A Ring of Fire

For one U. of Pennsylvania professor, it took three arrests on sex charges before administrators dismissed him. Why?
August 31, 2006

L. Scott Ward, a professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, faces legal trouble after he was arrested on Sunday when police uncovered video recordings of him involved in sex acts with boys, according to an affidavit filed in a Virginia court.

Penn officials said Tuesday that Ward would never teach again at the university. But some are asking what took them so long, since this was not the first time, but the third, that Ward had been charged in sex scandals involving minors.

Catherine Bath, executive director of Security on Campus, a nonprofit organization concerned with campus safety, told The Philadelphia Inquirer  that it seemed that Penn "was giving him a chance" despite his history. "But do you really want known child molesters on your campus?" she asked. "I would say no."

"It seems like an odd situation," said Jason Johnston, a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. "I'm not surprised people are having negative reactions." 

In 1995, the marketing professor was acquitted of “involuntary deviate sexual intercourse” after an 18-year-old male alleged that he had sexual contact with Ward between 50 and 100 times from the time he was 13 or 14 years old. Four years later, in 1999, Ward was accused of soliciting sex from a state trooper who had posed as a 15-year-old boy. In that case, he pleaded guilty without admitting that he tried to promote prostitution and corrupt minors. Ultimately, he was given five years of probation and fined $2,500. Ward is currently being held in a Virginia jail and could not be reached for comment. His lawyer did not return calls for comment on Wednesday.

Ann Franke, president of Wise Results, a firm that advises colleges on legal risks, said that when a professor is acquitted of a crime, a university has the option of dropping the matter or initiating its own discipline, which she said was likely what happened after Ward’s 1995 acquittal. “It’s entirely a judgment call,” she said.

“The errant professor should surely have been dismissed years ago,” said Jeffrey M. Duban, a lawyer who defends university faculty members in tenure and promotion disputes. “Faculty and students are let go for far less.”

But Duban said that by having kept Ward on staff after the 1999 incident, “the university increased its own exposure and potential liability....” “[A]ny employer who either knows or should have known that an employee has engaged in criminal activity is vicariously liable for that activity under the theory of negligent hiring..."  Negligent hiring involves the failure of an employer to properly screen employees.

Franke believes it’s important that Ward served five years of probation after the 1999 incident. “It’s interesting to me that the new charges fall outside of that window,” she said. “Administrators could have been relying on the supervision of criminal justice authorities up until that point. And then this new situation came along.”

Lori Doyle, a spokeswoman for the University of Pennsylvania, said Wednesday that administrators were not in the position to “second guess decisions made back in 1999.” At the time, the university released at statement that said, "Based on the policies of the University of Pennsylvania, Scott Ward remains as a member of the standing faculty in the marketing department."

Doyle said that the university first learned of Ward's latest arrest on Monday. “We have made arrangements to ensure that he will not be teaching at the Wharton School or elsewhere at the university this semester or in the future,” she said.

Ward’s tenure officially ended on July 1, 2005. “[He] is not a tenured faculty member at Penn, which is why we were able to prohibit him from teaching classes so expediently,” said Doyle.

Franke, who has worked on higher education cases involving sexual predation, said that from her experience, sexual pedophiles “are absolute masters at deception and manipulation.” “In short, most of us are susceptible to the lies of great con artists, and expert pedophiles are great con artists,” she said. Franke noted that the latest charges against Ward have not been proven.

Duban said that having seen similar cases throughout his years of representing professors, what he characterizes as Penn's mistake was not a unique one.

“Why he was not [fired sooner] is a matter somehow buried in the bowels of administrative decision making -- which is to say that university administrators often have their heads up their asses when it comes to doing what is right, instead of what is expedient,” said Duban. “For reasons best known to university administrators, it was more expedient to let it ride than do what was needed.”

Doyle said that university administrators had no further comment on the situation.


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