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Education chairman vows further scrutiny into Mizzou unpaid leave policy

  

COLUMBIA, MO – Questions are being raised inside the administration at the state funded University of Missouri — Columbia about how their professors can go about running for state office.

The latest questions surround Josh Hawley, a university associate professor of law who is considering a run for attorney general. Hawley is not listed on the class schedule for the fall.

Casey Baker with the School of Law told The Missouri Times that Hawley was hired as a tenure-track faculty member, indicating that the school is likely to grant him tenure once he meets the necessary minimum requirements.

Hawley is nearing the minimum requirements — which include publishing scholarly articles and a few years as a regular faculty member — to receive tenure, which virtually guarantees job safety for college professors. There are internal discussions inside the university about whether Hawley might take an unpaid leave to ultimately seek public office.

While the School of Law does not grant general paid sabbaticals, it does grant a research leave as well as unpaid leave for various reasons. The university describes unpaid leave as something that may be granted in circumstances involving “prolonged illness or injury, or for any exceptional personal or institutional reason”, also “such leave must be requested by the employee and recommended by the department chairperson or administrative head.”

There are other requirements for leave eligibility, according to university policies:

“A leave of absence may be granted only if the employee has a bona fide intention to return to the University following the leave.”

How this would apply to an individual seeking to run for office, which would ostensibly be aimed to be successful therefore prohibit returning full-time to the school, is not entirely clear.

However, the leave is not completely unpaid. According to existing university policy, which was Baker provided to The Missouri Times:

  • “the period of the leave of absence is counted as length of service in computing vacation accrual rates”
  • “Employees are granted personal days during the leave of absence.”
  • “Employee contributions to the UM Retirement, Disability and Death Benefit Plan will not be required for leave of absence periods for which no salary is paid.”
  • “During the leave period an employee is eligible to continue participation in the University of Missouri’s staff benefit program (medical, dental, life, accidental death and long-term disability).”

Questions about school employees attempting to influence elected officials and campaign while on the clock come as University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe — who at a base salary of $450,000 is one of the highest paid taxpayer funded employees in the state — is barnstorming around the state in support of a tax increase on cigarettes which ultimately puts more money in the coffers of the university. Per university policy, Wolfe would ultimately have to personally approve Hawley’s request for leave. University officials denied to comment on whether Hawley had notified his superiors that he intended to seek any form of leave — as university policy dictates — and Hawley did not respond to attempts to contact him.

Up until now, Hawley has kept up appearances at campaign events, using his role with the Missouri Liberty Project to speak about conservative issues to a wide-range of primary-vote-rich crowds. Hawley’s desire to run has made waves in reports from around the state.

“His own political ambitions have been implicit in his presence on the campaign trail,” wrote PoliticMo’s Eli Yokley

Unpaid leave is limited to one year, so he would have to leave the university altogether, were he to win the primary, or continue working at the university this fall in order be able meet the leave requirement.

Whether or not Hawley’s work ultimately culminates in launching a statewide campaign, there have been ongoing discussions reviewing the university’s policy on employees running for office since the spring semester drew to a close.

John Fougere, Chief Communications Officer for the University of Missouri System, explained the policy as it is currently written in an email to The Missouri Times.

To answer your questions, University employees may engage in lawful political activities, like any other personal, non-official undertaking, provided it is done on the individual’s own personal time and does not interfere with University duties. Any staff member, before officially announcing as a candidate for or accepts any elective office must inform his/her superior officer of such an intention and the superior must make that fact known to the president of the University.

The President will offer no objection to the candidacy, provided it does not require time or attention that interferes with University duties. The holding of any elective full-time office in local, county, state or Federal government is forbidden while the individual is serving on the staff of the University.

Before accepting such an office, the staff member is required to resign his/her University post. A person seeking election to such an office must resign or request a leave of absence as of the date of filing for the primary. With regards to paid versus unpaid leave, the staff member must make an application and be approved for leave that meets the specific guidelines for leave as outlined in the University’s collected rules, which are provided.

Legislative reaction has been cool to university employees running for office.

“I think usually public universities have policies that does not allow employees to run for partisan office while on staff. But unpaid leave makes a difference. It’s not as blatant as a sabbatical and it’s still somewhat an implied endorsement. But for me, if you want to run for office in that position, then you either need to resign your position or go on unpaid leave,” said Senator David Pearce (R-21) chairman of the senate education committee.

Representative Steve Cookson (R-Butler County), the chairman of the House Higher Education Committee was blunt on the matter.

“This does not pass the smell test. There seems to be a definite conflict of interest that is inappropriate. This will be scrutinized and investigated further in the coming legislative session if not before.”