive to set a positive example for himself, students and others, and complying with state laws, including ethics laws, is a step in the right direction," Kain said in a released statement. He declined further comment.

According to the settlement recently released by the ethics commission, the professor agreed to the $500 fine. He took the training in October 2011.

Van den Dries, who is currently in Europe, said via email he decided to settle because the case was becoming costly and time consuming.

"While many of my colleagues agree that this ethics training is a big waste of time and money, they didn't really take the steps I took in trying to fight it. So without active support from my colleagues, it became too time consuming and costly (lawyers fees) to continue my resistance," he said.

"I can live with the petty tyranny that this ethics training amounts to, but my fear is that this kind of thing will get worse over the years," he added.

David Keahl, director of ethics training and compliance with the Office of the Executive Inspector General, said the agency was pleased that after the prolonged litigation, van den Dries "has finally agreed to undertake his statutorily mandated ethics training despite having previously stated that such training was 'Orwellian,' 'illegitimate,' and that he would 'never do it.'"

Van den Dries said he has been at the UI since 1986, and a full professor since 1988. In addition, he holds an appointment in the Center for Advanced Study.

"We support and respect the decision of the Executive Ethics Commission," said Hardy, the university's spokesman.

The required ethics training presents various scenarios to employees on topics such as conflicts of interest, political activity, gifts and more. Employees are asked what would have been the right behavior in the circumstance. If they respond with the wrong answer, they are told the correct answer and why, he said.

When employees complete the training, they receive documentation that they completed it and the university ethics office keeps track of compliance. The university ethics office also prompts and reminds people to take complete the training. Once the training time period ends, the ethics office sends a report to the Office of the Executive Inspector General, Hardy said. Their office and the ethics commission can send reminders to individuals and urge them to comply.

"That's generally met with a high level of success," Hardy said.

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localreader wrote on June 26, 2012 at 8:06 am

Regardless of his opinion of the training, he is an employee not a citizen of the University, and he is required to participate in the training to maintain his employment.  As a citizen you are not paid for your participation, but you are paid when you are employed.  It is disappointing that he places himself above the standards set for every state employee.  I would hope there are more important issues to fight in court and he uses his energy more productively.

vcponsardin wrote on June 26, 2012 at 9:06 am

I agree completely with Prof. van den Dries.  The annual mandatory ethics training is indeed Orwellian and bizarre.  It's not university professors who need this constant reminder, it's our administrators and elected officials who need to take this test every week or two, at the very least, from what I can tell.  Unlike my colleague in Math, I've taken the test every year since its inception and every year I've passed it with flying colors.  And every year I merely guess at the answers and see just how fast I can take the test.  In fact, one year I was officially chastised for taking it too fast!  Unbelievable.  Apparently, the clowns in charge of the test discovered that a lot of us professors were doing what I was doing--taking the test quickly to get it out of the way--and were upset that we weren't taking the test seriously enough.  Come on.  If we can take the test in under 5 minutes and still pass it, then the test is either too easy or utterly pointless.  Either way, why would it matter to the clowns as long as we pass the test?  Instead, they installed a penalty for taking the test too fast.  So the next year, I put the test up on my office computer, while grading papers, glanced at the first question, answered it, graded a paper for a few minutes, then glanced at the next question, answered it, graded another paper for a bit, etc., etc., until the test was completed and passed.  Insane.  This is just the sort of nonsensical solution that a corrupt government imposes on others to deflect criticism and distract critics from the real corruption going on behind the tightly closed doors of political power in this state.  Prof. van den Dries should be commended for his heroic stand.  Meanwhile, I'm actually looking forward to next year's test to see how I can manipulate the system once again without wasting too much of the taxpayers' money being deflected from my job for needless ethics testing.

lucereta wrote on June 26, 2012 at 12:06 pm

I got caught in the "taking it too fast" trap, too.  Not only was the time wrong, but they would not tell me how long I was supposed to have taken.  If I gave my students instructions like that ("I'm docking you points for doing it wrong, but I won't tell you the right way to do it"), I would certainly be overturned on a grade appeal.

Even funnier, the ethics "retraining" involved signing a paper agreeing that I had read a manual, which of course there was no verification I had actually done.  And in the end, the silliest part was that most of the information didn't apply to me in the slightest: could I use my lunch hour for political campaigning?  I'm not an hourly employee.  I don't have a lunch hour.  It was all completely ridiculous. 

I don't actually mind a real discussion of and training in ethics.  But for the love of Blago, make it relevant to each field, make it worthwhile and transparent, and make it functional.

