It would be a shame if University of South Florida students turn out to be more courageous than their university. The controversy that has engulfed Dr. Abdul Rao offers a valuable lesson about the power of integrity and the willingness to stand up to authority even at some personal risk. Now USF administrators should demonstrate the same fortitude.
Rao is the former USF dean who resigned last week after a surveillance video showed him and another man removing a student's $100 mountain bike from a loading dock at the Johnnie B. Byrd Alzheimer's Center & Research Institute. Realizing he had been captured on video, Rao, who earned $384,280, allegedly tried to coerce the bike's owner, doctoral student Tim Boyd, into telling police the matter had been a misunderstanding. Boyd and Christine Dillingham, the student to whom Boyd had loaned the bike, said they refused to bow to pressure from Rao and told police what had happened. Boyd and Dillingham acted honorably and courageously by telling the truth. They should be commended.
In refusing to lie for a powerful administrator — whose titles included senior associate vice president for USF Health, professor of surgery and molecular medicine and senior associate vice president for research — the students risked their futures as research scientists. By their action, they showed a deep understanding of the value of integrity in their chosen field.
"(Alzheimer's research) is an ethical profession, and Rao is an unethical man," Boyd told the St. Petersburg Times. "I don't want him in here in my profession. I hope he's fully investigated, because I would be interested to know what else he's done." And Dillingham said: "I would rather keep my integrity intact instead of keeping silent to secure my future."
A few days after the alleged theft made national news and spread to YouTube, Rao and the university agreed he would resign and quietly go away for a lump sum of $50,000. Now, Rao is trying to rescind his resignation, arguing that he was rushed into the decision. So far, USF officials have not backed down. University spokesman Michael Hoad said: "Our position is his employment is over. And, anything different, his attorney will have to talk to our attorney."
Something still does not add up about Rao's story and why an administrator of such means would act as he did. But it is clear that he should not return to USF. He discredited the institution and set a terrible example for the very students he was supposed to lead, teach and inspire. In this case, the students were clearly wiser than the teacher.