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UNC's Thorp: prof not a scapegoat

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A story last week about UNC researcher Bonnie Yankaskas prompted a lot of questions from readers related to the notion that the university has "scapegoated" her - which is how at least one of her colleagues has characterized the situation.

As you may recall: Yankaskas is a nationally prominent epidemiologist who for the last 15 years has run the Carolina Mammography Registry, a federally funded research study that analyzes mammograms submitted by radiologists across North Carolina.

The database containing much of the data was hacked in 2007, an infiltration not discovered until 2009. As the project's principal investigator, Yankaskas was held responsible for the breach and punished for it. She was demoted and her salary was cut nearly in half.

Yankaskas has appealed the punishment, saying she should not be held responsible for data security since that's not her field of expertise.

My story last week led some readers to wonder whether anyone besides Yankaskas was punished for the gaffe, which compromised 114,000 social security numbers. (UNC says there's no evidence those numbers were copied or removed)

Here's what UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp had to say on the issue. He addressed it late last fall at a meeting with faculty.

"Dr. Yankaskas has not been scapegoated. Other members of her staff were also disciplined in conjunction with the security breach, consistent with their roles and responsibilities. Dr. Yankaskas had more responsibility than they did for the deplorable state of computer security in her project, so her supervisors recommended that she be dismissed. At the end of the day I concluded that a case for dismissal had not been met, but I agreed with the Hearings Committee that her neglect of duty warranted demotion and a pay cut."

The matter is now going to mediation.

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About the blogger

Eric Ferreri covers higher education and general news.