Bulldogmojo wrote on June 26, 2012 at 9:06 am

The ethics training serves only to keep up appearances of a standards enforcement that doesn't really exist to serve the University. B. Joseph White, Richard Herman, Michael Hogan, Lisa Troyer, all have committed many egregious ethics infractions and were rewarded handsomely in rank and pay. While I'm sure the rank and file of us need to make sure we don't accept a bottle of wine that's too expensive or discuss a candidate under the wrong circumstances the very definition of the word ethics seems to be lost on the executive levels of this university. I applaud Professor Lou van den Dries for his resistance to this absurd show trial that the ethics office puts on every year. A child reading Highlights magazine in a dentist’s office would have more of an innate sense of ethics than the University of Illinois ethics office. I see firsthand unethical infractions take place that are guarded by technicality in a narrow but deep margin that the ethics office has no interest in looking into. All-expense paid gratuities that no one has to report or pay taxes on, etc. The ethics office consistently fails to ask the most important question, "What is the nature of the transaction" and that is why they are ineffective in what they do.

Fedupwithstatereps wrote on June 26, 2012 at 9:06 am

Everyone knows the required "Ethics Training" is nothing more than a dog and pony show. We do it because we're required to, thanks to the past governers of Illinois.  Clearly it has zero impact (see recent UI scandals; Herman, Trover, Hogan, etc.). 

Bravo Professor for taking a stand against the ridiculousness of it.

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 26, 2012 at 10:06 am

The good professor is an employee of the state.  He is required to take, and pass the test.  Yes, the test is foolish; but it can serve a purpose.  If the state, and university would have simply fired Dr. Troyer on the basis that she acted unethically after taking the annual Ethics Test; it would have made a point.  Front line employees get fired for unethical behavior regularly.  The fact that they understood ethics by passing the Ethics Test make their termination easier.  The fault is not with the test.  The fault is not enforcing ethics by terminating unethical employees.  The good professor is an example of academic elitism.  He should be fired.

Mark Taylor wrote on June 26, 2012 at 11:06 am

Yep, that's ding dang right. Fire that elitist snob for not taking that fool proof ethical training. If only he'd of taken it, he'd know he'd have to take it, ethically speaking. FIRE HIM!!!

Now, it may be the case that you only need to read the multiple choice answers in order to guess the "right" one, ignoring the preceeding explanation. But that doesn't mean anyone should stand up to our ethical state leaders and university administrators who ethically force people to ethically take this ethical yearly training that makes them all ethical.

I mean, so what if it's an empty CYA waste of time? Who cares if it's a joke? who cares if it's demeaning and worthless? Not taking it is a good excuse to feel good about ourselves and ride our anti university hobby horse and call someone elitist and call for them to be fired for daring to stand up to our ethical administrators who are so dang ethical it makes me want to puke.

Yep. FIRE HIM!!!!!

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 26, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Steven Colbert Imitator; Do professors turn in their grade book when an allegation of an improper grade is made?  Not all of them do.  Is it their "academic freedom" to refuse?  Do professors publish a redundant second, or third edition of their published text book for their students to use in their class?  Do professors attend seminars out of state, or out of country solely for the academic value?  We all have seen unethical behavior in academia.  Dr. Troyer, and perhaps Dr. Hogan are the most recent examples.  The complaints about a foolish test diverts from the issue of ethics.  Academic freedom should apply to academics.  It is not a free pass for whatever an employee chooses not to do.  Choosing to not to turn in grades on time is not an academic freedom.  Choosing to not maintain office hours, or lectures is not an academic freedom.  The professor's choice to not take the foolish test is not an academic freedom.  He may choose not to pay taxes to support a war; but that is not an academic freedom.  He may choose to demonstrate against a war; and that is an academic freedom.  Don't confuse academic freedom from employee responsibility over a foolish test. 

gamera wrote on June 27, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Wow. Are you trying to claim that the professor we are discussing has done all these things? Cause if you can't prove it, you've just libeled him. Not turning in grade books? Where does that allegation come from? And just an FYI, the professor publishes nothing. The textbook publishing company decides when new editions are put out. I'm not sure how you associate travel to conferences as unethical, but then you go on to talk about how demonstrating against the war has to do with the academic mission at the U of I, so I'm not really sure you even know what you are talking about. And I'm not sure why you think this professor doesn't keep office hours or show up for lectures. 


Here's the deal: If I can pass the test in 9 minutes without even reading it, then it's pointless. And the state pays MILLIONS of dollars to an outside contractor (out of state, too) to create this useless piece of crud. That, Sid, is unethical. Period.

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 27, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Try reading it again.  Take your time.  It is not a "test".

Mark Taylor wrote on June 27, 2012 at 3:06 pm

That's right, Sidney. She's obviously an elitist university loving snob, so we don't need to listen to a dang thing she says. You're right to just condescend and dismiss her without addressing her points. Ding dang right.

And, even though there are multiple choice questions and you're told if you picked the right or wrong answer, it is soooo obvs not a test. Any fool can see that, right Sidney?

