Imposing Sanctions for Allegations of Violations of Policy, and Discharge for Cause

4.3  IMPOSING SANCTIONS FOR ALLEGATIONS OF VIOLATIONS OF POLICY, AND DISCHARGE FOR CAUSE   

Imposing sanctions for violations of University policy and/or termination of an appointment with tenure or of a non-tenured appointment before the end of the period specified in the faculty member’s current contract may be effected only for adequate cause.

4.3.1  Grounds    Adequate cause termination of a contract before the end of its specified term, is defined as:

4.3.1.1  Incompetence, neglect of duty, or misconduct of such a nature as to render the individual unfit to continue as a member of the faculty. Adequate cause for dismissal must be related directly and substantially to the fitness of faculty members in their professional capacity as academicians. Dismissal shall not be used to restrain faculty members in the lawful exercise of any individual legal rights;

4.3.1.2  Medical reasons of such a nature as to render the faculty member unable to fulfill his or her professional responsibilities; or

4.3.1.3  Bona fide financial exigency on the part of the University or discontinuance of a program, department, or college of instruction (see §4.1 for procedures).

4.3.2 Principles and Definitions    This section of the Faculty Handbook describes the general principles and definitions of terms applying in instances in which the University investigates alleged violations of University policy by a faculty member and imposes sanctions should clear and convincing evidence support the allegation.  In certain cases, violation of University policy may also entail violation of the policies of external organizations; consequently, cases alleging discrimination/ discriminatory harassment or misconduct in scholarly activity or research require special procedures to ensure compliance with external agencies and regulations (see §5.3). Nevertheless, the following general procedures and principles apply for all allegations against a faculty member for violation of a University policy.

4.3.2.1  Purview    The procedures spelled out in this section of this Faculty Handbook shall be the sole method for investigating and/or resolving any complaint against a faculty member, unless otherwise mandated by the law or policy of the United States or the Commonwealth of Virginia.

4.3.2.2  Initiation of Allegations    Allegation means any written or oral complaint of violation of University policy made to an appropriate administrative officer. A good faith allegation is one made with the honest belief that a violation may have occurred.  According to the U.S. Office of Research Integrity, an allegation is not made in good faith “if it is made with reckless disregard for or willful ignorance of facts that would disprove the allegation.”  The Administrative Officers empowered to receive allegations and to initiate inquiries are the program director, chair, and/or dean to whom the faculty member reports; and the Provost.  Allegations of discrimination or discriminatory harassment may also be made to the AA/EEO Officer.

4.3.2.3 Deciding Officials    The Deciding Official is the administrative officer who makes the final determination that a policy has been violated and decides on the appropriate institutional action.  In cases in which the complaint is resolved during the stage of informal investigation and mediation, the deciding official may be the academic dean, the AA/EEO officer (in cases alleging discrimination or discriminatory harassment), or the Provost.  In cases in which the complaint is resolved during an inquiry, the deciding official maybe the program director, chair, or academic dean, the AA/EEO officer (in cases alleging discrimination or discriminatory harassment), or the Provost.  In cases that proceed to the stage of formal investigation and resolution, the deciding official shall be the Provost, the President, and/or the Board of Visitors.

4.3.2.4  Inquiry, Investigation, and Mediation    Inquiry describes the stage in which the administrative officer suspects or receives an allegation of violation of policy, determines the validity of the allegation, and seeks resolution of the problem.  An informal investigation and/or mediation occurs when preliminary attempts to resolve the matter fail or when the allegation makes private resolution impossible (for example, because of the gravity of the situation or because a granting agency requires at least informal investigation). Informal investigations gather and dispense information, attempt to mediate the complaint, and/or determine whether a formal investigation is warranted.   Formal investigation and resolution describes the adjudicating committee’s examination and evaluation of the evidence supporting the charge and the determining officer’s decision based on the committee’s findings.

4.3.2.5  Standards of Proof    Before  any sanctions are imposed, it must be determined that there is clear and convincing evidence in support the allegation.  “Clear and convincing evidence” does not require evidence that is beyond a reasonable doubt; it is defined as that degree of proof that will produce a firm belief in the allegations sought to be established. Clear and convincing evidence thus is an intermediate standard requiring more than a preponderance of evidence, but less than the certainty required by evidence that is beyond a reasonable doubt.

4.3.2.6  Sanctions    Major sanctions are normally limited to dismissal, suspension, reduction in pay, reduction in rank or status, or removal from a research project.  Minor sanctions carry lesser or short-term consequences.

4.3.2.7  Safeguards Against Retaliation    Retaliation refers to any action taken by the University or by a faculty or staff member or group of faculty or staff members against an individual or individuals because the latter have, in good faith, made or provided evidence in support of an allegation.  As explained in §5.3.4, acts of retaliation violate University policy and are subject to investigation and disciplinary action if an allegation of retaliation is substantiated.

