The University of South Florida will permit government and international affairs professor Dajin Peng to return to the classroom next spring despite a litany of violations of university guidelines. That Peng remains on staff is an affront to diligent, honest faculty members and sends a troubling message to students who would be dismissed had they engaged in the same behavior. It also gives critics of academic tenure more ammunition.
As St. Petersburg Times' reporter Kim Wilmath detailed Sunday, Peng was the subject of a lengthy campus investigation that uncovered questionable reimbursements for travel, improperly helping Chinese students obtain visas to enter the United States and admission to the USF graduate program, and using employees from USF's Confucius Institute that he ran to work additional hours without pay. He had an assistant prepare meals for his family.
But the most egregious finding is that Peng gave at least two graduate students questions and answers to past comprehensive exams in violation of department policy. Students caught cheating are subject to dismissal. Peng, however, will be eligible to return to teaching after a one-year unpaid leave from his $63,000-a-year faculty position and reimbursing USF $10,000 for his dubious travel expenses. USF relieved Peng of his administrative duties, but claimed it couldn't strip him of his tenured post.
Allowing Peng back in the classroom undermines the core principle upon which tenure is based: honesty. Tenure exists to allow legitimate scholars to express views — most importantly unpopular ones — without fear of losing their jobs. It should not be a shield for unethical behavior.