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 27, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Why not lose the phoney, right wing image?  Why not be yourself?  We have talked about this before.  Contribute to the conversation; or continue to play Steven Colbert without making any comments except sarcastic ones.  Come on, you have the ability.  I rather like having a shadow stalker; but I would rather have one who makes sense.  

vcponsardin wrote on June 28, 2012 at 9:06 am

Sorry, Sid.  Both gamera and Mark got the better of you on this one.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  This time you lost, Sid.

rsp wrote on June 28, 2012 at 10:06 am

I've personally known of a professor who had made miniscule changes to his self-published textbooks that were required for his classes. So then the new edition had to be bought because the old one was out of date. And he checked the books in class to make sure nobody had the old one. The difference between the books? One paragraph. Two or three other sentences. He kept insisting the information was different between the two books but it wasn't. And by the way, Sid was referring to some professors doing some things, he didn't name names.

joshua d wrote on June 28, 2012 at 4:06 pm

sid you seem to have this weird obsesion with troyer.  whats that about?  youre right the university could have fired her if she was unethical. they didnt.  she says she didnt do any thing. a friend of mine in cs read the report and told me there are problems with it and things that dont add up. a couple other people todl me that shes suing the university and others.

littlefoot wrote on June 26, 2012 at 10:06 am

I so agree with the other comments and Dr. Van den Dries. I left Illinois a few years ago and am very glad that I don't have to complete this bizarre test anymore where I am now. It's true, if you complete it too fast or don't go through all of the pages you have to do it again, so utterly annoying, but at the end it gives you a colorful certificate that you can print (and then hang on the wall?). What I thought was was really funny is that this test was instituted while Blagojevich was governor. Apparently, he didn't have to take it, or didn't learn anything from it.

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 26, 2012 at 10:06 am

Yes, it is always the higher ups who get a free pass on unethical behavior.  Both state, and university higher ups get off; and are still provided with a job, and income.  The regular, lump and file employees get fired for it.  If Dr. Van den Dries was not a faculty member, he would have been fired years ago for refusing to take the Ethics Test.  The test is a means to termination for unethical behavior.  "You passed the test; but you still conducted yourself in an unethical manner.  Therefore, you are terminated from employment."  That is what the test is meant to do.  It is a foolish test.  However, Dr. Van den Dries is behaving in a foolish manner.  Is he just too busy to take the foolish test?  Is it beneath him to take the foolish test?  Is Dr. Van den Dries portraying himself as a martyr for free academia?  He is an employee.  He needs to get over it; and act like an employee.  If he chooses not to do that, he should leave employment.  Perhaps, Purdue University would hire him?

Reykjavik wrote on June 26, 2012 at 12:06 pm

I thank Lou van den Dries for the courage to resist this test.  By refusing to take the test, he has established, in my mind, that he is of high integrity.  Faculty are supposed to be individualistic, idealistic, and dedicated - bravo!

Most of UIUC's top officers and faculty conduct themselves nobly and work very hard.  So we are really riled by the few exploiters like Craig Bazzani, Niranjan Shah (deposed head of the Board of Trustees). What happened to their ethics training?


vcponsardin wrote on June 26, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Agreed.  Seems the higher up the bureaucratic ladder one goes, the more essential such ethical training and testing is.  I can't think of a single faculty colleague whose failure to take the annual ethics test has cost the Illinois taxpayer a cent.  On the other hand, wasting professors' valuable time with this sort of nonsense is indeed costing the Illinois taxpayer millions each year.  If the ethical breaches were on the professorial level, I might agree that some sort of training would be needed.  But all of the abuses have come from administrators and politicians.  Make them take this idiot test on a monthly basis, if not more--and let the faculty do their jobs.  As it is, the test is a joke and a colossal waste of taxpayer money.

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 26, 2012 at 1:06 pm

"Most"?  Well, the professor will become another martyr for the cause of "academic freedom" by refusing to take a brief, annual, required test on ethic behavior.  Dr. Lou Wozniak refused to turn in his grade book for "academic freedom".  Nothing happened to him.  Dr. Troyer denied unethical behavior, and stills has a job.  Why not be a martyr for other reasons than taking a simple test on a computer?  If the professor does not take it, no one should be required to take it.  Administrators, building service workers, purchasing agents, clericals, business managers, police officers, and every other employee of the state, or university should be exempt from the test.  If the public howls, let them howl.  After all, everyone knows that Illinois is an unethical state.  All should unite, and follow the professor's lead.  Everyone should refuse to take the test.  Yes, that is the right thing to do.

tominmadison wrote on June 26, 2012 at 2:06 pm

here's the deal:

if you are just marginally corrupt the U of I will make you a dept. head or dean.

If you are significantly corrupt, you are on your way to being a U of I provost, chancellor, or president.

If you are completely void of ethics: you can become Governor of Illinois.


my certificate, now offered on E-Bay, was signed by Blago himself.


