Imagine a USF student was accused of defrauding the University of $16,000. Would this hypothetical student be expelled?
Most certainly – students can be expelled for far less. Is it fair then that a USF professor who allegedly did the same is still employed?
Two years ago, four separate USF departments began investigations into the activities of Dajin Peng, a tenured professor and former administrator of the USF Confucius Institute, according to the St. Petersburg Times.
The University concluded that Peng did indeed defraud the school for about $16,000 and committed several other serious violations as well.
He received the sum in numerous reimbursements for trips on which he claimed to be doing research or attending conferences while he was actually on vacation or being paid to teach by other institutions.
The first such incident, according to the Times, was in 2004, when Peng took a trip for research to Florida International University, Florida Atlantic University and the University of Miami. Investigators said there was no evidence he did any research, but determined he relaxed on the beach and went to a museum. The University gave him $220 to cover travel expenses.
In a separate incident, Peng accepted $456 from USF for a seven-day trip to California. Investigators say he was only doing research for one day, and found the time to visit a zoo and do other extracurricular activities.
Those examples are only the tip of the iceberg, as Peng was reimbursed about $10,000 more for many more trips, primarily to China. It seems he used the time in his home country to teach at other institutions for pay.
His other infractions include having employees of the Confucius Institute work extra hours they weren’t paid for, having an assistant cook him dinner and help run personal errands, and giving two graduate students the answers to exams.
Peng’s offenses more than merit the termination of his employment. However, University spokesman Michael Hoad said to The Oracle that his punishment was to serve a one year suspension from teaching duties and repay the University $10,000. Peng was not fired because he is a tenured faculty member, Hoad said.
Yet Bob Welker, who is responsible for negotiating USF teacher contracts, said to the Times that “our language is very, very broad. What it comes down to is, they just decided to keep the man, for whatever reason.”
Even though Peng will remain a paid faculty member, his contributions to the University remain unclear. Hoad said “it may be a long time before he is back teaching classes again, if at all.”
Potential criminal charges against Peng were dropped once the two sides settled. Should a student be accused of defrauding the school and helping others cheat on tests, that person would certainly be in greater trouble.
Keeping Peng employed was a mistake that administrators should not have agreed to.