LSU FIRES PROFESSOR 'OF INTEREST' IN ANTHRAX PROBE



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Last Updated

25 Aug 2003

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, September 5, 2002.

LSU Fires Professor 'of Interest' to FBI in Anthrax Probe

By ELIZABETH F. FARRELL

Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge has fired Steven J. Hatfill, an expert on biological warfare who is among about 30 people on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's list of "persons of interest" in connection with its investigation of last year's anthrax attacks. The FBI has repeatedly said that Dr. Hatfill is not a suspect in the case.

Mark A. Emmert, the Baton Rouge campus's chancellor, said in a statement Tuesday that "the university is making no judgment as to Dr. Hatfill's guilt or innocence regarding the FBI investigation." But Dr. Hatfill, who was promoted to associate director of the university's National Center for Biomedical Research and Training in July, was ordered to take a leave of absence in early August, at about the same time that the U.S. Justice Department sent an e-mail message to the center's director stating that Dr. Hatfill was forbidden to participate in any projects financed by the Justice Department.

The campus's vice provost for academic affairs, Gregory J. Vincent, confirmed that the university had received such a message. But he said that it had not influenced the decision to terminate Dr. Hatfill's employment. The university's biomedical-research center, however, receives substantial funds from the Justice Department for programs that train law-enforcement and public-health officials to handle bioterrorism attacks and similar crises.

Furthermore, Mr. Emmert said in his official statement that one of the university's concerns in dismissing Dr. Hatfill was to "fulfill its contractual obligations to funding agencies."

Patrick M. Clawson, a friend of Dr. Hatfill's who is also a licensed private investigator, said that Dr. Hatfill was surprised and disappointed by the university's decision. Mr. Clawson also said that by barring Dr. Hatfill from participating in projects financed by a federal grant, the Justice Department had violated his due-process rights because he has never been charged or found guilty of anything.

"LSU should have told the Justice Department to put up or shut up," said Mr. Clawson. "It should have asked them for an explanation of why [Dr. Hatfill] wasn't eligible to work. Instead, the chancellor showed himself to be absolutely spineless -- all he was concerned about is funding for his institute."

Mr. Clawson added: "Universities are supposed to be bastions of academic freedom and support the American way. The American way is not to fire someone based on innuendo and no facts."

Although the FBI has maintained that Dr. Hatfill is not a suspect, he is the only person on the list of "persons of interest" whose name is publicly known. Subsequently, he has endured months of public scrutiny and news-media speculation regarding his possible connection with the anthrax mailings.

The coverage devoted to the investigation prompted Dr. Hatfill to publicly declare his innocence, and he has also filed an ethics complaint against U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and others, according to Reuters.

According to Mr. Clawson, Dr. Hatfill has no immediate plans to seek other employment. "He doesn't know what he's going to be doing," said Mr. Clawson. "Obviously, this casts a tremendous shadow over his career prospects."

Chancellor Emmert said that the university did not provide any compensation package to Dr. Hatfill and has no immediate plans to fill his position. He declined to comment on the possibility of rehiring Dr. Hatfill, except to say that the university "generally doesn't consider terminated employees eligible for jobs in the future."