Way to go, Illinois.





Sid Saltfork wrote on June 26, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Shortly after he left office, the required governor picture was being removed from our office by CMS.  I asked if I could have it.  I kept it with the previous governors pictures that were removed after the left office.  I still have the Big Jim Thompson, and Blago pictures.  I did deface them by forging a quote from each, and a fake signature.  To sell them now on E-Bay would be unethical, right?  Might it be okay if it was representing "academic freedom"?

gamera wrote on June 27, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Once again, huh? The commenter is saying that his useless certificate for completing the ethics training has Blago's signature on it. Where are you getting that someone is defacing stuff and forging signatures? 

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 27, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Read it again.  Take your time.  It is not a "test".  The property was condemned property which was being thrown away.  It was not sold on E-Bay. 

Bulldogmojo wrote on June 26, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Don't misunderstand...The ethics office doesn't care if you actually violate the ethics code as long as you take the test FIRST.

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 26, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Evidently not based on the previous unethical behavior by U. of I. administrators, and faculty. Maybe, it should though.  It would rehabilitate the university's image.

cats kradle wrote on June 26, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Agree with him or not, you gotta love how he used the word infantilize! You know what word I'll be dropping next time its my turn to feed the bureaucrats!

Ashmo wrote on June 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm

I'm not sure why people are calling it a "test."  It's ethics TRAINING.  There hasn't been a test associated with this training in 5 years.  Yes, it does have multiple choice questions throughout the training, but they are NOT graded.  It just records if you get through all the pages of the training.

Not sure why this professor would have wasted so much money over 30 minutes of his time.

Brownie wrote on June 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Fight the power!

Orbiter wrote on June 26, 2012 at 6:06 pm


[quote]David Keahl, director of ethics training and compliance with the Office of the Executive Inspector General, said the agency was pleased that after the prolonged litigation, van den Dries "has finally agreed to undertake his statutorily mandated ethics training despite having previously stated that such training was 'Orwellian,' 'illegitimate,' and that he would 'never do it.'"[/quote]

This pompous, sarcastic statement is the best proof yet of the Orwellian manner the Ethics Office is accused of harboring. The good professor said they "infantalize" the University staff, and he is exactly right.  The training is insulting, degrading, and occasionally incorrect. 

That said, there are certainly a few staff members who are equally usavory. That they can be pushed out of one job and almost immediately re-hired elsewhere in the University is virtually as corrupt as the behavior the ethics-folk are trying to address.


Sid Saltfork wrote on June 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm

"staff members" are, and should be subject to the same training, and discipline along with administrators, and faculty.  The university could expand ethics training to the student population as well.  What colleges on campus offer an ethics class in their curriculum?  Is there an ethics class in economics, business, political science, engineering, etc.?  We all feel that we are above ethics training; but it repeatedly is shown that ethics are lacking in occupations.  What is so wrong with ethics training however basic in public service employment?  Is one group automatically exempt due to possessing higher degrees?  Do Ph.D.'s cheat on their taxes?  Do administrators claim additional duties for enhanced pension benefits?  Do academics author phony e-mails? 

serf wrote on June 26, 2012 at 10:06 pm

I'm looking at this from a different angle, Sid.  It's not that staff members should not be subject to the same rules as us peons; it's that the whole notion of 'ethics training' is ridiculous and a waste of time and taxpayer money.  I'm sure the state ethics officer and his subsequent staff and office probably cost us taxpayers a million bucks a year.


If your momma didn't raise you to be an ethical person, you're gonna cheat and steal anyway.  The test is a joke.

Mark Taylor wrote on June 27, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Where's the snarky comment from someone condescendingly telling you to Read it again. Take your time. It is not a "test".

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 27, 2012 at 5:06 pm

serf happens to be a commentor who I respect.  I do not always agree with serf; but I do respect his comments.  Keep up, Mark.  Your improving.  You seem to have lost the phoney "ding, dangs"; and right wing impersonation.

Mark Taylor wrote on June 27, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Quit stalking me you ding dang shadow stalker.

jwr12 wrote on June 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Obviously, there are some people who think that if the state decides you should stand naked in the public square -- and you're a state employee -- well, by golly, you should do it, because you're just an employee.  Let's see 10 good ones, soldier!

But for those who are interested in a more complex argument, here's my gripe about the ethics test: it's not an ethics test.  That is to say, it doesn't test your ethics, in the sense of probing your ability to recognize and hold yourself to a moral standard.  Rather, it tests your ability to recognize and conform to certain state-legislated standards of behavior.  Some of these people at large may agree with; others of which they may not.  That's really beside the point.  It's actually a "do you know the rules" test.  It has nothing to do with whether you agree morally or are moral.  In that sense, I think it is mislabeled, and indeed Orwellian.

