Duquesne law professor denied tenure

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A law professor at Duquesne University, active in the push for a state commission to investigate wrongful convictions, has been told by the university's president that his request for tenure was denied.

President Charles Dougherty departed from the recommendations of a panel of law school faculty and the school's dean, Donald Guter, who had recommended that John Rago's request for tenure be granted.

The decision is under review by a grievance committee. If it stands, it would likely mean that Mr. Rago, 50, would depart the university in a year and relinquish his position as executive director of the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law, those familiar with the decision said.

Citing employee confidentiality, Duquesne spokeswoman Bridget Fare declined yesterday to specify what issues, in or out of the classroom, led to the president's decision. Mr. Rago, an assistant professor, is founding director of the university's Post-Conviction DNA Project and has spoken out recently in favor of a proposed 30-member state Innocence Commission.

"Committees do make recommendations but they are only recommendations ... the final determination rests with the president," Ms. Fare said.

"I'm disappointed in the president's decision," Mr. Rago said. "At this time, I'll just reserve any further comment."

Jonathan Knight, an official with the Washington, D.C.-based American Association of University Professors, said "it would be unusual for a president to disagree with a faculty vote in favor of tenure combined with a dean's vote in favor of that position."

Mr. Knight, director of AAUP's program on tenure and academic freedom, said that is especially true if the faculty vote is strongly in favor or unanimous.

Mr. Rago, who received a vote of more than 2 to 1 in favor of tenure, has worked at the law school since the early days of the administration of then-President John Murray Jr., joining it in 1993 as an associate dean. He was appointed to the faculty in 2001.

The head of Duquesne's student government body, calling Mr. Rago an asset to the law school and the university, said a number of his organization's members have signed a petition asking Dr. Dougherty to reconsider.

Ralph Gigliotti, president of the student government association, said signers believed that Mr. Rago's work at the institute and what Mr. Gigliotti called the professor's student-focused approach to his job justified the petition.

"Duquesne strives to have the best faculty members, and we feel he's a great candidate" for tenure, Mr. Gigliotti said.

Mr. Rago teaches criminal law and criminal procedure to first-year law students. A significant part of his work of late has involved innocence reform and wrongful convictions.

Mr. Rago has spoken in support of proposed legislation to create a 30-member Innocence Commission, noting in January that eight people in Pennsylvania and more than 170 nationally have been exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing.

Bill Schackner can be reached at bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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