WEB EXCLUSIVE! DMACC issue raises questions about Simpson’s faculty drug and alcohol policies

by Courtney Kirkland

Now that the initial shock associated with the DMACC incident has passed, members of the Simpson Community are wondering how the college prepares for and handles similar situations.

In an incident very uncommon for someone of his profession, DMACC president David England, 50, was arrested two weeks ago for possession of marijuana, intent to deliver marijuana, conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, and violation of the state drug tax stamp law.

England, who is paid $183,750 a year in addition to $30,000 for expenses, was also arrested in 1971 for marijuana possession in Texas-something DMACC’s board of trustees said they were oblivious to.

To prevent “surprise” incidents like the one at DMACC, Kevin LaGree, president of Simpson, said that the college is working on developing a policy that would require the use of criminal-background checks when hiring all employees and faculty members.

“This idea came about before England’s arrest at a weekly cabinet meeting on Feb. 25,” LaGree said.

Currently, Simpson College doesn’t have a formal background check policy but Bruce Haddox, vice president for academic affairs, said that the current policy adequately serves its purpose.

“Our policy, if it works, screens out any potential problems,” he said.

Haddox, who teams with LaGree and the department head when hiring a faculty member, said he looks for someone who is disciplined enough to be a good contribution to the campus and someone who displays a sense of honesty.

“We have to go under the assumption that people are telling the truth,” said Haddox. “It’s not possible to always pick people who make all the right choices in life so situations like this are hard to guard against.”

When hiring employees and faculty members, Haddox said that Simpson officials always call all references, even those beyond the list that the job candidate provides. Haddox also said that the college investigates anything suspicious (such as time gaps between jobs) through background and reference checking.

LaGree and Haddox both said that if an incident similar to the one at DMAAC occurred at Simpson, the college would definitely cooperate with local, state and federal authorities.

Within the college, Haddox said the first thing Simpson would do is turn to the group directly responsible for hiring the accused person. Haddox said that if the charge is minor the person might be able to keep their job.

“It is hard to say for sure because it all depends on the nature of the severity of the charge,” said Haddox. “If the person’s job performance is altered then it’s serious because although we don’t want to compromise anyone’s legal rights, we must look out for the institution.”

LaGree indicated that it would be possible for the college to put some employees on paid leave while investigating the charges against them.

LaGree added that it is imperative when dealing with situations of this magnitude that the college follows federal legislation.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is illegal to discriminate against someone who has a disability. LaGree said that in some instances there have been decisions made in the legal system that classify alcoholism as a disability, therefore the college would not be able to disregard an employee who is an alcoholic unless the problem interferes with their work.

However, LaGree said he was not aware of any legal instances where drug-abuse was considered a disability.

LaGree also said it is important to keep in mind that if a faculty member has tenure at Simpson, then they can only be fired for displays of professional incompetence, moral turpitude, or if the college is in financial trouble.

LaGree said a criminal charge would fall under the category of moral turpitude.

If Simpson officials suspect that any employee or faculty member has a substance-abuse problem, Haddox said that the college would first intervene at the lowest possible level by talking with the person and offering them help.

“If the employee or faculty member wants to seek help then they can choose from an entity of support systems that Simpson offers,” he said.

According to Simpson’s employee handbook, among one of the support systems offered by Simpson is the unnamed assistance center located at 1301 Penn Avenue, Suite 200 in Des Moines.

If the employee does not want help, denies there is a problem, and their job is being affected, Haddox said that the college would then take more serious measures.

“We would have to do a direct intervention or resort to terminating the employee or faculty member,” he said.