YSU Officials defend hiring of instructor
A university panel examined the allegations against an instructor.
By NORMAN LEIGH
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Youngstown State University knew about the cloud hanging over the work of a former Cleveland police lab scientist but still chose him from among 16 applicants for the job of forensics instructor at YSU.
Joseph Serowik will make a good faculty member, Dr. Jim Conser, interim chairman of YSU's Department of Criminal Justice, said Thursday.
Serowik was hired Aug. 9 to a $48,000-a-year post as a full-time assistant professor teaching forensics science. He started work Monday.
Conser was a member of the search committee involved in Serowik's hiring.
The panel, Conser said, examined allegations that Serowik's flawed testimony in a 1988 Cleveland trial wrongfully sent Michael Green to prison for 13 years on a rape conviction.
Green was freed in 2001 after DNA testing proved he was innocent, The Plain Dealer of Cleveland has reported.
Green filed a federal lawsuit that resulted in a $1.6 million settlement with the city of Cleveland. The agreement includes a condition that the city will review crime work performed by Serowik.
Citing expert opinion and deposition testimony given in the federal lawsuit, The Plain Dealer wrote in June that Serowik's "flawed analytical techniques" appeared so often that questions now are being raised in more than 100 cases in which he testified.
Serowik told The Vindicator on Thursday that he takes exception to the allegations outlined in The Plain Dealer.
He said, without elaborating, that he believes that the review of his work will validate his performance.
The Plain Dealer has reported that Serowik was suspended without pay in June.
Serowik wouldn't elaborate to The Vindicator on Thursday on his job status with the Cleveland police lab, where he had worked since 1987.
"My relationship with the city is still being worked out," he said.
In a June 28 letter to YSU's criminal justice department in which he expressed interest in the instructor's job, Serowik referred to his post as a "scientific examiner" for the Cleveland Police Department. He made no mention, though, of the questions being raised involving his work there.
Conser said that Serowik brought the matter up to the search committee. "He was very forthcoming during the interview process about his situation without giving us details," Conser related. "He wasn't at liberty to provide details" because the matter is still being scrutinized in Cleveland, Conser explained.
YSU officials reviewed the allegations. Their probe included talking to two people who were said to have firsthand knowledge of the Green case, Conser said. He wouldn't identify those individuals.
Conser said without elaborating that the search committee was satisfied with the results of its inquiries.
"We felt he best met the needs for the program," Conser said of Serowik.
"The decision was difficult to make," he added. "Right now, these are allegations. We're optimistic."
Despite that optimism, YSU has put a special clause in Serowik's employment contract. The provision allows the university to forgo renewing his one-year contract should the Cleveland allegations be substantiated, Conser said.
The offices of YSU President Dr. David Sweet and Provost Dr. Tony Atwater, who offered Serowik the job, were called Thursday in an effort to seek comment about the hiring. Neither Sweet nor Atwater returned the calls.