Paul H. Frampton: Even in an Argentine prison I’m able to fulfill my UNC duties

August 25, 2012 

Even in an Argentine prison,

I can fulfill my UNC duties

The following was sent to The N&O by UNC-Chapel Hill physics professor Paul H. Frampton:

Hello from the Devoto prison in Argentina. I am Paul Frampton, a professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department at UNC-Chapel Hill. You may already know that I was arrested Jan. 23 in Buenos Aires on charges of attempted drug smuggling.

I am innocent, have not violated any law and have not been convicted. However, it was a serious lapse in my judgment to check in a bag belonging to somebody else. This act and the circumstances leading up to it have caused great embarrassment not just to me, but to my department and to the University of North Carolina. I am deeply sorry for that.

You may also know that UNC-Chapel Hill took the step of stopping my salary. This decision has prevented me from hiring a private lawyer for my defense. In a letter dated Feb. 17, the provost informed me that I was required to take personal leave because of inability to perform my duties, and that my salary would stop effective Feb. 29. The provost’s action, which violated the UNC tenure rules, was approved by the head of the UNC-Chapel Hill Legal Office, and so my last six months of hard work has received no pay. I have recently filed a grievance with the UNC Faculty Grievance Committee protesting this action.

On May 25, the provost and my former department chair each gave a sworn affidavit explaining the reasons UNC decided to stop my salary. These affidavits contain a number of statements that disagree with the facts.

The provost justifies his action by citing a university rule about granting 60 days of paid leave for serious illness or parental responsibilities. This rule is not applicable in my case: I am neither seriously ill nor a parent. The affidavit asserts that my opportunities to communicate with UNC are severely limited and that I can make only short telephone calls at prearranged times. This is untrue. The phones are actually freely available 24/7 for me to discuss at length with the chancellor’s office, my students and collaborators and other faculty members.

The affidavit by my former chair asserts that my being in prison prevents me from adequately advising students. It also asserts that I do not have regular access to the academic literature. These statements are untrue.

In prison, the use of the Internet is not allowed, so external help is necessary. Each week my students at UNC download over 200 new papers in my field, email them to a friend in Buenos Aires, who burns them on a CD that he brings in to the prison, where I can read the new papers without using the Internet.

With all this help, I can readily fulfill my faculty duties for research. I continue teaching two Ph.D. students by telephone; both are expected to complete dissertations and graduate in 2013. This year I have already published six papers in peer-reviewed journals. One of those papers and two more recent papers were written entirely in Devoto prison.

A letter of protest signed by 82 faculty, nine from outside UNC and 73 at UNC, was presented on Aug. 16 to the chancellor and provost. This letter, whose signers include one Nobel laureate, a former chair of the faculty at UNC and many of the most distinguished professors at UNC, expresses strong objections to the decision to stop my salary. In particular, the letter notes that tenured professors may not simply be placed on leave without requesting leave and that the UNC code stipulates that suspension must be with full pay. The letter is posted at

I greatly appreciate the intellectual commitment and time of the many colleagues at UNC who are demanding fairness in my salary case. Finally, I thank all my many Tar Heel friends and supporters who pray for my safety and liberty in Argentina. Your prayers have been instrumental in maintaining my mental state and spiritual serenity during this long ordeal. May God bless the great state of North Carolina!

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service