YSU professor gets a break but his past is still an issue
Joseph M Serowik's continued presence on Youngstown State University's faculty roster still represents the "problematic hiring" that former Provost Tony Atwater talked about last year, which is why we expect President David Sweet to closely monitor a review of Serowik's forensic work while he was an examiner in the Cleveland Police Department lab.
The review is part of a federal court settlement in the Michael Green case. Green's conviction in 1988 on rape charges was overturned after DNA evidence proved he was innocent. By then, he had served13 years in prison. Serowik's testimony in the trial pertaining to the analysis of evidence contributed to Green's conviction.
Green subsequently sued in federal court, prompting the city of Cleveland to settle for $1.6 million. The settlement required the city to audit Serowik's forensic work. He was fired from his crime lab job last summer and YSU hired him in August 2004 for a one-year tenure-track professor position in the Criminal Justice Department.
In January, Alice Guerra, the acting dean of YSU's Bitonte College of Health and Human Services, informed Serowik that she had not recommended his reappointment to the full-time tenure-track position. The reappointment was also opposed by Dean John Yemma, who is on sick leave.
But acting Provost Bege Bowers proposed a compromise after Serowik appealed Guerra's decision. He will serve next school year as a temporary, nontenure-track faculty member.
"Given Mr. Serowick's strong support in his department and the unresolved review of his previous forensic cases in Cleveland, we believe that this employment arrangement is fair to Mr. Serowik and also addresses the interests of the university," Bowers wrote in a prepared statement.
Let there be no mistake: YSU brought this controversy upon itself with the "problematic hiring" of this individual. Given the dark cloud hanging over his head as a result of his work in Cleveland, he should never have been considered for a position at YSU. Last September, we harshly criticized all those at the university involved in the inexpicable decision to bring on board someone who was fired from his previous job. We stand by that assessment.
But, given that Serowik remains on the public payroll, Sweet and his administration had better not compound the problem by forgetting about the audit of the numerous cases, which could take several months to complete. The president should be prepared to act the minute a report of the findings is issued.
If Serowik is given a clean bill and is, therefore, vindicated, the university is well within its rights to offer him a new contract when the current one expires in May 2006.
On the other hand, if there is any evidence that compromises his reputation as an expert witness in good standing, he should be dismissed immediately. There should be no hesitation on the part of the administration. YSU can ill afford the statewide negative publicity that will undoubtedly follow a decision to keep Serowik on the payroll after he was found to be lacking as an examiner in the Cleveland Police Department lab.