If they relabelled this exam the "rules of employment" test, I wouldn't have a problem. But by calling it an ethics test, they are asking me to sign on a line that I agree with what I personally consider an inconsistent mish mash.  And so every year I take it, I have to grit my teeth.  And I usually a write a letter to that effect.

This may seem a small, intellectual sort of thing.  Then again, I thought the state had universities to promote thinking, and clarity and accuracy of thought.

schmeckendeugler wrote on June 27, 2012 at 10:06 am

You have a good point. It should not only encompass ethics, but things like safety, harassment, osha, discrimination, and all the other rules that go along with working for the state. the fact that it is focused on ethics only does bespeak of a somewhat half-assed attempt to demonstrate an effort to combat corruption.

The professor did it all wrong. He should not have refused the test. He should have taken it, then he should have lobbied against it at the high levels of the board. Change the system from within, don't just stomp your feet and whine.

rsp wrote on June 27, 2012 at 5:06 pm

You are very right that it isn't an ethics test- maybe that's why nobody is listening to you. It's ethics training. Once you've shown you know the right thing to do and you don't do it you can face the consequences. Otherwise you could just claim you didn't know it was against the rules.

jwr12 wrote on June 28, 2012 at 10:06 am

The test vs. training distinction doesn't change the point I was trying to make.  I am neither being tested on my ethics, nor trained ethically by this whatever you want to call it. It's not an ethics training because it doesn't provide any moral framework.  Rather, what it does is tell you what the rules are, as you point out.  But the distinction between ethics and rules -- that I was trying to make -- you still haven't responded to.  And it's more important than testing versus training, which I suspect most people regard as a negligible difference, one that mainly has to do with whether you have to pass the thing, or merely click buttons until you find the right answer (since no one, in fact, instructs you on what they are in advance or separately).

rsp wrote on June 28, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Here you go:


"Ethics is a framework, a systemic and reasoned basis for making statements about morality.  Morals are simply what we believe to be right and wrong.  There appears to be a clear distinction here that ethics are more sophisticated than morals.  Morally, one can support almost anything, while ethically we require reason and justification for what we believe."

They are helping you understand the rules. Do you want them to tell you what to believe?

schmeckendeugler wrote on June 27, 2012 at 10:06 am

I love ethics training. It makes me happy/glad. Those who oppose Ethics Training are Sad/Bad. Sad/Bad people are Wrong and should be Educated. We should be Ethical for our Code dictates it. All Employees of the State should be Ethical, and follow the wishes of The People.

all kidding aside, the whole thing is rather a waste of time- but nobody has wasted more time than this professor. congrats, professor, I hope you enjoy your hobby of litigation & opposition. It's not "orwellian", but it won't stop anybody from doing anything unethical. it's a reminder of policy. However it would be probably more benefical to force us to spend an hour on safety rather than ethics. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 27, 2012 at 11:06 am

I agree that it is a waste of time, and money.  My objection on this story is the individual placing himself above the rules of employment.  If those who see his actions as heroic would in mass do the same; the "training" / "test" would be modified, or dropped.   They have a union of sorts.  Why not bring the issue up in contract negotiations?  Until that time; it is a requirement of employment whether one likes it, or not.   If you accept the money from employment, you follow the employment rules no matter how foolish they seem.  Some see the professor as foolish; and others see him as a hero.  He does present another issue.  He is tenured.  Federal financial aid is being pulled from private higher education enities due to rising tuition costs, lack of employment for graduates, massive student debt, and increasing higher administrative salaries.  The "taxpayer" outrage will move from pension reform, program cuts, and Medicaid to higher education reform.  The image of tenured academics refusing to comply with employment rules will be in the public's memory.  Academia will be questioned esspecially in regard to tenure.  The professor's stubborn, individualistic stand will add to the call for tenure being abolished.  Yes, the training is a waste of time.  So do something about it collectively; not individually.   

ScottC wrote on June 27, 2012 at 10:06 am

"The good professor is an example of academic elitism."

Yes.  Yes he is.  And good on him.  The professoriate is SUPPOSED to be elite.  A major component of the problem we have had in administration (and in the governors office) is a marked lack of elite personnel. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 27, 2012 at 11:06 am

He is knowledgeable about a subject matter.  That does not make him knowledgeable about all subjects.  He is an elite in his field of study only.  Beyond his field of study, it is unknown whether he can pour water out of a boot with the instructions on the heel.  God help us if the country was ran by academics.  The current arguements in Congress would seem minor compared to the theoretical argements that would ensue with academia running government.  By the way; the administration, and the governor's office believe that they have "elite personnel" already. 

Alexander wrote on June 27, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Dear Sid Saltfork -- I implore you to please stop propagating this myth of academics as unidimensional thinkers who are clueless out of their area of expertise (presumably by comparison with the "average joe"). Anyone (academic or not) who thinks incredibly deeply about a topic will have grown the academic muscle to think about other things as well.

