Former UK researcher accused of misconduct allowed to keep teaching license

lblackford@herald-leader.comMay 23, 2013 

A Bourbon County chemistry teacher can remain in the classroom even though he violated state law by not disclosing previous misconduct investigations against him at the University of Kentucky, a state board has ruled.

Eric Smart of Versailles was investigated by the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board after the Herald-Leader published articles in December detailing his departure from UK.

As a university researcher, Smart was put on probation for a year in 2009 because of sexual harassment allegations. In 2012, multiple investigations found that he fabricated data; the federal Office of Research Integrity finished its investigation in October and barred Smart from conducting federally funded research for the next seven years.

In a settlement signed in May, the education standards board revoked Smart's teaching certification from May 23 to Aug. 4, when students are on summer break. He also must complete 12 hours of ethics training in 2013, 25 hours of community service each year for the next five years, and training in "cultural competency," which includes demonstrating an understanding of "socio-economic class differences, gender bias, and ethnic diversity," the order says.

On all future applications for certification or public school employment, Smart shall "fully disclose that he was investigated for research misconduct while employed at the University of Kentucky and that he resigned from his faculty position with the university after two investigative committees found that he falsified data."

Although he must disclose the investigative reports, the order says Smart is free to dispute the reports' findings. The order does not require Smart to disclose previous sexual harassment allegations.

The order also admonishes Smart for failing to inform the standards board about the alleged misconduct at UK.

"The board expects members of the teaching profession to be forthright and honest and to model those characteristics for the children of the Commonwealth," the order says. "Smart failed both those expectations. No further acts of misconduct by Smart will be tolerated by the board."

Smart's attorney Bernard Pafunda declined to comment on the matter. In a rebuttal to the standards board, Smart said he answered truthfully on his initial application for teacher certification because the question did not ask specifically about a "pending research misconduct investigation."

Smart began his teacher certification process in 2010, before the UK investigations were finalized.

At UK, Smart had been a rising star, bringing in $8 million in federal grants starting in 2000. He was the Barnstable Brown Chair in Pediatric Diabetes Research and director of the Kentucky Pediatric Research Institute until being put on paid leave in 2010 for the alleged research fraud.

Smart oversaw 13 employees engaged in nutrition research.

He stayed on the payroll until 2012, when two internal investigations and one by federal authorities concluded that he had repeatedly fabricated scientific evidence.

He was hired as a chemistry teacher at Bourbon County High School in the fall of 2011, while on paid leave from UK. The late Timothy Bricker, then Smart's boss as chairman of the UK Department of Pediatrics, wrote a recommendation letter for Smart that did not mention the investigations.

Smart's alleged sexual harassment was mostly reserved for female workers in his lab and included "teasing, pushing, slapping, tickling, touching, and playing in the lab, sometimes ending in wrestling on the floor or someone sitting on another person," according to a February 2009 letter from Patty Bender, UK's assistant vice president for equal opportunity, to Bricker.

Alicia Sneed, general counsel for the standards board, said the board's settlement with Smart included punishments that were similar to those of comparable cases in the past.

"It's clear that his misrepresentation to the standards board was his main issue for us," Sneed said. "This is a profession that demands honesty, and we treated it seriously."

Bourbon County Superintendent Lana Fryman did not return a phone call Thursday seeking comment.

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford

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