Published: May 3, 2013
By Anne Blythe — firstname.lastname@example.org
CHAPEL HILL — Much debate has swirled about whether a UNC-Chapel Hill physics professor can perform his teaching and research duties while under house arrest thousands of miles away in Argentina.
But one thing Paul Frampton has been able to do from afar is continue his legal fight for reinstatement of pay that university officials stopped about two months after his arrest in January 2012.
Frampton was convicted last year of drug smuggling in Argentina. Authorities say he was carrying a suitcase lined with cocaine. He contends that he was duped after traveling to South America for what he thought would be a meeting with an internationally known bikini model.
Last week, Chapel Hill lawyer Barry Nakell filed a petition in Orange County Superior Court for judicial review of UNC’s February 2012 decision to put Frampton on unpaid leave.
Frampton, a 69-year-old tenured professor who holds three degrees from Oxford University, contends that UNC has no legal authority to place him on leave without his request or consent. He argues that UNC has violated its procedures, and he holds up the findings of a Faculty Grievance Committee, much of which was filed under seal in the court documents, to bolster his contentions.
Frampton argues that he is owed back pay and benefits, as well as additional money for his suffering, attorney’s fees and court costs.
UNC officials declined to comment on the case. But in letters included with the Orange County court filing, UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said he had “no difficulty concluding that a professor incarcerated several thousand miles from Chapel Hill is unable to perform the duties of a member of the faculty.”
Thorp wrote in a letter dated Oct. 30, 2012, that Frampton’s supervisors began with the presumption that he was not guilty of the criminal charges and concluded that “it would be precipitous and unfair to take disciplinary action” against him until his case has made its way through the Argentinian courts.
“That decision did not require the university to continue to pay your salary under the circumstances presented,” Thorp said in the Oct. 30 letter to Frampton. “The university must be a good steward of public funds. We would violate the public trust if we paid you for work that you are not performing, and I will not agree to do so.”
UNC-CH trustees supported the chancellor’s decision in a closed-door session in March.
Frampton had sought a similar judicial review last year, but a judge dismissed his case, saying the professor had not exhausted the university’s appeals process. Nakell refiled the petition last week, saying the courts are the next step in the legal process for challenging the trustees’ decision.