I wouldn't think that a good/great athlete in, say, basketball, wouldn't have the developed the raw ability/athleticism to do well in, say, soccer. Perhaps such a person wouldn't be "the best", but I'd bet he'd do better than 95% of people. 

He ate a $500 bill (and time, perhaps lawyers fees). You're always asking for people to take a stand, and he did. That should be respected.

ScottC wrote on June 27, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Yes, god help us if the country "was ran" by academics. Or even was run.  Know-nothin' academics like, Condi Rice, Woodrow Wilson, Barack Obama, Larry Summers, Madeline Albright, Bob Reich, Ben Franklin ...

Much better to have people unaccomplished in ANY intellectual field than those eggheads who have proven themselves capable of world-class accomplishment in one specific field.

Oh Sid.  

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 27, 2012 at 5:06 pm

I agree with Alexander about individuals who have deeply studied an issue.  To imply that Ph.D.s are the ultimate source on issues is eltist.  There have been great leaders who were academics; and there have been great leaders who were not academics.  Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy... etc. were not Ph.D.s.  My point is that solely possessing a Ph.D. does not make one an expert on all matters.  My comments seem to ruffle feathers among the Ph.D.s that hold the elitist view.  The best Ph.D.s I met on campuses during my employment with the State of Illinois were the "average Joe's".  They admitted a lack of knowledge on matters which were not in their fields.  They were interested in cooperating, and contributing to solve an issue.  The worst were the ones who were entrenched on an issue without acknowledging their lack of knowledge on the issue.  While I am making enemies; I will say that the College of Engineering, and the College of Law were the worst in terms of regulations, and civil rights pertaining to minorities.  I have heard that Ph.D.s should not be doubted on grants, and discrimination from Ph.D.s in Drama, and Kinesiology before also.  I worked 40 plus years for the State of Illinois; and dealt with academia across the state for 27 of those years.  I was an expert in my field.  I, also, did not hestitate to point out pompous fools who were out of their depth in matters which they had no knowledge.  The professor who is the subject of this article did pay his fine, and legal costs.  He did comply with a simplistic, annual training exercise.  By all means, sign a petition seeking exemption for Ph.D.s from the foolish "test".  Send it to the Board of Trustees, the Governor, the Speaker of the House, the President of the State Senate, and all of the legislators.  I am sure that you will receive a response.  Otherwise; do your job, and earn your pay.  

AS wrote on June 27, 2012 at 1:06 pm

The University owes Professor Lou van den Dries an apology and needs to acknowledge the frustration of University employees with this test.  Show your support by signing this petition:


Pass it on!

rsp wrote on June 27, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Okay, I'll bite. What does the University owe him an apology for? Making him follow the same rules as every other employee or for the statement that was a little over the top? If the former is the Professor more ethical than a janitor or a food service worker? If the later the spokesperson was using the Professor's own words. Name calling by either side won't make any changes.

sameeker wrote on June 27, 2012 at 4:06 pm

My question is as follows. Who wrote this training and how much does this company get paid for it? I would lay odds that it is a company from Chicago or one with political connections. This training is not free. The fun never ends in Illinois.

je wrote on June 27, 2012 at 10:06 pm

I applaud his move and his courage to stand.  Granted, employees are supposed to do what they're told.  But there are limits to that.  Such as being subjected to insulting or demeaning tasks, particularly when they have little to do w/ one's job.  You really must take the test to understand.

It's akin to forcing all state employees to spend 2 hours a year putting shaped blocks through corresponding holes.  Most scenarios are posed with obvious good/bad moves, and if someone is willing to violate their ethics, they'll still pass the test easily.

The only useful data in the test is the occassional figure, such as how much can be spent on a meal purchased for an employee.  But that could be delivered more quickly and concisely, and each employee shouldn't have to re-test for unchanging data each year if they previously passed w/ flying colors.  (new employees of course could use a brief in some other form)

This is also could serve as legal foundation for real ethics violations to have some teeth- which is fair.  Again though, it could be delivered in a different form.

The cost is another consideration.  I'd love to see figures on how much the state spends paying employees to spend the time to (mandated slowly) take the test each year.  Contrast that to what the state gains in "reformed employees" as a result of taking the test.

What is most aggravating is that this only became an urgent burden for all state employees right after the very top levels had the ethics problems.  Thanks Blago.


