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University responds to contract lawsuit

LAURA McCRYSTAL | Monday, August 30, 2010

The University claimed former Notre Dame professor Oliver Collins was fired because he used $190,000 of grant and University money to purchase equipment that he used to take pornographic photographs in a recently filed legal response a breach of contract lawsuit filed by Collins.

Collins became a tenured electrical engineering professor at Notre Dame in 1995, was officially dismissed in June 2010 and filed a lawsuit against the University for breach of contract on July 12.

Notre Dame’s response, filed Aug. 18 in the U.S. District Court in South Bend, makes a counterclaim of fraud against Collins.

The University’s allegations state Collins used National Science Foundation (NSF) grants and University matching funds to purchase at least seven cameras, lenses, a printer and other computer equipment.

“Collins took many of these cameras and accessories to his home and used them extensively in pursuit of his personal hobby of photography, including taking landscape and pornographic photographs,” the counterclaim states.

The University also alleged Collins was dishonest in reporting his use of funds.

The University’s claim states that in his written proposal and budget, Collins misrepresented to NSF and the University that he intended to use the federal grant funds to purchase several different pieces of high, mixed signal test equipment, consisting of data generators, network analyzers and signal analyzers.

“Collins did not identify digital cameras, camera accessories or printers in his proposal or budget,” the University’s court document states.

Collins’ original complaint says the University’s findings against him did not merit the “serious cause” required by the University’s Academic Articles to dismiss a tenured professor.

He also claimed damages to his personal and professional reputation, as well as being subjected to public ridicule.

While Collins was not officially dismissed from the University until June 2010, court documents state that the chair of the Electrical Engineering Department began an inquiry into his purchases with NSF grant money and University matching funds in July 2009.

University President Fr. John Jenkins informed Collins in an Aug. 24, 2009 correspondence that he was suspended with pay from his rights and privileges as a professor and was locked out of his lab and office.

Collins received a letter from Associate Provost Donald Pope-Davis in September 2009 informing him that the University would seek “dismissal for serious cause,” based on the conclusion of six specific acts. These acts include failure to inform NSF of the equipment he purchased and taking and storing sexually explicit and pornographic images on University equipment.

Following this letter, there were two December 2009 telephone conferences: between Pope-Davis and Collins and between Collins and members of the Academic Council to “attempt informal resolution of the matter,” as is part of the procedures in the University’s Academic Articles.

After the informal resolution process did not succeed, the case went before a faculty hearing committee in April 2010. The decision resulted in a unanimous vote by the committee that dismissal for serious cause was warranted. Collins appealed the decision, and an appeal board supported the hearing committee’s findings.

The appeal board submitted a report to Jenkins, who dismissed Collins in a June 2 letter.

“I accept their findings and dismiss you as a faculty member of the University of Notre Dame effective immediately,” Jenkins wrote in the letter.

University spokesman Dennis Brown said the University is confident in its answer and counterclaim to the lawsuit.

“We’ve made our position clear in our response to his lawsuit and we’re confident in that position,” Brown said. “And we’re equally confident that our process throughout the matter is thorough and fair.”