4.3.2.8  Confidentiality    In all proceedings, confidentiality will be maintained.  The mere suspicion of wrongdoing, even if totally unjustified, is potentially damaging to an individual’s career. Thus, information concerning any investigation should be available only to those with a right or a need to know. An unwarranted reference to an exonerated case may in itself constitute misconduct. If a complainant desires anonymity and believes that the administrator’s discussion with the accused faculty member would reveal his identity, the administrative officer will end the inquiry or investigation immediately, if possible, and take no further action against the faculty member.  No notes, reports, files, or other written documents shall be kept about the conversation.  However, should external regulations—e.g., those of the AA/EEO officer—or concerns about community safety require an administrator to confront the accused, the administrator shall so inform the complainant in person and explain the reasons for having to confront the accused.  Should external regulation or safety concerns require the administrative officer to pursue an inquiry and/or investigation, the complainant’s identity will be kept confidential to the extent possible, but the faculty member shall be apprised of the allegation and have access to any written documents produced by University officials or committees.

4.3.3  General Procedures for  Addressing Allegations 

4.3.3.1 Inquiries    When the appropriate administrative officer receives an allegation that a faculty member has violated University policy, or when that administrative officer him-or herself finds evidence that a faculty member under his or her supervision has violated University policy, that administrative officer shall first discuss the allegation and/or offending conduct with the faculty member (see above on confidentiality).  Should the administrative officer determine that there is reason to proceed, he or she shall define the violation and explain relevant policy and procedures in writing.  The administrative officer shall provide the faculty member an opportunity to respond.  The administrative officer shall seek a solution that is mutually satisfactory to all parties involved (e.g., an agreement to stop the offending conduct, and/or amelioration or remediation).  Absent any mutually-agreed upon solution, the administrative officer may impose a minor sanction, in which case the process ends at this stage, except that the faculty member may then file an appeal (see §4.5).

4.3.3.2  Informal Investigation and/or Mediation    Should no settlement be reached or should the appropriate administrative officer believe that action beyond the imposition of a minor sanction is called for, the administrative officer shall deliver written notice of the allegation to the accused faculty member and to the Provost; the Provost will then normally initiate an informal investigation.  The general purpose of the informal investigation is to review the charges, to educate the parties where appropriate, to attempt to resolve the issue when possible, and/or to determine whether a formal investigation is warranted. The bodies conducting the informal investigation and the procedures followed will vary according to the type of alleged offense (see §4.4, §4.6, §4.7, and §4.8).

4.3.3.3 Formal Investigation and Resolution    Formal investigation of charges may ensue when no settlement is reached during informal investigation and mediation, and/or when the appropriate officer and/or the body conducting the informal investigation concludes that the alleged violation is sufficiently grave and the evidence supporting the allegation is sufficiently convincing to warrant major sanction, as defined in §4.3.2.6 (above).  In cases alleging discrimination or discriminatory harassment by a faculty member, the formal investigation will be conducted by the AA/EEO officer and his or her recommendations forwarded to the University Faculty Affairs Committee; the University Faculty Affairs Committee will find for or against the faculty member and may, in the latter instance, recommend a sanction.  In all other cases, the investigation will be conducted by the appropriate faculty committee (see §4.4, §4.6, §4.7, and §4.8); the committee will find for or against the faculty member and may, in the latter instance, recommend a sanction.

4.3.3.4  Interim Suspension or Reassignment    Pending a decision based upon the informal and/or formal investigation, if the Provost determines that immediate or likely harm to the faculty member, other members of the University community, or the educational function of the University is threatened by continuance, the Provost may suspend the accused faculty member(s) with pay, or, in lieu of suspension, assign the faculty member(s) to other duties. Before so suspending a faculty member, the Provost will consult with the University Faculty Council concerning the propriety, length, and other conditions of the suspension (the faculty member may waive the right to have the University Faculty Council consulted and accept the suspension, but the waiver must be in writing).  A suspension cannot continue indefinitely; should the suspension or reassignment continue beyond 120 days, the Provost shall justify the cause of the delay to the University Faculty Council.

4.3.3.5 Remedies and Sanctions    Remedies and sanctions may include, but are not limited to:

  • A warning not to repeat the offending conduct
  • Special monitoring of teaching or research;
  • Separation of the parties involved;
  • Required participation in an educational program (such as harassment, or discrimination);
  • A letter of reprimand;
  • Removal from a research project (including long-term disbarment);
  • Suspension of access to laboratories and/or office;
  • Reassignment of duties;
  • Loss of travel funds, research funds, etc;
  • Denial of a pay increase;
  • Reduction in rank or salary or loss of endowed chair;
  • Probation;
  • Suspension with or without pay;
  • Dismissal.

4.3.3.6  Appeals of Major Sanctions    Should a faculty member, at the end of a formal investigation, receive a major sanction (as defined in §4.3.2.6), he or she may appeal to the Faculty Appeals and Grievance Committee on the grounds of procedural irregularities or of inadequate consideration.  Appeals on any other grounds are made to the President and the Board of Visitors (see §4.5 for appeals process).

4.3.3.7  Faculty Notification and Access to Files    Nothing concerning allegations against a faculty member shall be kept in writing by any committee, officer, or office of the University unless the faculty member is notified of the existence of and provided access to the written material (be that notes, reports, files, etc.).  The faculty member shall also be afforded the opportunity to respond to the allegation and to have that response added to the written record. (This standard does not apply to conversations or discussions that do not result in further inquiry or investigation and/or enduring notes, reports, files or other written documents).