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Return to classroom unlikely for disciplined professor

Suspended professor Dajin Peng said he expects to resume teaching at USF in January. However, University spokesman Michael Hoad said that is “highly unlikely.”

In August, the University accused Peng of misappropriating about $16,000 in University funds. While he was overseas on USF-funded trips meant to “further (USF) academically,” Peng was also teaching and earning paychecks at other universities – money he did not report to USF, Hoad said. Peng and the University signed a settlement agreement in August 2010 that stated Peng would serve an unpaid suspension from Dec. 22, 2010, to Dec. 21, 2011, before returning as an associate professor in the Department of Government and International Studies.

“He has the misperception that he is going to be teaching a class in January,” Hoad said. “That is highly unlikely. That would be a new decision that he would be teaching classes in January, and it may be a long time before he is back teaching classes again, if at all. His department chair will have to make (that decision) about whether he wants him teaching students or not.”

Peng said he hadn’t “heard anything about” the University’s stance on his teaching prospects.

“I don’t think that’s going to be the case,” he said. “As per the agreement I should be able to come back (to teach). I love my students.”

However, the settlement Peng signed does not stipulate that he be allowed to resume teaching – only that he be retained as a faculty member within the University. Hoad said Peng’s role at USF is still being decided. He was dismissed as an administrator, but because he was a tenured faculty member, he was protected by a collective-bargaining agreement.

Hoad said Peng misused the funds while working as the director of the school’s Confucius Institute, which allows for faculty exchange with Nankai University in China. In the settlement, Peng agreed to return $10,000 to the University.

Peng said he is currently working at Nankai University.

“I do not lack opportunities,” he said. “Actually, I am so good that I am really wanted everywhere, so that’s not a problem for me. I don’t think what I got was what I deserved.”

Harvey Nelson, professor emeritus, worked with Peng within the Confucius Institute. He said administration was not Peng’s “forte.”

“Dr. Peng had no experience in management and in budgeting,” he said. “He is an excellent teacher and first-rate scholar, but he’s never administered anything. He had no experience whatsoever.”

However, Nelson said Peng’s paid teaching engagements overseas enriched his research endeavors with USF.

“Dr. Peng is a political economist, and when he is at some university teaching a course on political economy and he is meeting faculty and graduate students, that is putting him onto some further topics, some further research materials,” he said. “The thing he did wrong was he did not realize, and he should have realized, that anything he earned abroad had to be reported back to USF.”

Hoad said Peng was also accused of helping two graduate students gain unfair advantages on tests and misusing his authority as director to help Chinese nationals enter the country to attend academic conferences.

He cannot represent himself as working in the capacity of USF during his suspension period, nor can he have final sign-off authority on financial matters for a period of five years. He is also barred from participating in any activity involving the graduate program until the end of the spring 2013 semester, and has given up administrative authority within the Confucius Institute.

Criminal charges for fraud and theft were dropped after the settlement was reached, Hoad said.

Peng said he just wants to get back to teaching.

“I really love my students,” he said. “I really think I can make a contribution.”

Sean Kelly, a senior majoring in international studies, said he took at least four classes with Peng.

“He brought the Confucious Institute to USF,” he said. “It’s the first one in Florida. I just watched this man work so hard and bridge all the gaps to make this thing happen.”

Hoad said USF’s travel policy has “tightened” within the last two years, yet could not comment on whether the changes were made in response to Peng’s case.

“There has been an enormous amount of tightening up of travel in the last two years. There was very much a feeling that we needed to improve travel policies,” he said. “You have to prove every single (expenditure).”