Courts & Crime

UNC professor Frampton asks for raise from Argentina jail

UNC-Chapel Hill physics professor Paul Frampton may be in an Argentine prison cell awaiting trial on charges of trying to smuggle two kilograms of cocaine out of the country, but that hasn’t stopped him from asking for a raise.

Not just a small bump, either. Frampton cites evidence that suggests his pay should be at least twice as high as his currently suspended $107,000 a year.

“Oh, it is definitely chutzpah,” said Frampton in a telephone interview Monday. “But the facts show that I deserve it.”

Frampton, who is the Louis D. Rubin Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy and holds three degrees from Oxford University, made his case for the raise in a letter to Provost Bruce Carney this month. The letter was written during negotiations that are part of a faculty grievance procedure over Frampton’s charge that his pay is being withheld improperly.

In the letter, he writes that he could find just 30 theoretical particle physicists in the world who, like him, have had their work cited more than 8,000 times in research publications. Of those, there were just seven at U.S. public universities where their salaries were public. The lowest makes $203,000, and the highest makes $532,000.

Also, Frampton wrote, he is the most cited author in his UNC department, but ranks 18th of 28 in pay, and even makes less than one associate professor.

International intrigue

Frampton was arrested Jan. 23 at the international airport in Buenos Aires after the drugs were found hidden in the lining of a piece of his checked luggage as he was trying to fly back to North Carolina.

Frampton, who is 68, said he was duped into carrying the otherwise empty suitcase after flying to South America for what he thought would be a meeting with a internationally known bikini model who he thought he had met on the Internet. He said that after arriving he never actually saw the woman, and was instead asked by a man who presented himself as an intermediary to transport the suitcase.

An international cast of Frampton supporters have said there is no way that the nearly septuagenarian professor was intentionally smuggling cocaine, and that he has never shown any interest in drugs. But he has, several have said, frequently shown an interest in younger women, once flying to China to meet someone he found online, only to be spurned.

In August, nearly 75 academics who were troubled that Carney had stopped Frampton’s pay without using standard disciplinary procedures signed an open letter condemning the move. The group included several internationally known physicists and dozens of UNC-CH faculty members.

Carney had placed Frampton on personal leave to stop paying him. That form of leave, though, is traditionally requested by faculty members rather than forced on them, and UNC-CH mathematics professor Mark Williams, who started the open letter, said that it was a threat to academic tenure because it could become a back-door method of firing faculty.

Frampton maintains that he is able to perform enough of his normal duties, such as doing independent research, writing papers and advising students – which he mainly does by phone – to earn his pay.

He also has supporters in Argentina who are able to bring in the latest physics publications for him to stay current in his profession and to carry out his own work, which has included several research papers.

Carney, though, wrote in a letter to Frampton that he was stopping his pay because clearly the professor couldn’t perform his job from prison.

Frampton sued to have his pay restored, but then was advised that he needed to use UNC’s faculty grievance process first.

In the new letter, Frampton asks for his pay and raises the issue that a higher amount should be considered, though he doesn’t name a number.

The grievance procedure is confidential, and Frampton declined to discuss it. But from the letter, it is clear that the faculty committee charged with hearing the case has issued a report with its recommendations about what the university should do. If the committee disagrees with how Frampton has been treated, its recommendations would first go to the provost, who under university rules must act on them within “a reasonable period of time.”

If he doesn’t follow the recommendations, or he and Frampton can’t agree on a compromise, the matter would then be decided by Chancellor Holden Thorp.

Psych evaluations

Frampton’s supporters paid for two psychological evaluations while he was in prison. Those resulted in a diagnosis of a schizoid personality disorder which leaves him unable to make normal social connections, results in poor judgment in practical matters and makes him a gullible target for con artists.

They have said that’s why it was so easy for drug smugglers to set up the bogus Internet romance and persuade him to carry the suitcase.

Frampton, as he has for months, coughed frequently during the interview Monday. He said that a court-ordered medical examination two weeks ago indicated that he had bronchitis, likely triggered by the heavy second-hand smoke that fills the prison. On that basis, he said, the court is considering granting him house arrest at a friend’s apartment in Buenos Aires until he can be tried.

Frampton’s supporters have repeatedly said they know that even for those who believe in Frampton’s innocence that his personality quirks make him an unsympathetic figure, but that shouldn’t mean he deserves the 16 years in prison he faces.

Williams, who not only started the open letter but represented Frampton at the grievance committee hearing, said the latest bold move by the headstrong physics whiz probably wouldn’t help his standing with the public. But, as usual, he has marshaled numbers that are hard to dispute, he said.

“I do think it’s reasonable to say that it’s obvious that his salary is far too low,” Williams said. “But no, of course I don’t think it’s a good idea at all for Paul to be asking for a raise while he’s in prison.”