Orbiter wrote on June 27, 2012 at 11:06 pm

These are some ethics lessons I have gotten from the University and State of Illinois:

  • Vend a product or service to the State and wait 6 months to be paid.
  • Work 10 years for the University, and when the state has financial constraints, see your income drop as they impose furlough days upon you.
  • Work 20 years for the University, and as you near retirement age, see the pension you were promised and are counting on be cut back, the medical insurance you earned and were promised be removed, the dental insurance you expect and need for your family be eliminated.  Even though all of these things were reasonable expectations, and part of the package you signed on to, were offered during your recruitment, and were maybe part of the reason you decided to work at the U of I for less money than you were offered elsewhere.
  • Work for the University and see your parking fees rise in proportion to your salary (0.7% or 0.8%, depending upon your classification), because fair is fair.  Unless you're a high-level administrator, and then your rate drops drastically, such that a $250,000/yr administrator pays only 0.26% (because there is a $55/month cap). And the 4 million dollar coach pays only 0.017%.)  Yes, the lower classes really do subsidize the upper classes. The so-called 1% really do park at our expense.
  • Work for the state and be told you no longer have the free speech to put a political bumper sticker on the car you commute to work with.
  • Accept a job with the University, and as part of your recruitment be promised that your children will be eligible for reduced tuition at the institution where you are pouring out your sweat, and then as your children near college-age, find that the state decides to eliminate the reduced tuition you were recruited with. And had you worked somewhere else, for more money, you would have been able to save enough to pay full tuition.
  • Work as a professor, and in addition to teaching your subject of expertise, you teach academic honesty and ethics to your students, you have success writing grants that bring in millions of dollars per year in extramural support (taxed by the University for "overhead"), be courted by professional societies domestic and abroad to lead workshops and/or speak at symposia, and maybe even win a Nobel Prize... and then be told by some far-away "ethics" office that you must be tested and present a certificate of ethics training, which does not test your ethics, and in fact rarely even pertains to your job, function, or activities, and that you face termination and branding as unethical if you don't satisfy this impudent demand. Is it any wonder that the "ethics office" feels self-important, and that the dedicated professionals in the institution feel infantilized by this waste of their time?

There was no test required for me to learn these valuable ethics lessons.

jlc wrote on June 29, 2012 at 2:06 pm


asparagus wrote on July 02, 2012 at 2:07 pm

I believe it is wrong for the U of I to hire someone with the promise of certain benefits and then take them away at a later date. It would be much better if they provided a "number of years" that are needed to have been worked in order to lock in a certain benefit.  For example if when you were hired the tuition assistance for your children was plan A, then maybe after 5-10 years of employment plan A will always be available to you no matter what happens or happened to it after your hire date.

AerieDweller wrote on June 28, 2012 at 3:06 pm

The silliest part of the "Ethics Test" is that you can't fail it.  If you answer a question incorrectly, the system just won't let you advance until you go back and choose the correct answer.

asparagus wrote on June 28, 2012 at 4:06 pm

The yearly ethics tests are silly and a grand waste of time and money.

I have seen with my own eyes upper level administrators routinely getting waivers from these ethics policies. The policies clearly only apply to the rank and file.

I am surprised that the unions have not amassed in opposition to this program since it serves to discriminate against their members.

This program and the weekly positive time reporting are both jokes and costly.

The reason why long time employees and students are getting shafted is because the bureacracy has exloded to keep pace with other "top tier" institiutions.  We have built a beautiful campus with all sorts million dollar facillities, and attracted the best faculty at ever increasing $$, but we have lost sight of serving the state as well and as richly as possible by holding down spending and keeping tuition reasonable.

As long as state institutions like U of I are allowed to play this "keeping up with the elite" charade, without sufficient oversight, then things are only going to get worse.

Quality teaching and research should not require this kind of exhorbitant spending.  If administrators or faculty need to get payed "competitive rates" (read artificially inflated) to feel important, if they need the finest facillities and super expensive diggs to work in, then I say let them work elsewhere. I'm certain we can find qualified and dedicated professionals willing to work for less if we provide an interesting, nutritious and diverse intellectual community that is focused on the work and not trappings.

Alexander wrote on June 28, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Granted some buildings are nice(r). But seriously, you can't tell me you've been to some/many of the buildings (especially south of Green) and say -- wow, how extravagant! Natural history building is a case in point: it was allowed to degenerate until it was required by law to be renovated. That hardly sounds like a country club experience.

asparagus wrote on June 29, 2012 at 3:06 am

I realize that many of the buildings south of green are in patched up, poorish conditions.  I was talking about buildings like Sieble, Beckman, NCSA, IGB etc... and other expenditures like at the research park.  The point is that money is being spent all over campus in foolish ways and for reasons that do not support the core mission of the university.

Lots of bureacrats at the U of I have all sorts of pet projects that they want funded because it will enhance their egos, reputations and careers. The appetite to grow the system is insatiable -- even in an economic downturn.

Alexander wrote on June 29, 2012 at 7:06 am

I'll be honest and say I don't know (or care to figure out at the moment) the history of the funding for some of these buildings. However, Siebel is a famous & rich alum who donated a good chunk for that building. Beckman, of pH fame was another. So taxpayer money was certainly supplemented by substantial private giving.

