A professor at the University of Maryland, College Park is facing conflict-of- interest questions after he used university letterhead to deliver a legal opinion in his role as a consultant to a labor union.
Fred Feinstein, an adjunct professor at the School of Public Policy, wrote a letter saying that California health care employees could jeopardize their contract benefits if they left Service Employees International for a competing union. Feinstein received $240,000 in consulting fees from SEIU in 2007 and 2008, which he did not mention in the Jan. 12 letter that was distributed as a flier in the continuing union battle.
Officials of the rival National Union of Healthcare Workers say Feinstein implied that he was speaking for the university and thus compromised its academic objectivity. The Web site Inside Higher Ed first reported Feinstein's role in the conflict.
College Park officials said Feinstein violated university policy by writing the opinion on official letterhead. He signed the letter as a "senior fellow and visiting professor."
"Mr. Feinstein violated university procedures by improperly using university letterhead in the course of his outside work," Donald F. Kettl, dean of the School of Public Policy, said in a statement. "This activity was wholly unrelated to his work at the University of Maryland, which has no involvement or stake in this outside matter. He should not have written the material on university letterhead nor invoked his title as a university employee. In addition, he should have disclosed the payment he received from one of the parties in the issue on which he commented."
Kettl said he reprimanded Feinstein in writing and asked him to inform all recipients of the SEIU letter that he was not speaking for the university.
Mr. Feinstein, for his part, is convinced that the fault lies not with himself, but with us and our lyin' eyes for even making an issue of this obvious conflict of interest...
Feinstein, a former general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, said he made a mistake using the letterhead but said the competing union, NUHW, is trying to exploit his carelessness to get a leg up in the bitter labor battle.Translation - it's up to the reader of that letter (on UMD letterhead) to know, beforehand, that Feinstein is SEIU's paid stooge so that we can discount the fact that the letter is, indeed, written on UMD letterhead, and Feinstein's signature is slugged with his UMD title.
"I wasn't as conversant as I should have been with the guidelines for using letterhead," Feinstein said. "It was an unfortunate oversight. But this is part of a pretty intense battle, no holds barred, and I think it's important to understand that context."
Feinstein said he stands behind the opinion he delivered and doubts that the letterhead made much difference to workers reading the document.
Feinstein's consulting, a matter of public record because of union financial filings, does not violate his contract as a part-time professor, Kettl said. Feinstein said he felt no need to disclose his relationship with SEIU in the letter, because readers would understand without being told that it is a lawyer's job to deliver opinions on behalf of paying clients.
Only then can we understand the True Brilliance of Feinstein's Completely Neutral Analysis.
Color me amazed that such a person is in the employ of Our Glorious Maximum Leader.