Saturday, October 31, 2009

UA's DNA: More than benign alphabet soup

WHAT COULD the University of Akron Board of Trustees possibly have had in mind (if anything) when it approved a policy permitting the University to subject new job applicants to DNA testing? As if the Board and the University didn't have enough on its plate with the Jack Morrison case and several staff image problems, the DNA issue caught fire across the country with predictable alarm from CBS, conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan, the ACLU and countless disapproving voices. Some suggested that anyone thinking about settling down on the UA campus ought to think at least twice. Not good.

The University's official response was that it hadn't asked anybody to submit to the test yet but would find the policy useful if it wanted to. Right. Whatever the rationale, the policy will be trashed on November 21 by a Federal law barring employers from requiring DNA testing by employes.

Too late. The damage has already been done by an indefensible policy lapse rooted in the Board's (and University's) legal counsel, Ted Mallo. He's been around for a long time and should have known better before it inherited this mess. More than a local mess. It sent a terrible message to academia that UA had broken ground as the first American university to turn to possible DNA testing. Such tests, of course, can open up a person to all sorts of problems, including access by health insurance companies on the prowl for finding a preexisting health condition. Even the DNA of prehistoric skeletons can reveal much about the owners.

The CBS reporter went to the trouble of contacting UA constitutional and criminal law professor William Rich for his reaction. It wasn't complimentary to the Board. Noting that the Faculty Senate had not been consulted about the new policy, Rich said: "I think it goes far
far beyond any imaginable justification for requiring DNA samples from job applicants, and I wonder just what the rationale for it was."

If there are a lot of red faces about this issue, there should be. It will take the entire University some time to recover from the nationally reported damage to its claimed image as a progressive institution of learning.


Anonymous said...

Are we sure this wasn't Jack's idea since he had to give a DNA sample for his probation?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for covering this despicable and embarrassing policy. The UA administration appears to be among the most ham-handed and authoritarian of its type in the country. And why are there no advisors who might have steered them clear of this? Because they just don't care.

Matt Williams said...

Please take a moment to sign the online petition against this ridiculous provision of the rule at

Anonymous said...

I am a professor at UAkron, and this was the last straw on top of the horrid conditions that already exist for part-time employees and the overall dismissal of a quality education by the university administration. I can no longer work in this environment and am actively looking for a job elsewhere, in addition to telling everyone I know to steer clear of this so-called academic institution, whether a student or potential job applicant. I can just see that the next phase will be to test the DNA of potential students...