I also can't evaluate your claim that these nicer buildings don't support the core mission. By contrast, the slumified buildings south of Green we refer to should exemplify the problem: students are taught in antiquated facilities, often much worse than their high schools. This often does affect their educational opportunities (a witness being lack of technology for lectures, research labs/materials for students).

Finally, you paint a picture that UIUC is pouring all this money to keep up with the jones' (=other "elite" publics). Besides the many many counterexamples south of Green, have you seen other (even "less elite") publics? I have seen a bunch, and I can confidently say that I've never seen buildings as run down as some of those south Green ones, anywhere in this country.

Concluding, I wouldn't characterize UIUC as being an overly spendthrift place; indeed, I'd tend to think the opposite.  

Stanley Bumstead wrote on June 29, 2012 at 9:06 am

A few years back, Blago did exactly one of the examples of things you can not do during the ethics training month... sure... tell me that the training is done by every employee of the state and not by their secretary...

My favorite part of waste is how I get probably 10 personal reminders from everyone up to the director of the department in the weeks leading up tothe deadline.

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 29, 2012 at 1:06 pm

The overwhelming majority of state employees do not have a secretary.  Your fortunate to have one that violates the rules to do your training for you.

Stanley Bumstead wrote on June 29, 2012 at 1:06 pm

That came out wrong... I follow the rule to the letter. I would just love to see proof that the individuals for which it matters the most ( in the governor's office for example) are actually completing the training themseves.

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 29, 2012 at 2:06 pm

I agree on that.  One thing I did see since the training started; less employees took Christmas gifts (cookiies, tickets, etc.) from vendors.  Employees across the state started questioning their co-workers on accepting football tickets, amusement park tickets, birthday presents, and assorted thank you gifts.   Back in the 70's; the administrators received boxes of steaks, cases of liquor, season tickets, etc. while the front line employees got cookies, and boxes of candy for the office.  It did make a difference in ending that.  It seems that most of the comments on this article are from academics, not Civil Service employees.  It is fine with me if the academics are exempted from the training.  The News Gazette wrote an opinion praising the professor for his stand against "Orwellian" practices to "infantilize" employees on ethics.  For the rank and file employees, it did cut down on the gratuities.  People were accustomed to the freebies; but most of the time, the freebies came at a price. Maybe, people are ethical enough now to do away with the training.  I have no objection to the academics signing a petition, or writing a resolution to get out of the training.

rsp wrote on June 30, 2012 at 12:06 am

So would that include gifts to who decides which textbooks are used in which class? And when they do research on campus and sell the patent to a company, gifts from the company? If they are exempt from the training, are they going to get the mixed message that they are exempt from ethics? Maybe the format needs changing and updating, seminars with relevant topics and discussion perhaps. Cover legal issues. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 30, 2012 at 9:06 am

rsp;  Watch out.  You will be accused of being anti-intellectual.  Academics don't do such things.  Let them out of ethics training.  They can be trusted to do the right thing.  They do not have the time, or need for relevant topics.  Imagine a one hour training with "discussion"?  The presentor would never get past the introduction.  What do they do about honorariums?  State employees have to either not accept the honorarium, or sign it over to their state employer for the General Revenue Fund.  I would imagine that academics are required to do the same thing.

asparagus wrote on June 30, 2012 at 8:06 pm


At U of I, academics and administrators get all kinds of waivers for what would otherwise be outright breaches of ethics code.

The way this is rationalized is that it is economic development; and, very importantly, it helps to commercialize technologies from the university. However, it absolutely favors a handful of people over everyone else and uses everyone elses resources to do it. 

And yet, I have to take an ethics test every year that preaches to me that this is all clearly wrong.

asparagus wrote on June 30, 2012 at 11:06 am

You are making my points for me.  For example, money should be being spent on renovating buildings south of green where much of the core teaching of the unversity takes place.  The U of I should stop spending so much money on new buildings, expanding the administration and excessive salaries.  In these areas they DO waste our money.

Alexander wrote on June 30, 2012 at 11:06 am

I'm still not agreeing with banning new buildings carte blanche, but I agree that excessive adminstrative costs have never been explained to me.

eastsideexp wrote on June 30, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Many good points and examples by many different contibutors.

Be the "decision maker" ... Would someone who has first hand knowledge concisely spell out a reasonable solution to make everyone at UIUC aware of their ethical responsibilites?

Here is one as a starting point:

1) After successfully completing 'Ethics Training', (whatever that new improved program may be) employees will attend (complete) a refresher/review session once every five years.


Don't just complain and give examples.... Step up and please propose solutions...

vertigo912 wrote on July 02, 2012 at 1:07 pm

I remember being awarded my first "certificate" after taking the ethics test. It was digitally signed by Rod Blagojevich.